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

   
   
Vol. 21, Issue 32: 8/25/2008   
Headlines

Special Announcement

CMS Says It Won't Take Compliance Action on August 17 SCHIP Directive

Why Congress May Be Close to the Most Significant Child Welfare Bill in a Decade

On the Line with CWLA, Speaking for America's Children

Join CWLA's Call for a White House Conference on Children and Youth

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Special Announcement

Please Note: Children's Monitor will not publish Labor Day Week (next week, September 1). Have a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend. Children's Monitor will return Monday, September 8.

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CMS Says It Won't Take Compliance Action on August 17 SCHIP Directive

Jeff Nelligan, spokesperson for the Centers on Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), has stated the agency will not take compliance action at this time on a controversial State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) policy directive issued by the Bush Administration last August 17, 2007. SCHIP covers more than 6 million children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, and those who are either not offered or cannot afford private coverage. Each state has an SCHIP program, but the program is sometimes structured as an expansion of or combination with the state's Medicaid program.

Recognizing states are very differently situated--in terms of costs of living, for example--the federal government has long afforded states flexibility to uniquely tailor certain aspects of their SCHIP programs, including the ability to set income eligibility limits.

In a sharp departure from that sound policy, however, the Bush Administration's August 17, 2007, directive would make it next to impossible for state SCHIP programs that are already covering or desire to cover children in families who earn over 250% of the federal poverty level (FPL) to do so (250% of FPL is $53,000 for a family of four). For instance, under the directive, states must prove they have enrolled at least 95% of their children below 200% FPL who are eligible for either SCHIP or Medicaid before moving up the income eligibility ladder.

In the year since its release, the directive has drawn sharp criticism from states, members of Congress, and advocates, including various lawsuits filed by states against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services challenging both the directive's substance and the process in which it was issued.

The original August 17 directive, issued in the form of a letter to state health officials, said affected states had 12 months to amend their SCHIP state plans or 1115 demonstrations and thereafter faced "corrective action" if they were found to not be in compliance. After Nelligan's statement, however, CMS--at least in the short-term--apparently does not intend to enforce the directive.

Although states and advocates appreciate CMS's retreat, they are also left wondering if CMS ever plans on enforcing the directive and, if so, when. Some states that pulled back expansion plans in anticipation of the directive's enforcement are also extremely frustrated because more advanced knowledge could have permitted opportunities to cover more children to go forward. Whereas it appears set aside for now, the complete future of the August 17 directive is still being determined, so stay tuned for developments.

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Why Congress May Be Close to the Most Significant Child Welfare Bill in a Decade

While most of the nation and the media's attention toward Congress has been focused on partisan debates and what some refer to as gridlock, Congress broke for its August recess very close to moving a child welfare bill that would be the most significant in at least a decade.

On June 24, the House of Representatives, by a voice vote, passed the Fostering Connections to Success Act (H.R. 6307). Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Jerry Weller (R-IL), respectively the Chair and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Income Support and Family Security, had introduced the bipartisan bill just days before. The legislation drew from an earlier bill McDermott had introduced (Invest in KIDS Act, H.R. 5466), with that bill serving as the basis for bipartisan discussions.

Shortly before Congress left for the August recess, the Senate Finance Committee released the Chairman's mark or substitute bill, a bipartisan agreement between Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-IA). The Chairman's mark evolved from bipartisan discussions on a bill introduced last May by Grassley, S. 3038.

Because the Finance Committee ran out of time before it could act on the bill, the hearing or mark-up was rescheduled for September 10. CWLA has endorsed both bills, although differences exist. Negotiations in the coming weeks will hopefully resolve those differences into one bill. Both bills are significant for at least three reasons: They contain significant child welfare policy reforms, they are bipartisan, and they are paid for by offsets or savings in other areas of the government.

Although Congress has reauthorized other child welfare programs in the past decade such as the Child Abuse Prevention Treatment Act, the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program, and the Adoption Incentives program, sometimes with improvements, nothing has passed that would be as significant as this potential bill. The last major piece of legislation Congress adopted in this nature was the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) in 1997. That act, which created time frames to move children out of foster care, created the Adoption Incentives program and increased funding to PSSF, was significant, but it included little in the way of additional funds.

The House and Senate bills have several things in common that would make significant strides in the nation's child welfare system, although short of the comprehensive reform CWLA continues to promote.

Both bills reauthorize the Adoption Incentives program, with increased incentives for the adoption of special-needs children and children 9 and older. Both of these populations are disproportionately represented the more than 124,000 children waiting to be adopted. In fact, the reauthorization of this incentive program, due to expire this fiscal year, is the impetus for this overall package. Both bills take some slightly different approaches, with the Senate bill including a limited incentive fund for kinship placements, moving the program closer to a permanency incentive program.

Both bills would also extend support for kinship care by allowing states the option of using Title IV-E funds for relative kinship placements. Relatives can do this now, and be subsidized by federal Title IV-E funds, but only if they are considered foster parents. ASFA recognized kinship placements as one of three permanency options (along with adoptions and reunification), but never provided access to Title IV-E foster care funds, except for a few cases where states received temporary waivers.

The extension of funding to kinship care has been a long-time priority for CWLA. Working with other organizations, including Generation United, the Children's Defense Fund, and the Center on Law and Social Policy, legislation was developed and introduced by Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), S 661. In fact, Clinton announced the bill at a 2004 CWLA National Conference. That bill was later introduced in the House by Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL) and Tim Johnson (R-IL), HR 2188.

Although the Senate and House child welfare bills do not include everything in the Clinton and Davis bills, they do include an extension of funding, a requirement to notify relatives when a child enters the child welfare system, and a limited amount of money for kinship navigator programs.

The Senate and House child welfare bills also include changes that would allow tribal governments and consortia to apply directly for Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance funding. Tribal communities can access these funds currently only as part of the state system or through and agreement with states. All too often, children on reservations go without the support of federal dollars for foster care or adoption assistance, creating an example of limited federal funds to tribal populations.

Direct access to funding would not be unusual, since tribes today have the ability to draw their own TANF (welfare) funds. Direct access to funding was also on CWLA's agenda, and bills have been introduced in this and previous congresses by members of both parties. The legislation has been a big priority for the Nation Indian Child Welfare Association.

The House and Senate legislation also would allow states the option to extend federal foster care funding to youth up to age 21. Under both bills, states would have an option to decide what age to go up to and would also define child-caring institutions for youth 18 or older to include independent-living settings.

CWLA endorsed legislation to extend care to age 21 (S. 1512), introduced early last year by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Extending care to 21 has been a big priority for advocates in California, in particular the John Burton Foundation. Over the past two years, the PEW Charitable Trusts' Kids Are Waiting campaign has brought dozens of young people to Washington, DC, to talk about their experiences in foster care.More than 24,000 young people leave foster care each year due to becoming too old. The testimony of so many young people has had an impact on members of Congress in both parties.

Another important provision in the Senate and House bills would require states to keep children who enter foster care in their same schools if it is in the child's best interest. If it is not in the foster child's best interest, the case plan must have an arrangement for immediate enrollment into the new school district. Under both bills, the state must also offer an assurance that all foster children who are covered by mandatory school attendance laws are in fact enrolled and attending schools. The bills also allow states to include in the foster care maintenance payments the cost of transportation.

These education provisions also have broad bipartisan support. For the last three years, Casey Family Programs has been working with a coalition of child welfare groups, including CWLA, to address the education challenges for children in care. Much of the focus has been on ways to strengthen provisions in the McKinney-Vento Act, which covers homeless children and their access to schools. This law must be reauthorized along with the reauthorization of the federal elementary and secondary education act.

Despite the common provisions in the Senate and House bills, negotiations will be required over differences in language and some differences in approaches. For example, although the same requirements for licensing apply to foster and kin families, the Senate bill would also allow a 10- state demonstration to allow some greater flexibility in kinship licensing as it applies to square footage, bathroom space, and rooms. Differences also exist in the tribal provisions.

In addition to these generally common areas, three significant differences exist between the House and Senate bills. The Senate bill would delink adoption assistance payments from the non existent AFDC eligibility program. This eligibility requirement means states have to look back to their AFDC eligibility requirements as they existed on July 16, 1996. The eligibility applies to both adoption assistance and foster care. The Senate bill would phase out this eligibility link and eventually cover all special-needs adoption payments by FY 2013. The House bill does not include this provision. CWLA has sought an elimination of the link to AFDC. This provision would be a major step toward overall reform.

The House bill has two important provisions not found in the Senate version. It would allow Title IV-E training funds to be used for private agencies. Private agencies are a critical provider of child welfare services. Some states rely heavily on these agencies, and expanding these training funds are a critical part of a comprehensive child welfare workforce strategy. CWLA has long supported such an expansion of private agency training. The House provision was also in a bill sponsored by Representative Jerry Weller (R-IL).

A second feature in the House bill is new requirements around health care planning and care for foster children. The House bill requires coordination between the child welfare department and Medicaid and other key state health care partners. The planning would have to include screening of children in care, tracking their records, and providing medication. The provisions are strongly supported by Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) and have been prompted by the American Academy of Pediatrics. CWLA has also endorsed these provisions.

In the end, the strongest bill would include all of the House and Senate provisions. That, however, may require finding enough offsets to cover additional costs. If Congress can do it, however, the expansion of federal support for adoptive families, kinship families, tribal populations, youth leaving foster care, stronger training for the workforce, and better health and education services for children in care would mark a major advancement for child welfare and would serve as perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments of the 110th Congress and for bipartisanship in Washington, DC, in 2008.

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On the Line with CWLA, Speaking for America's Children

On the Line with CWLA is a thought-provoking, interactive radio program focusing on subjects, stories, and strategies of special interest to child welfare policymakers, providers, and practitioners. The program, devoted solely to the welfare of America's vulnerable children, features a forum where numerous points of view and voices of experience within the child welfare universe can be heard.

The live program, hosted by broadcasting veteran Tony Regusters, is a production of CWLA that will provide a platform for CWLA member organizations, their staffs, its partners, and concerned citizens in the national community to share ideas and thoughts about critical issues that affect child welfare agencies, vulnerable children and teens, and their families.

The weekly subject-oriented, solutions-driven program will broadcast Wednesdays, 2:00-2:30 pm ET and feature indepth, timely discussions with leading child welfare experts, agents, and advocates; leadership and representatives from CWLA's member agencies; and local and national political figures working to improve child welfare and give a voice to child welfare professionals, providers, and practitioners nationwide.

Programming schedule subject to change.

This Week's Show

Wednesday, August 27
Painful Separations: Immigration Raids Leave Many Children Behind

According to a report by the Urban Institute and the National Council of La Raza, approximately 5 million children in the United States have at least one undocumented parent, and for every two immigrants apprehended in raids, one child is left behind. Host Tony Regusters and his guests call attention to the harmful effects of sweeping immigration raids and expound on the urgent need for a more humane immigration policy that focuses on protecting children and keeping families united while still enforcing the law.

Our special guest: Susan Collins, Legislative Director for U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force on Immigration.

For more information on the show, visit www.cwla.org/newsevents/cwlaradio.htm.

Coming Shows

Wednesday, September 3
A Conversation with Chris James-Brown

Our guest is President and CEO of CWLA.

Wednesday, September 10
Teen Depression and Suicide

Eighteen-year-old Jordan Burham, who had been battling depression for some time, jumped from the ninth floor of his family's apartment building in a suicide attempt 10 months ago. Miraculously, he survived. In May, he testified at a congressional briefing, urging Congress to help young people struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Wednesday, September 17
Nicholas Shanks

A homeless teen and the son of addicted parents, Nicholas Shanks graduated valedictorian of Philadelphia's Martin Luther King High School's 2008 Graduating Class. His story made headlines in the Philadelphia Daily News, and has been featured on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Wednesday, September 24
Parental Substance Abuse: The Impact on Families and Effective Programs to Help


For more information on the show, visit www.cwla.org/newsevents/cwlaradio.htm.

On the Line with CWLA is a production of the Child Welfare League of America, Arlington, Virginia. Programming schedule subject to change.

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Join CWLA's Call for a White House Conference on Children and Youth

Holding a White House Conference on Children will bring together a cross-section of policymakers, advocates, professionals (including the courts), and families and children directly affected by the child welfare system to create recommendations for policy and change. Much positive change has come from previous White House conferences for children, the last one being held in 1970. CWLA is calling on Congress and the next President to reestablish this important policymaking tradition, and the time to act is NOW.

Your support and involvement with this effort is crucial to its success. As experts in the field, we look to you for your leadership in asking Congress and others to support this important campaign for children.

Sign On in Support

CWLA is calling on members and supporters to sign on in support of a White House Conference on Children in 2010.

Pass a Board Resolution

If your organization requires you to pass a board resolution to officially support such an effort, CWLA has created a sample resolution to assist you in this effort.

Let Congress Know of Your Support

The League encourages you to send your resolutions and letters of support to your Congressional delegation. Without their support, a White House conference is not possible.

In keeping with CWLA's tradition of nonpartisanship, the letter has been sent to all presidential candidates in the two major parties. View the website, read the letter, and sign on to support the campaign.

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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.

Subscribe to Children's Monitor.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

  • August 25-28: Democrats Hold Convention
  • September 1-4: Republicans Hold Convention
  • September 8: Congress Reconvenes
  • September 26: House Scheduled End to 110th Congress
  • TBD: Senate Scheduled End to 110th Congress
  • November 4: Election Day
  • January 3, 2009: Start of 111th Congress
  • January 20, 2009: New President Sworn In


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