Category Archives: Administration

Senate Looks At Children’s Service Gaps, Trafficking & “ReHoming”

On Tuesday, July 8, 2014, the Subcommittee on Children and Families of the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing on “Falling Through the Cracks: The Challenges of Prevention and Identification in Child Trafficking and Private Re-homing”

Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) opened the hearing with remarks that focused on two key goals: prevention and identification in regard to both issues. In the first, addressing the issue of trafficking, she said that the victims are frequently “hiding in plain sight” in our schools and other common areas. She also raised the need for training saying that currently there is very little information and training for key personnel found in the schools, among health care providers and within social services community. Her comments heavily emphasized the need to better train and involve education and health care systems. Senator Hagan then discussed the issue of “re-homing” a term that came into focus after some recent reports by the Reuters News Service along with NBC News focusing on instances whereby a parent or parents placed their adopted child through the use of the internet into another home, frequently in unsafe circumstances.

Senator Hagan was joined by Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY) who indicated he was interested in learning more on both topics with a focus on what the federal role should or could be in addressing either challenge. The witnesses included: JooYeun Chang , Associate Commissioner, Children’s Bureau, HHS, Abigail English , Director, Center for Adolescent Health & the Law, Chapel Hill, NC , Jenee’ Littrell , Grossmont Union High School District, San Diego County, CA , Megan Twohey , Investigative Reporter, Thomson Reuters, News

In her remarks Commissioner Chang outlined what HHS has done in regard to the re-homing issue, indicating that states have been advised to examine their child abuse laws since some of the instances documented in the news series were cases of child abandonment or abuse. She also indicated that there was a need for more post-adoption services and that while there were some federal funds available it was a growing need. She also highlighted the efforts of HHS to encourage states to build capacity, training and screening in regard to the issue of trafficking.

Abigail English, from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) highlighted the recent report by the IOM released last fall, Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States. She indicated that the committee made the recommendations into three principles 1) trafficking should be understood as abuse, 2) they should not be considered criminals and 3) when you’re identifying victims of sex trafficking do no harm. She described the diverse background of those children who are victims with a range of incomes, race, geography, histories of sexual abuse, gender identity issues, unstable housing, substance abuse-related backgrounds, homelessness, juvenile justice and foster care histories.

Jenee’ Littrell from the San Diego high school district, talked about the efforts that that school system has implemented across several schools, partnerships between law enforcement, human services and the private sector. She testified that there strategy has four key components: 1) increased staff awareness and education on the indicators and the nature of the crime; 2) increased parent and student awareness of the risks and realities of trafficking; 3) clearly articulated district policy and protocol for identifying a suspected victim or responding to a disclosure from a suspected victim; and 4) strong working partnerships with law enforcement, child welfare, probation and social service agencies.

Megan Twohey , Investigative Reporter, Thomson Reuters, re-caped her earlier investigation that identified more than 260 instances where children were being “rehomed,. a term borrowed from the animal world with people attempting to place a pet in another home through the use of the internet. Twohey said, “We discovered that over this five-year period, in this one forum alone, a child was offered to strangers on average once a week. The activity spanned the nation: Children in 34 states had been advertised. Many were transferred from parents in one state to families in another. At least 70 percent had been adopted from overseas, and many were said to suffer from physical, emotional or behavioral problems.”

In regard to the issue of re-homing, members struggled with solutions curious as to whether adoptive families should be singled out or how to change and require changes I regard to state family law which varies in regard to the rights of families and the placement of their own children,

To read the testimony or view the hearing go to Subcommittee on Children and Families and to read the HHS guidance on how to address re-homing go to IM-14-02.

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.

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.

More Details on Changes to CFSR Data Elements

The Children’s Bureau (CB) continues to provide details and solicit comments on the third round of the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs). On Monday, April 28th CB sponsored a conference call to describe some of the changes that will be implemented as states embark on this review. The following highlights were discussed on the call and can be found in the CFSR guidance and proposed rule.

  • State success will be judged against a national standard instead of previous reviews that made assessments based on a state reaching the 75th percentile of states. The national standard will also be an attempt to build in factors unique to states.
  • In terms of child maltreatment the review will assess all children that are screened in for a report of child abuse and neglect instead of just children who are substantiated as victims. The review will then look at the instances when children were reported again within a 12 month period. States have an initial screen of child abuse reports and then determine whether a child is substantiated as abused or neglected. Some states use of differential response means a child is either determined as a “victim” or “non-victim.” This new standard would consider all children screened in to better assess reoccurring maltreatment.
  • Another data change for the CFSR is the use of entry cohorts, or looking at those children that enter care rather than assessing children who leave or children at a point in time. (The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) determines the annual foster care statistic with a point in time count at the end of the federal fiscal year.)
  • The CFSRs will also assess permanency in a different way by examining data not just on children leaving foster care for reunification but also leaving foster care for adoption and subsidized guardianships.
  • The CB will also start to examine children who have been in foster care for two years in an effort to have a better assessment of some long term foster care placements.