Yesterday Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert (R-WA) held a hearing on increasing adoptions from foster care through the Adoption Incentives program and other federal initiatives. Upon opening the hearing, Chairman Reichert shared his personal and professional commitment to the adoption and foster care cause. He described adoption as a truly bipartisan issue that he hopes to be able to work with Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) to improve upon in hopes of providing more permanent homes for children and youth in foster care.
Doggett shared the Chairman’s commitment to increasing adoptions but warned that the impending sequester would have a negative impact on the adoption incentives fund if Congress fails to act. He also acknowledged that the Family Connections Grants are set to expire this year and although a relatively small program, it provides resources to improve the lives of children and families in need.
The subcommittee heard testimony from four witnesses, all representing adoption organizations. Witnesses spoke to the importance of raising awareness about the number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care. They shared examples of outreach that their respective organizations utilize to familiarize the public with children in care who want to be adopted in addition to providing opportunities for children in foster care to meet and interact with potential families. The witnesses were very vocal about the importance of not giving up on finding permanent connections for all children in the foster care system.
A significant portion of the hearing focused on the need for flexibility and continued funding for post adoption services. Nicole Dobbins, Executive Director for Voice for Adoption, spoke to the recently reauthorized Adoption Tax Credit and the benefit that it serves to families who adopt from the foster care system. She also pointed out that the recent reauthorization did not include refundability, which is critical for families adopting from foster care who in the past did not benefit from the credit due to their low tax liability. Other issues at the forefront of the hearing included the fact that there is currently no federal mandate that requires agencies and staff to continue to pursue for adoptive families (especially for older youth), that there are states that are increasing adoptions from year to year but are still not eligible for federal adoption incentives, and the need to examine federal adoption funding to determine how states are using savings from the adoption assistance de-link and where they are reinvesting those funds (as currently required by law).
Yesterday the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held a hearing on the Protect Our Kids Act (H.R. 3653). This legislation establishes a commission to examine child deaths due to maltreatment and recommend ways to improve current policy and practices. Full Committee Chair David Camp (R-MI) and Subcommittee ranking member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) developed the proposal and called the hearing to solicit input on how such a commission would best undertake this work.
Representative Doggett spoke about the serious need to
address child abuse and neglect and the undercount of child deaths due to
maltreatment. He invited those attending the hearing to work with him and the
other members of the Subcommittee to improve the bill. He stated he was looking forward to the testimony offered at the hearing to determine ways the
legislation could be perfected.
Former Representative Bill Frenzel, a guest Scholar at the Brookings Institute, testified that he has served on many similar commissions and offered suggestions in regards to the makeup of the commission members to insure high leadership qualities. Teresa Huizar, Executive Director of the National Children’s Alliance, offered support for the commission in her testimony and emphasized the need for more research due to the serious undercounting of such deaths. Madeline McClure, Executive Director of the Texas Association for the Protection of Children, is also strongly supportive of the legislation. She testified that the bill will build on prevention efforts as well as increase our understanding of the size and dimension of the challenges. David Sanders, Executive Vice President of Casey Family Programs, offered suggestions on ways to improve the commission in his testimony primarily through expanding the areas of expertise of the potential commission members.
It is unclear whether H.R. 3653 will proceed to floor for a vote before the end of this Congress but if not it will be re-introduced soon after the 113th Congress convenes in January.
On Tuesday, CWLA joined with ABA Center on Children and the Law, the National Foster Care Coalition, and Children and Family for a congressional briefing in recognition of National Reunification Month. The briefing recognized the hard work of birth parents, parent advocates, and the courts in helping families achieve reunification by celebrating the trials, dedication, and accomplishments of parents who were successfully reunified with their children after placement in foster care.
Presenters included a circuit court judge from Prince George’s County, Maryland, two parent advocates who were once separated from their children but successfully reunified after working with the child welfare system and the court to regain custody, and the director from the Center For Family Representation in New York City, which works with families in crisis to provide free legal representation and social services to enable children to safely remain in their parents’ custody.
Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) who sponsored the briefing, spoke about her bill H.R. 3873, the Enhancing the Quality of Parental Legal Representation Act of 2011. This bill takes steps to ensure that when child welfare intervenes on behalf of allegations of abuse or neglect, parents will be afforded legal representation at all stages of their case. In addition, the bill increases funding for discretionary and other targeted grants to improve the quality of legal representation for parents. HR 3873 has yet to be reported out of the Ways and Means Committee.