There was important progress in federal child welfare policy in 2012. An extension of the adoption tax credit was approved as part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (H.R. 8). Had Congress not acted the credit would have expired. The credit was extended permanently, without a sunset provision. The bill retains the provision that allows the adoption tax credit to be “flat” for special needs, meaning special needs adoptions are excluded from needing to document qualified adoption expenses, and it includes a permanent cost of living adjustment so that it will be indexed for inflation. While it is good news that the adoption tax credit is permanent and it includes these other provisions, unfortunately the credit is not refundable. Not including the refundability provision means that many families will not benefit.
The Administration of Children, Youth, and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services are reviewing applications for waivers to federal child welfare policy in nine states. The waivers are part of the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act (P.L. 112-34). The goal of the waivers is to facilitate innovation and experimentation in child welfare programs through the demonstrations and to improve outcomes for children. ACYF is encouraging states to consider whether funding flexibility and improvements in the service strategies for children both at risk of foster care placement and those already placed outside the home could lead to better outcomes for children. Priorities for the applications are to produce positive well-being outcomes for children, youth and their families, enhance the social and emotional well-being of children and youth, and yield more than modest improvements in the lives of children and families. As many as thirty state waivers are possible over three years and many states are considering whether or not to apply.
The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe became the first Native American community in the nation to operate its own Title IV-E foster care, kinship guardianship assistance, and adoption assistance program. Passage of the 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (P.L. 110-351) made it possible for tribal governments and consortia to apply to directly operate IV-E programs without receiving funding through state administration or agreements. Many other tribes are developing plans or considering how they too can operate Title IV-E programs.
While these measures and other prevention focused improvements are important there is much more to be done to address critical challenges faced by vulnerable children and families. Our 2012 Legislative Agenda includes many specific recommendations. This year we issued additional recommendations for reform based on our survey of direct care workers and supervisors. CWLA continues to be at the forefront of advocating for major child welfare financing reform and remain committed to comprehensive child welfare reform. We will urge the new 113th Congress to pick up where the 112th left off.