Category Archives: Permanency

Offset Issue Holds Up More Child Welfare Legislation

Legislation that would renew the Adoption Incentives Fund and the Family Connections Grants, programs that officially expired in October of last year, is also in limbo due to the cost-offsetting issue reported on last week.

In October the House of Representatives approved the Promoting Adoption and Legal Guardianship for Children in Foster Care Act (H.R. 3205) that would extend both the Adoption Fund and Connection Grants. The bipartisan bill was introduced in late September by Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), Ranking Member Sandy Levin (D-MI), Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert (R-WA), and Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).

The Senate responded with their version of the legislation in December when the Senate Finance Committee reported out two bills: one that extended the adoption program and one that did that and also included provisions that related to youth and victims of sexual exploitation (S. 1870 and S. 1876).  With the Senate unable to act, the negotiations over a budget deal that was taking place at the same time ended up taking all available “offsets.” When Congress returned in January of this year, the funding to pay for the extension of the $15 million for the Family Connections Grants was gone.

If the Family Connections Grants are not extended there are several programs across the country that will lose the third year of their three year grants—and of course there will be no more future grantees. The Family Connections Grants fund four different programs:

  • “kinship navigator” programs that provide resource and referral services to any kinship families,
  • “family finding” programs that use various strategies and technologies to help children in foster care find their families,
  • “Family Group Decision Making” programs which attempt to bring together families and friends to potentially strengthen families and prevent placements in some cases, and
  • “Residential Drug Treatment” programs that target the substance abuse problems of parents involved in child welfare and foster care.

Under the Adoption Incentive Fund, states are currently rewarded for an increase in their 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 and Senate bills would take slightly different approaches in how this formula would be re-vamped and how much support a new incentive would reward kinship placements.

Call your Senator and Representatives: Congress should finish their work to extend the bipartisan Adoption Incentives Fund and Family Connection Grants. 

Completion of Adoption Incentives Reauthorization Hoped for Spring

Now that the new leadership of the Senate Finance Committee is settling in, there is the possibility that the Congress can finalize the Adoption Incentives reauthorization in the coming weeks.

In October the House of Representatives approved the “Promoting Adoption and Legal Guardianship for Children in Foster Care Act” (H.R. 3205). The bill was passed on suspension, skipping the normal debate process and approved by a voice vote. The move to suspend the process was passed by a vote of 402 to 0 (Roll call no. 552). The bipartisan bill was introduced in late September by Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), Ranking Member Sandy Levin (D-MI), Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert (R-WA), and Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).

The Senate responded with their version of the legislation in December when the Senate Finance Committee reported out two bills. Both S. 1870/S. 1876 extend the adoption program, but the latter also includes provisions that relate to youth and victims of sexual exploitation. The legislation then ran into delays because funding to extend the Family Connections Grants at $15 million a year was used for the December budget deal. In addition, the Chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), left office early to accept the ambassadorship to China. Now that the transition to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) as the new chair of the Committee is in place, the legislation could be on the short list of things that can get done quickly.

The House bill, like the Senate bills, extend the reauthorization of the Adoption Incentive fund and the Family Connections Grants. Currently states are rewarded for an increase in the overall adoptions ($4,000 per child), special needs adoptions ($4,000) and older child adoptions—considered a child age 9 or older ($8,000). In the last reauthorization a $1,000 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 two bills would:

  • Phase-in awards based on improvements in the rate of adoptions and guardianships instead of actual increases in numbers of adoptions (with slightly different methodology).
  • Under the House, add a $1,000 award for placements with legal guardians/kin (with the definition of these guardianship placements mirroring certain requirements under Title IV-E) while the Senate bill would provide $4,000 (with slightly different definitions).
  • The House provides a $2,000 award for overall adoptions while the Senate sets it at $4,000. The House provides $4,000 for children aged nine through 13, $8,000 for a new category of youth aged 14 and older, while the Senate provides $4,500 per special needs adoption and does not designate a special category for 14 and older.
  • Both bills require states to calculate savings resulting from the gradual de-linking and increased federal funding support for adoption assistance. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is to create the formula or work with states to develop a calculation. States have to document how they are re-investing these funds beyond what they currently spend under Title IV-B and Title IV-E programs. The two bills differ on how much will be designated for post-adoption services and how much is designated on prevention services
  • Both bills extend the Family Connects Grants at their annual $15 million a year awards.
  • Both bills enact 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.

The two sides are negotiating their differences and if an agreement is reached it will likely result in one bill that will then move through each house in order. Despite a lack of reauthorization, the appropriations for 2014 does provide $39 million for awards. If a reauthorization were not enacted the old formulas would apply. The Family Connections Grants are mandatory funding and without a reauthorization there would be no new grants and possible cutbacks to current grantees.

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 Finance Hearing on the Child Welfare System

This morning, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to examine America’s child welfare system ahead of the expiration of two federal programs—the Adoption Incentive and Family Connection Grants—at the end of the fiscal year. Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) opened the hearing talking about the importance of strong homes and families for children. He explained that the hearing would look at Antwone Fisher’s story as a case study of child welfare. Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) echoed the importance of improving outcomes for youth in care and both spoke of continuing bipartisan work towards this end.
Leading off the panel of witnesses was Antwone Fisher who grew up in foster care without ever being placed in a permanent home. Mr. Fisher overcame ongoing maltreatment to become a successful Navy soldier and eventually playwright, screenwriter, director and producer. Fisher’s story has not only captivated audiences in a major motion picture, but also the Finance Committee, as the members responded with admiration and expressions of inspiration. In his testimony, Fisher highlighted the need to prevent children from languishing in foster care through adoption, the need to better prepare and serve older youth who age out of foster care, and the promise of family finding. Poignantly, Fisher described how found out as an adult that he had grown up in the same school as his cousins, and that his family would have taken him in if they had only known he needed a home.
Additional witnesses included Gary Stangler, Executive Director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative; Eric Fenner, Managing Director with Casey Family Programs; and Kevin Campbell, Founder of the Center for Family Finding and Youth Connectedness. Stangler spoke about the need to update federal supports for older youth in care—including the Chaffee Foster Care Independence and Education and Training Voucher programs—particularly in light of new neuroscience and identified best practices. Fenner spoke of his past experiences in direct practice to highlight the need for flexible financing that enables individual assessments to ensure permanent relationships for children. He pointed to the benefits of Title IV-E waivers and called for further child welfare finance reform. Campbell spoke about family finding as key way to ensure meaningful lifelong connections for children. He explained that he found sixty-two of Fisher’s relatives in ten minutes with fifteen dollars and called for better enforcement of federal family notification requirements.
CWLA strongly supports reauthorization of the Adoption Incentive Program and Family Connection Grants. Furthermore, our 2013 Legislative Agenda specifically outlines ways to improve these and the Chaffee programs in-line with our National Blueprint vision that all children grow up safe, in loving families and supportive communities with everything they need to flourish.