Author Archives: Children's Monitor

Senate Stalls on Move To Adopt Labor-HHS Appropriations

The Senate started to move an appropriations bill for FY 2015 for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (Labor-HHS) last week but the effort appeared to have stalled out by Thursday when the full committee was expected to debate the bill. On Tuesday, June 10, the subcommittee passed a bill after a brief period of discussion with the full debate awaiting the full committee two days later. But that full committee debate never came and it may now be put off due to potential controversy over various parts of the bill related to the Affordable Care Act.

The subcommittee bill (not released yet) provides $157 billion in discretionary funding, the same as last year with some adjustments. The few details available include proposed increases for Head Start, Child Care and Pre-K, a relative victory in a tight budget. Head Start would be funded at $8.742 billion an overall increase of $145 million with $65 million of that for a designated increase in Early Head Start. Child Care funding would increase to $2.458 billion in discretionary funding, a $100 million increase and the Pre-K initiative first funded at $250 million in January would increase to $350 million.

A major challenge for this appropriations bill is the need to increase funding for unaccompanied minors through the Office of Refugee Assistance. The Subcommittee made some shifts in funding, rejecting some Administration requests to other programs, to provide $1.9 billion in funding which represents an increase of a little more than $1 billion. Unaccompanied minors are young people and children crossing over the border in an effort to escape events in their own countries and frequently coming here without a family or destination. The projected number for this year is 60,000 children, dramatically higher than the 13,000 in FY 2012 and much higher than the average of 6800 a year between 2004 through 2011. The situation has been developing in recent years but in the last two weeks the news coverage of the topic has exploded.

Most of the unaccompanied children are coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras through Mexico. A report last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Mission to Central America: Flight of Unaccompanied Children to the United States, documented the challenges and problems these young people face both in their native country and here in the United States. In addition to the HHS funds there will be additional funds through the State Department and Homeland Security budgets with funding increases there adding an additional approximate $200 million.

This now leaves the Labor-HHS bill in limbo. The Senate was attempting to bring its bill to the floor at least by June. The House is also unlikely to act on their bill so negotiations and decisions may now wait until after the election, an outcome some were predicting all along.

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Unaccompanied Minors Captures Attention, Both Financial and Political

The increasing numbers of children coming across the U.S. border alone and without an adult is gathering much more attention within the federal budget and now within the political arena. Referred to as unaccompanied minors, these young people and children cross over the border in an effort to escape events in their own countries and frequently come here without a family or destinations. The projected number for this year is 60,000 children and is dramatically higher than the 13,000 in FY 2012 and much higher than the average of 6800 a year between 2004 through 2011. Under pressure from appropriators, especially the Senate Appropriations Chair, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the Administration has raised its original budget request of less than $900 million to more than $2.2 billion for FY 2015. In January appropriators had increased funding by nearly $500 million. The additional increase for FY 2015 will place greater pressure on the overall Labor-HHS-Education budget. The increased numbers is leading some Republican members of Congress to blame the problem on the Administration’s enforcement of immigration policy.

Most of the unaccompanied children are coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras through Mexico. A report last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Mission to Central America: Flight of Unaccompanied Children to the United States, documented the challenges and problems these young people face both in their native country and here in the United States. The report also describes the dangers of making the trip to the US alone with no adult support or supervision. In fact the trip usually involves exploitation, trafficking in labor and sex and violence. The report by the Bishops’ Mission sought to determine why there is such a dramatic increase in the flow of vulnerable youth, what should be done in regard to international policy and what should happen to these youth once they are in the United States. Based on their surveys, interviews and observations the report indicates that there is no simple answer but instead a number of interrelated factors, what they labeled the “perfect storm” of a number of problems including: the absence of economic opportunity, the lack of quality education and access to education generally and the resulting inability for individuals to financially support themselves and their families in their home communities, and the desire to reunify with family in the United States. An additional significant factor is the increased violence including gang violence and coercion within parts of the countries most affected.

Critics claim that immigration enforcement is encouraging children to make the trip while others counter that lack of progress on immigration legislation is the key factor. The President announced last Monday the creation of a working group to respond to the challenge with Cecilia Muñoz, White House Director of Domestic Policy announcing the initiative with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and the Federal Emergency Management Agency taking the lead in coordinating transportation, housing, basic care and medical treatment for the children crossing the border each week. The funding request was a result of overtures by Mikulski with the funding flowing through the Office of Refugee Assistance in HHS. Many of the children are being housed on air force bases and in group homes contracted by the government.

The Report by the Bishops included recommendations that the best interest of the child standard should be applied in legal proceedings, the Department of Homeland Security should conduct child-appropriate credible fear screenings that include questions related to gang related activity, and having child welfare experts assisting the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in screening children who arrive at the US/Mexico border.

Update on Re-Homing

Recently CWLA has highlighted news reports on re-homing through Reuters, NBC News and other outlets. Last year we gathered over twenty thousand signatures on an on-line petition that was sent to Congress urging them to address this issue. Re-homing is a practice by some individuals and families who have sought to relinquish their adopted children (generally children adopted through an international process or placement agencies). The reports were frightening and tragic.

We want to forward onto you a just-released guidance by the Department of Health and Humans Services in response to this challenge. The Information Memorandum (IM) clarifies states abilities to use current child welfare funding but it also urges states to recognize some of these practices as cases of child abuse and neglect. It also urges states to more globally review their family law and family law practices beyond just child welfare laws.

The IM specifically promotes the use of federal title IV-B and IV-E funding to support families who have adopted domestically or internationally. It states, “These services may be provided to any child or family the state title IV-B agency deems is in need of them and may include families who have adopted internationally”.

We are pleased to see the federal department issuing this important guidance and are hopeful this will lead to further action by the Administration and Congress.

Commission on Child Fatalities Holds First Of Series of State Hearings Monday

The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF) will hold the first of a series of local hearings starting today. The hearings will allow the Commission to examine the range of issues that have been raised so far. The first meeting is in San Antonio, TX followed by a hearing on July 10, in Tampa, FL and a third hearing on August 28 in Detroit, MI. Additional hearings may be held in the fall of this year. The meeting details for the San Antonio meeting is , Monday, June 2, 2014, from 1:00–5:30 p.m. CDT, and Tuesday, June 3, 2014, from 8:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m. CDT, held at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Downtown Campus, 501 W. César E. Chávez Blvd., Southwest Room, Durango Building 1.124, San Antonio, TX 78207. Although late, it may still be possible to register to phone in at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/5WLJYWH. A call-in number is available upon registration. The first day will be dedicated to actions and policies in the state of Texas and will include policy and practice presentations from various Texas-based presenters including comments by commission-sponsor, Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX). Tuesday will focus more attention on national policy and perspectives.

The state of Texas has had the highest number of child deaths in each of the past five years with 215 child fatalities in 2012 according to the 2012 Child Maltreatment report. According to rates, the fatalities rate at 3.08 per 100,000 children ranks the state lower than New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Florida and Arkansas with the last two states at approximately four and a half child deaths per 100,000.

The Commission is expected to have a website up and running by this week which should include tools to submit comments. You can also send comments via the mail to: Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, c/o General Services Administration, Agency Liaison Division, 1800 F St., NW, Room 7003D, Washington DC 20006.

According to the enabling legislation, the commission’s work includes an examination of best practices in preventing child and youth fatalities that are caused due to negligence, neglect, or a failure to exercise proper care; the effectiveness of federal, state, and local policies and systems aimed at collecting accurate and uniform data on child fatalities; the current barriers to preventing fatalities from child abuse and neglect, how to improve child welfare outcomes; trends in demographic and other risk factors that are predictive of or correlated with child maltreatment, such as age of the child, child behavior, family structure, parental stress, and poverty; methods of prioritizing child abuse and neglect; and methods of improving data collection and utilization, such as increasing interoperability among state and local and other data systems.