Yesterday the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth introduced the A+Plus Act, H.R. 5871, which will reform national education law to allow access to students’ records for children who are in foster care. Currently, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), unintentionally hinders the educational success of students in foster care by creating a barrier between school records and the temporary guardians of the youth – the child welfare agencies. Without access to a student’s records, child welfare agencies and social workers are limited in their ability to advocate for the youth’s educational success. The A+Plus Act will rectify this obstacle by granting child welfare agencies direct access to school records for youth in care. The legislation has been introduced by all four co-chairs of the caucus, Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA), Tom Marino (R-PA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and enjoys bipartisan support.
The caucus held a rally to support the bill and to celebrate Foster Youth Shadow Day in which 25 young people who emancipated from foster care spent the day with a Member of Congress. Many of the youth spoke at the rally in support of the legislation as well as other issues they hope to see addressed to improve the lives of young people who have experienced out-of-home care.
Bass spoke about how moved she was by the stories of the young people and how impressed she was with their advocacy. Marino shared with the audience his experience being a foster father to a teenager who will be emancipating soon.
Last Saturday the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth held a listening and learning tour session in Broward and Miami-Dade counties in Florida. The purpose of the session was to gain a better understanding of Florida’s state and local child welfare system.
Florida’s child welfare system was redesigned in 2001 to reflect a community-based care model. The new community-based care system combines the outsourcing of foster care and related services to private agencies to promote a sense of increased local community ownership of service delivery and design. Under the new initiative, Florida’s Department of Children and Families negotiates and contracts with local non-profit agencies to provide services to children, who have been abused, neglected and/or abandoned in their community. All of Florida’s 67 counties participate and operate under this model, which is designed to increase accountability, resource development and system performance.
The bipartisan Caucus was formed last year to create an ongoing discussion among Members of the House, who are interested in improving policies that affect the lives of youth and families involved with the foster care system. The Caucus tasked themselves with a national “listening tour” to gain insight into the challenges and barriers that exist around safety, permanency, well-being, education, and youth and family engagement. The Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth has over forty Congressional representatives and is chaired by Representatives Tom Marino (R-PA), Karen Bass (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN).
Earlier today the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held a hearing on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for children. Subcommittee Chair Geoff Davis, (R-KY) opened the hearing with a statement that he is focused on oversight of SSI benefits for children, including trends, program growth, and recipient outcomes. He expressed concerns that too many children on SSI drop out of school, experience poor employment outcomes, and continue receiving disability payments year after year even into adulthood. The Subcommittee is reviewing how the SSI program is currently coming up short and possible remedies. Davis has asked the Government Accountability Office to review the program.
Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. He stated that he shares the goals of ensuring the effective and efficient administration of SSI. He offered suggestions such as providing adequate resources to conduct continuing disability reviews to ensure that SSI recipients maintain their eligibility for benefits, and increasing educational and employment opportunities for disabled children as get they older.
One of the witnesses, Dr. Elizabeth Roberts, a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, stated that she has seen an alarming abuse of the SSI system. She testified that the misdiagnosis of children with psychiatric conditions coupled with the financial incentive under SSI for getting children diagnosed with mental illness has led to abuse. Dr. Roberts was challenged on her assertions by Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), who is also a child psychologist. He urged her to report any and all abuse she has seen, especially any that is maltreatment or unethical.
Katie Bentley, the mother of a young boy who suffers from multiple serious disorders and is an SSI recipient, also testified. She spoke of how the SSI benefits have given her son opportunities that would not be available otherwise and how much he has improved as a result.