CWLA Testimony Submitted to the House Ways & Means Subcommittee on Human Resources for the Hearing on Child Protection Oversight
April 22, 1999
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The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) welcomes this opportunity to submit testimony on the implementation of a federal review system for child protection systems, and on the impact of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) on the number of adoptions in the United States.
CWLA is a 79-year-old national association of over 1,000 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.
Our brief comments that follow chiefly focus on the impact of ASFA on adoptions. They also suggest ways to improve adoption and other permanency outcomes. With respect to the proposed review system, CWLA strongly supports federal efforts to strengthen the quality of services and the capacity of agencies to deliver them. We applaud DHHS and its focus in the proposed rule on outcomes and program improvements. Our comments on the proposal are available on the CWLA web site at http://www.cwla.org/cwla/publicpolicy/pl105-89.html.
The Adoption and Safe Families Act, which originated in this Subcommittee, made clear our shared national goal of helping more children in foster care become part of permanent, loving families when they cannot safely return home. ASFA authorizes payments to states for increasing the numbers of children with special needs who become part of permanent, adoptive families. Early results indicate that many states have been successful in achieving that goal as adoptions of children with special needs have increased 22 percent according to the North American Council on Adoptable Children.
We are pleased and encouraged by the increases in adoptions. At the same time, we have concerns that we urge you to address to ensure that safety and permanency are achieved and maintained. ASFA demands faster permanency decision making, but few new resources--including the very limited adoption incentive funding and additional funding under Promoting Safe and Stable Families program--needed to build capacity among caseworkers and others in the child welfare agency, the courts, and the wider provider community to make good decisions in a timely fashion. We urge Congress to take the following actions to increase and improve stability and permanency for children:
Increase Resources for Post-Adoption Services
Adoptive families need support after, as well as before, an adoption is made final. Children who have been abused or neglected often have special needs and present special challenges for their adoptive families. Post-adoption services help parents meet the specific needs of their adopted children in order to maintain nurturing and permanent families. Post-adoption services often are key in preventing disruption and dissolution and should be available to all families that adopt a child with special needs from the child welfare system. Federal or state adoption subsidies do not pay for the parent training and education, counseling, respite care and residential treatment that these families need. New resources need to be dedicated to ensure that adoptive families have the support they need to care for these vulnerable children.
Make all Children with Special Needs Eligible for Federal Adoption Assistance
Under current law, children with special needs awaiting adoption are eligible for federal adoption subsidies under the Title IV-E Adoption Assistance Program, only if their biological family from whom they are being separated received SSI or welfare benefits (or would have been eligible to receive welfare benefits under the former AFDC program, given the income and resource standards in place in each state on June 16, 1996). Eliminating AFDC eligibility as a criterion for federal assistance would allow all children with special needs to be eligible for a federal adoption subsidy. This change would help more children with special needs be adopted, would replace a current cost and administrative burden, and would treat all children with special needs more equitably.
Support Court Improvements
In order to achieve the goals of ASFA, the already overburdened abuse and neglect courts also need help. CWLA supports legislation, such as the Strengthening Abuse and Neglect Courts Act (S. 708) recently introduced in the Senate to help courts deal with the accelerated timelines for the termination of parental rights and other requirements imposed by ASFA that increase the demands on abuse and neglect courts.
Help Older Children in Foster Care Transition to Independence
We are delighted by the interest expressed by members of this Subcommittee to extend support to young people in foster care who reach their eighteenth birthday and are facing life on their own without the support of a permanent family. The hearing held by this Subcommittee on March 9, highlighted the needs of these young people and documented how the federal government can help them become productive, self-sufficient adults. We thank the Subcommittee for its attention to the serious problems facing emancipating foster youths and urge action to meet critical health and shelter needs, as well as the skills needed to become self-sufficient adults.
We appreciate this opportunity to share our views and look forward to working with the Subcommittee on these issues during the coming months.
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