Children's Monitor Online
A Public Policy Update from the Child Welfare League of America

   
   
Vol. 20, Issue 20: 5/21/2007   
Headlines

House Subcommittee Begins Review of Child Welfare Issues

Coalition Unveils Child Welfare Finance Proposal

Summit on Children to Be Webcast Tuesday

Budget Deal Approval Allows Appropriations to Begin

Organizations Agree on Principles for Juvenile Justice Reauthorization

CBO Provides Numbers on SCHIP "Crowd-Out"

Home Visiting Legislation Introduced in the House

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



House Subcommittee Begins Review of Child Welfare Issues

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support held its first hearing this Congress focused solely on the challenges facing the child welfare system. On May 15, Subcommittee Chair Jim McDermott (D-WA) commenced the hearing stating, "There should be no political divide when it comes to protecting vulnerable children." Ranking Member Jerry Weller (R-IL) identified preventing abuse and neglect, services to Native American children, improved oversight, and workforce training for both public and private agencies as priorities.

Panelists who presented testimony included Anne Holton, First Lady of Virginia; Ed Cotton, Consultant, Herby Zeller Associates; Cornelia Ashby, Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security, U.S. Government Accountability Office; William Bell, President and CEO, Casey Family Programs; and Mary Nelson, Administrator, Division of Child and Family Services, Iowa Department of Human Services.

The panel identified a cascade of challenges and opportunities for the child welfare system, including Title IV-E foster care resources and the "look-back provision," which ties eligibility to the outdated AFDC program; support for older youth who age-out of foster care, for kinship caregivers, and for foster parents; court improvement projects; prevention and early intervention; enhanced data collection; caseload sizes and standards; accessible and effective mental health and health services; affordable housing; substance abuse treatment; education; disproportionate representation of and disparate outcomes for African American children; the child welfare workforce; and cross-system collaboration. Nelson also used her testimony to highlight a new finance proposal developed by a coalition of national groups (see below).

Representative Artur Davis (D-AL) expressed concern over the disproportionate representation of and disparate outcomes for African American children, noting African American children represent 15% of the child population but comprise 35% of the child welfare population. Both Representatives Shelley Berkeley (D-NV) and Jon Porter (R-NV), who share jurisdiction in Clark County, Nevada, appeared displeased with points raised in Cotton's presentation, which indicated that only 31.8% of child abuse and neglect reports reviewed were appropriately initiated and found fault with more than 60% of child protective service investigations.

McDermott asked an open-ended question: What should the structure of the child welfare system look like? Responses varied. Holton said it makes no sense to rely on the old AFDC income eligibility standards, which places an administrative burden on frontline workers--taking time away from workers visiting with children and families. Bell indicated that setting ceilings for caseloads, post-reunification services, and transition services for youth aging out were all important system improvements.

Ashby said families should be informed about what services exist at the local, state, and federal levels. Nelson mentioned that the Title IV-E match rate for administrative costs should be revised to enhance the federal-state partnership, as well as court improvement projects. Cotton said in-home services and kinship care are also important structural components.

CWLA commends the subcommittee for holding this hearing and looks forward to further hearings specific to child protection and child welfare services. Access the testimony CWLA submitted to the subcommittee online.

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Coalition Unveils Child Welfare Finance Proposal

On May 15, CWLA joined with seven other national organizations in unveiling a proposal to enact a comprehensive reform of the way child welfare services are funded. The proposal is jointly authored by CWLA and the American Federation of State, County,and Municipal Employees; the American Public Human Services Association; Catholic Charities; the Center for Law and Social Policy; the Children's Defense Fund; the National Child Abuse Coalition; and Voices for America's Children.

The proposal would eliminate the current Title IV-E eligibility requirement, extend funding to intervention and prevention services, and reject any effort to convert Title IV-E into a block grant. The proposal also recommends Title IV-E be extended to cover kinship and guardianship placements. It would require any savings from the extended federal coverage of foster care to be reinvested into prevention services and would also fund post-permanency services for children leaving care. Tribal governments would be eligible for direct access to IV-E funds, and the current use of IV-E funds for training would be enhanced and extended to private agencies. The policy statement is available online.

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Summit on Children to Be Webcast Tuesday

The Cannon House Office Building will be the site of a National Summit on America's Children sponsored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on May 22. The conference runs 9:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. with opening remarks by Pelosi, Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Chaka Fattah (D-PA), and House Education and Labor Chair George Miller (D-CA).

Four panels of experts will focus on the science of early childhood development, early learning, health and mental health, and income and family support. The 21 panelists include Carol Wilson Spigner, Field Center for Children's Policy Practice and Research; Jane Knitzer, National Center for Children in Poverty; J. Lawrence Aber, Institute for Human Development and Contextual Change; and Gordon Berlin, Manpower Demonstration Research Center.

The summit is limited mainly to members of Congress and experts from the field. Earlier this month, some preliminary discussions were held on the four main topic areas. Judith Silver, Director of the Starting Young Program, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, participated in a panel discussion with members of Congress preparing for the summit. She has extensive expertise in young children in foster care, has written a book and several articles on the issue, and was on the committee that assisted in developing the new CWLA Health Care Standards.

CWLA President and CEO Christine James-Brown will represent CWLA at the summit. To read a full listing of the agenda and panel participantsm and to join in the webcast, go to www.speaker.gov.

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Budget Deal Approval Allows Appropriations to Begin

A final budget resolution (S. Con. Res 21/H. Rept. 110-153), published May 16, allocates more than $2.9 trillion for FY 2008, which begins on October 1. The resolution allocates $954 billion in discretionary funding, which has to be appropriated each year. The $954 billion funds the entire defense budget, homeland security, and a range of domestic programs, from agriculture to human service programs.

The $954 billion is $21 billion more than the White House requested; last week White House Budget Director Rob Portman said he would recommend the President veto bills if they don't adhere to the President's spending totals. If Congress did agree to the White House budget proposal, funding for most domestic programs would be either frozen or cut after funding was allocated for defense and homeland security.

The budget resolution allows appropriators to allocate how much each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees can spend. The resolution also sets aside a reserve fund for the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Another reserve fund would allow for a potential increase in child care mandatory funding.

Despite having reserve funds, Congress will still have to find offsets or savings in other programs to pay for any reauthorization. In the past, the House has tried to finish all appropriations bills by July 4, with approval of the Labor–Health and Human Services–Education appropriations bill reserved for last.

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Organizations Agree on Principles for Juvenile Justice Reauthorization

As of May 6, more than 150 organizations nationwide had endorsed the Statement of Principles for reauthorizing the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, P.L. 107-273. The principles were presented to staff members of Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chair Ted Kennedy.

Both senators are interested in taking advantage of the reauthorization to develop legislation to improve the federal law. Both have particular interest in the issues addressed in the principles, especially increasing the reach of prevention programs, enhancing alternatives to detention, decreasing transfers to adult court, reducing racial and ethnic disparities in treatment, and strengthening rehabilitation efforts for youth when they get in trouble with the law.

When the legislation will be introduced, or when hearings or votes may be held, remains unclear. Progress is expected in the coming weeks, however.

Other organizations are encouraged to endorse the Statement of Principles, which are online. To endorse the principles, send an email to info@juvjust.org.

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CBO Provides Numbers on SCHIP "Crowd-Out"

On May 10, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a paper on SCHIP that objectively discusses the programs key features, trends in enrollment and federal spending, and issues likely to arise as Congress considers the successful program's reauthorization this year--without giving any recommendations one way or the other.

Probably the report's most interesting finding is that for every 100 children who enroll in SCHIP, there is a corresponding reduction in private coverage for between 25 and 50 children. This occurrence--termed "crowd-out"--has already stirred up concern and debate, including the fear that continuing to expand SCHIP to children in families with higher incomes may cause a greater offsetting reduction in private coverage. The main reasons cited for a family leaving a private insurance program and enrolling their child in SCHIP is lower cost and a more comprehensive package of benefits.

Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), who jointly requested the CBO report, expressed different views on its message. Grassley issued a statement that, in light of the report, Congress must ensure reauthorization results in "more kids having health insurance, rather than simply shifting children from private to public health insurance" and that lawmakers need to recommit focus to children in low-income families.

Baucus countered to some extent by pointing to other statistics in the report that indicate SCHIP does, in fact, help the low-income children it was intended to serve. Although the uninsurance rate for children in higher-income families remained relatively level, the uninsurance rate for children in families between 100%-200% of the federal poverty level (FPL, with the FPL for a family of three in 2007 being $17,170) fell from 22.5% in 1996 (the year before SCHIP was enacted) to 16.9% in 2005.

Baucus also said there will always be overlap in options when it comes to public versus private health insurance programs. Echoing that sentiment, CBO Director Peter Orszag reminded the press that uninsured and insured children "swim in the same pool," and since it is impossible to reach in and pick out only the uninsured, perhaps this is a "necessary trade-off involved with any significant effort to reduce the ranks of the uninsured."

SCHIP reauthorization must be completed by the program's September 30, 2007, expiration date. The Senate Finance Committee, having made this a priority, hopes to consider reauthorization legislation authored by Baucus shortly after Congress's Memorial Day recess.

The CBO report is online. A recent paper from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that compares public and private health insurance coverage for children in terms of cost, access, benefits and standards, and cost-sharing and deductibles, is available online.

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Home Visiting Legislation Introduced in the House

Representative Danny Davis (D-IL) introduced the Education Begins at Home Act, H.R.2343, on May 16. The legislation is similar to the Senate bill, S.667, and would expand quality programs of early childhood home visitation that increase school readiness, child abuse and neglect prevention, and early identification of developmental and health delays, including potential mental health concerns. For more information about this legislation, go online.

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CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

CWLA's Legislative Alerts provide breaking news, advocacy information, and critically important timely details of legislative battles. In an effort to broaden CWLA's advocacy network on behalf of children, anyone can now subscribe and receive the same information. This effort compliments CWLA's weekly electronic legislative newsletter, the Children's Monitor, which is also available free to any subscriber. We encourage you to register to receive these items directly and to pass on the information to other colleagues, family, and friends.

Subscribe to Legislative Alerts.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

May 1-31: Foster Care Month
May 22: Speaker's National Summit on America's Children
May 26-June 3: Congressional Memorial Day Break
June 30-July 8: Congressional July 4th Break
October 1: 2008 Federal Fiscal Year Begins


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