Category Archives: Child Welfare Workforce

Senate Finance Committee Adopts Bill on Adoption Incentives, Trafficking

On Thursday, December 12, the Senate Finance Committee passed the “Supporting At-Risk Children Act of 2013.” The legislation bundled together a reauthorization of the adoption incentives fund, new legislative language to address domestic sex trafficking through child welfare, and provisions that deal with child support collection including provisions to address international treaties.

The adoption incentives fund requirements differ from a bipartisan House bill (HR 3205) in how it allocates funds for the placement of children from foster care into adoptive families. Both bills now provide an award for kinship care placements although the Senate provides a higher award than the House bill. In addition the Senate creates a broader definition of kinship care placements. The House bill also creates an additional category of children 14 and older. Both bills require greater accountability of state savings that is being realized by states as federal adoption assistance is expanded each year due to the Fostering Connections to Success Act (PL 110-351) of 2008. The Senate directs states to spend the savings on more specific categories of services. Both bills extend the Family Connections Grants which currently funds kinship navigator programs, residential drug treatment, family finding services and family group decision making services although the Senate removes the requirement that at least $5 million of the $15 million in annual funds go toward the navigator programs. Both bills extend the law by three years.

In regard to the issue of sex trafficking of children from the child welfare system, the bill creates a number of new requirements on state screening, data reporting and services to youth although these requirements are not accompanied by any additional funding. Policies and procedures would have to be in place to screen, identify and determine services for victims of trafficking for youth up to age of 21 (or at state option to age 26). It defines sex trafficking consistent with federal law that deals with international victims.

The bill also addresses young people in foster care who are in what is generally viewed as long term foster care. These are young people who may be classified as under “another planned permanent living arrangement” (APPLA). Under the legislation no youth 16 or under could be considered “APPLA” and similar to the bill (S. 1518) introduced earlier this year by Senator Orin Hatch, new requirements would be placed on the courts and states for increased hearings. States would have to give the courts greater accounting of what the agency has done to place young people into adoptive, kinship or birth families.

Also similar to the Hatch bill it would create a definition in law for a “prudent parent” standard. Each child would have to have someone in a foster home or residential facility that could meet these standards. Each child in foster care or a facility would have to have such a person (which could include a foster parent) to make decisions regarding various activities a child in foster care could participate in. This is an attempt to assure that foster children are not denied access to activities and items such as driver’s licenses, attending high school dances, and other activities sometimes restricted due to being in a foster care placement. The bill would also require that a child 14 and older be directly involved in their case planning (currently required of youth 16 and older). The legislation also requires a bill of rights provided to youth 14 or older who are in foster care, kinship care or adopted and would specify in law that anyone 14 or older who exits foster care have a birth certificate, Social Security card, drivers’ license, and a bank account (unless the child decides not to have a bank account). Failure to do this will require a reduction in a state’s reimbursement under Title IV-E.

The legislation requires that when a child runs from foster care they be reported within 24 hours to the National Crime Information Center and to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. States would also have to report through AFCARS the number of children in foster care who have been identified as victims of sex trafficking. The bill creates numerous requirements on HHS and creates an advisory committee on trafficking.

The legislation also makes a number of changes to the child support system not necessarily related to the child welfare system. There is one requirement for states to pass along child support collected from absent parents to youths in foster care.

The House legislation that deals with the reauthorization of the adoption incentive fund passed the House on October 28. Current law rewards states for an increase in the overall adoptions ($4000 per child), special needs adoptions ($4000) and older child adoptions—considered a child age 9 or older ($8000). In the last reauthorization a $1000 incentive was included for states that experienced an increase in their adoption rate. This part of the award was only provided to states if the funding did not run out after the other categories were provided.

The House bill would:

-Extend the authorization of the program through FY 2016 (aligning its next reauthorization with that of the Title IV-B programs)—Same as the Senate

-Add a $1000 award for placements with legal guardians (mirroring certain requirements under Title IV-E)—Different from the Senate

-Phase in awards based on improvements in the rate of adoptions and guardianships instead actual increases in numbers—Different from the Senate

-Provide a $2000 award for overall adoptions, $4000 for children aged nine through 13, $8000 for a new category of youth aged 14 and older—Different from the Senate which does not include 14-year olds as a separate category

-It requires states to calculate savings resulting from the gradual delinking and increased federal support for adoption assistance. HHS is to create the formula or work with states to develop a calculation and states have to document how they are reinvesting these funds beyond what they currently spend under Title IV-B and Title IV-E programs­-Some similarity to the Senate although the Senate requires various reinvestment requirements of the savings

-Extends the Family Connects Grants at their annual $15 million a year—Similar to the Senate although the Senate no longer requires at least $5 million a year for Kinship Navigator programs.

-Enacts a fix to current guardianship law that will allow a child to receive continued support when there is successor guardian due to death or incapacity –Same as Senate

The next steps will be for the Senate to adopt this measure (likely by voice vote/unanimous consent) then there will be a negotiation with the House Ways and Means Committee members and staff to work out differences. That is likely sometime in January.

John Sciamanna

Senate Hearing on Ways to Prevent Sex Trafficking of Youth

Today the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on sex trafficking and the role of child welfare in the prevention and intervention of such abuse. Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) opened the hearing by comparing trafficking and exploitation to modern day slavery. He pointed out the need for his committee, which has jurisdiction over the nation’s foster care and adoption system, to explore such a topic noting that the children most vulnerable to trafficking predators are often foster youth (with some statistics suggesting that 50-80% of the children that are exploited and sold each year in America are connected to the foster care system).

Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) took issue with the labeling of some of these at-risk children as “thrown away” children and stated that while their parents may have kicked them out of the home or abandoned them to the state, no child is a throw away and they all deserve to be protected, not treated like a criminal when they come to the attention of local law enforcement.

The witnesses for today’s hearing included a sex trafficking survivor turned advocate, a probation director with LA County, a Children’s Advocacy Center Director, and a judge with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families. They all shared stories of how they came to work with such a marginalized population, unique experiences that have shaped their work, programs that have shown proven results, and recommendations for Congress to address and provide federal support for preventing children from falling into the hands of sex traffickers.

Some of the common challenges that the witnesses expressed when working with this population are the fact that child welfare often does not intervene on behalf of these children due primarily to the fact that the traffickers are not their primary caregivers. In fact in many instances the victims are often charged with prostitution and unfortunately end up going back to the traffickers due to the lack housing and other resources that would keep them off of the streets. Another challenge is the fact that teachers, social workers, and law enforcement don’t have the training and/or education to see the signs and intervene on behalf of these children in a timely matter.

The recommendations that were presented before the Senate Finance Committee included the need for funding for specialized foster homes for at-risk youth, training for teachers, social workers, and law enforcement to see the signs and assist youth who are victims of sex trafficking, education for young women on how to stay safe and avoid falling into the trap of sex trafficking, and housing for young women who may be on the street and/or on the run from their trafficker. The witnesses also added that there is an underlying need to recognize sex trafficking as a form of child abuse regardless of the trafficker’s relationship to the victim. Consequently, professionals who interact with children must have the obligation to report this form of abuse. In the end, there was a general consensus that child welfare agencies have to be at the center of this work and own these children as victims of abuse if it is to be successful at preventing further abuse.

Congressional Briefing on Child Welfare and Adoption

Yesterday the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute held a roundtable discussion on foster care and adoption legislative and policy priorities for the 113th Congress. Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) started off the discussion describing two priorities: 1) To convince the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure youth in foster care will be eligible for Medicaid coverage up to age 26 even when moving from state to state, and 2) Passing legislation that will provide training for child welfare workers on issues involving sex trafficking of youth in foster care.

Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) spoke about her passion for adoption and her interest in pursuing initiatives to improve adoption policies.  She was followed by Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) who spoke about improving education opportunities for children in foster care and opening the door to adoptions of children in Russia. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) focused on family finding programs, especially the successful Wendy’s Wonderful Kids initiative, and the need to expand such family finding efforts
to more areas around the country.

Important Progress in Child Welfare Policy in 2012

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.