CWLA Testimony Submitted to the Subcommittee on Human Resources of the House Ways and Means Committee for the Hearing on Child Protection Issues
March 23, 2000
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The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) welcomes this opportunity to submit testimony to the Subcommittee on Human Resources for the hearing on child protection issues.
CWLA is an 80-year-old national association of over 1,100 public and private voluntary agencies that serve more than two million abused and neglected children and their families. CWLA member agencies provide the wide array of services necessary to protect and care for abused and neglected children, including child protective services, family preservation, family foster care, treatment foster care, residential group care, adolescent pregnancy prevention, child day care, emergency shelter care, independent living, youth development, and adoption.
CWLA is pleased that the committee will be hearing from such a distinguished panel on the devastating impact on substance abuse on the children and families involved in the child welfare system. We especially applaud Senator Rockefeller for his leadership on a new initiative to improve our systems of care and to respond more effectively to the needs of children and families. Mary Nelson, Administrator of the Division of Adult, Children and Family Services, Iowa Department of Human Services, is testifying today on the challenges in addressing child protection and permanency issues among families with alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems. Her testimony reflects the concerns and suggestions that CWLA and others have put forth to enhance the capacity of our systems of care to respond more appropriately and effectively and to improve results for the children and families involved.
CWLA takes this opportunity to provide comments on the second subject of the hearing, the challenges for state courts under ASFA and how pending legislation will help address them.
New Demands on State Court Resources
The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA, P.L. 105-89) imposed new requirements for state abuse and neglect courts, but did not provide any new resources for courts to handle the additional responsibilities. Courts are now expected to decide early in the case whether reunification services are required. Courts must conduct a permanency hearing at 12 months, rather than at 18 months, as under previous law. Courts must also process the petitions to terminate parental rights, which states are required to initiate for children who have been in foster care 15 out of the most recent 22 months. Under ASFA, courts must also adopt procedures to ensure the participation of foster parents, preadoptive parents, and relative caretakers of abused and neglected children.
CWLA strongly supports legislation introduced in the Senate by Senator DeWine and others that will provide state abuse and neglect courts with additional resources to be better equipped to handle their new responsibilities. This legislation, (S. 708) the Strengthening Abuse and Neglect Courts Act, supports grants to courts to reduce pending backlogs of abuse and neglect cases so they can hire additional personnel, extend court operating hours or conduct night court sessions so that more cases can be handled in a timely manner. The legislation also authorizes additional training for judges, abuse and neglect attorneys, and court personnel and provides funding for courts to improve their automated data collection system.
The House is already on record in support of a provision of that bill that allows Title IV-E training funds to be used to train court personnel in matters related to the court's role in expediting adoption procedures, implementing reasonable efforts, and providing for timely permanency planning and case reviews. CWLA supported that effort and encourages Congress to take action this year to pass legislation to provide courts with the resources they need to be able to make more timely decisions about permanency options for abused and neglected children so that more children can move to permanent homes.
Enhanced Resources and Options for Child Welfare Training
The focus on these key training issues as they pertain to the courts also allows important consideration of other critical aspects of training that require clarification and enhancement to resolve current and future problems. ASFA's emphasis on better and faster permanency decision making also fundamentally requires well trained caseworkers.
In recent years, some states have experienced significant problems in accessing and utilizing Title IV-E training funds to support appropriate and needed training for staff in private agencies that are state approved and meet federal eligibility criteria as child care institutions. The law outlines that short- or long-term training at educational institutions is reimbursable at the 75 percent match rate for such training of state agency and local public agency staff. The statute also prescribes that short-term training of current or prospective foster or adoptive parents and private agency staff can be reimbursed at a 75 percent federal match. Federal regulations to implement these provisions narrow the focus of allowable activities, limiting the availability and accessibility of these critical training resources.
One commonly confronts differing interpretations of what is allowable, which entities are eligible, and what is the level of reimbursement. Various states, private agencies, and others have reported widespread difficulties in accessing this critical training resource. The difficulties have grown with the continued lack of clarification as well as inconsistency in guidance given to the states. States, as a result, differ considerably on what they do and what they have been told they can or cannot do. In the end, public and private agencies have had to cobble together strategies to support needed training.
As we seek to expand appropriate training opportunities to court personnel and others involved in child welfare decision making and services, the current difficulties will only be compounded in absence of addressing the inconsistencies in current program directives and operations.
CWLA urges you to resolve these problems to permit equitable access to Title IV-E incentives for training parent caregivers; direct care workers, case managers, and others in the broad array of child welfare services in public and approved private child welfare agencies; and, those in critical areas of decision making, including court personnel and special advocates. In addition, reimbursable activities should include full menu of training that can enhance capacity to improve outcomes and are consistent with the state plan to achieve safety, permanency, and well-being.
Outcomes for children and families improve when those involved in making decisions and providing services and supports have been well trained in good practice. Appropriate access to the Title IV-E training resource will help assure that.
In sum, we commend this Subcommittee for continuing to investigate ways we can better address the needs of abused and neglected children and their families. We look forward to continuing to work with you to help protect our most vulnerable children.
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