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

   
   
Vol. 21, Issue 34: 9/15/2008   
Headlines

Senate Approves Child Welfare Bill

Congress Back with More Talk of Post-Election Session

No More SCHIP Votes for 110th Congress

A Conversation on Child Welfare Issues

New Policy Agenda for Candidates and Congress

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

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

Let Congress Know of Your Support

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Senate Approves Child Welfare Bill

The Senate Finance Committee on September 10 approved the chairman's substitute version of the Improved Adoption Incentives and Relative Guardianship Support Act (S. 3038). Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) described the package of bills as "making it easier for folks to become adoptive or foster parents, creating opportunities for older foster children, and protecting vulnerable seniors from exploitation are smart policies that will make real, positive changes in peoples' lives."

In response to the Senate action, CWLA President and CEO Christine James-Brown said, "Senators took a major step this morning in passing what could be the most significant child welfare legislation in more than a decade." She added that members "working across party and house lines is a clear indication that Congress recognizes the need to make significant improvements in our nation's child welfare system."

On June 24, the House of Representatives passed by a voice vote 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, introduced the bipartisan bill just days before passage. With both the Senate and House now having major child welfare bills moving, the two sides have been engaging in some discussion around one bill. Such a bill has a good chance of passing before Congress breaks at the end of this month, especially since both are paid for and would not increase the annual deficit.

The Senate Finance Committee bill represents a bipartisan agreement between Baucus and Ranking Member Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). That chairman's mark or substitute bill evolved out of discussions on S. 3038, which Grassley introduced in May. CWLA has endorsed both the new Senate bill as well as the House bill H.R. 6307.

Both bills reauthorize the adoption incentives program with increased incentives for the adoption of special-needs children and children age 9 and older. These populations are disproportionately represented in the more than 124,000 children waiting to be adopted. In fact, reauthorization of this incentive program, due to expire in this fiscal year, is the impetus for this overall package. The bills take 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 also extend support for kinship care by allowing states the option of using Title IV-E funds for relative kinship placements. Currently, relatives can only receive Title IV-E funds if they are considered and licensed as foster parents. The Adoption and Safe Families Act recognizes kinship placements as one of three permanency options (along with adoption and reunification) but never provided access to Title IV-E foster care funds except for a few cases where states received temporary waivers.

The Senate and House child welfare bills also include changes that will allow tribal governments and consortia to apply directly for Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance funding. Right now, tribal communities can access these funds only as part of the state system or through an 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.

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

Another important provision in the Senate and House bills would require states to keep children who enter foster care in their same schools as long as 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 assure that all foster children who are covered by mandatory school attendance laws are in fact in enrolled in and attending school. The bills would allow states to include the cost of transportation in the foster care maintenance payments.

Differences between the two bills will have to be addressed. The most significant difference is the Senate de-link of adoption assistance payments from the nonexistent Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. This eligibility requirement means states have to look back to their AFDC eligibility requirements as they existed on July 16, 1996. The Senate bill would phase out this eligibility link and cover all special-needs adoption payments by FY 2013. The House bill does not include this provision.

On the other hand, the House has provisions not found in the Senate bill. The House bill allows Title IV-E training funds to be used for private agencies, which are critical providers 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. The House bill also includes 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 the provision of medication.

The strongest bill would include all of the House and Senate provisions, but that may require finding enough offsets to cover any additional costs. At press time, it was unclear when the next Senate or House action would take place, but it could be as soon as this week.

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Congress Back with More Talk of Post-Election Session

The official line in Washington was that Congress would finish for the year by September 26, but there is more unofficial talk of Congress needing to return to Capitol Hill after the election, in either November or December. Among the potential issues that could still need attention after September 26 are extending a number of popular business investment tax credits on such items as research and development and hiring hard to serve workers; the mental health parity legislation; addressing the problem of the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which may cover more middle-income taxpayers if not addressed; and changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act to address a negative court ruling.

Taking precedence last week were the debates over offshore oil drilling and defense spending. Senate appropriators moved on a defense department bill that would provide $487 billion for the defense budget. This figure is $4 billion below what the President requested and does not include the cost of the war. It may be the only appropriations bill enacted before the start of the fiscal year. Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to provide funding for federal fiscal year 2009, which starts October 1. How long the CR runs will be influenced by whether and when Congress returns after the election. Some predictions are that it could stretch to March 2009, with federal funding at a flat level or funding equal to 2008.

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No More SCHIP Votes for 110th Congress

Congressional Democrats have indicated they will not hold another vote on reauthorization and modification of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) this Congressional session. Started in 1997 as a health insurance program for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, and those who are either not offered or cannot afford private coverage, SCHIP currently covers more than 6 million children.

SCHIP was up for reauthorization in 2007, and Democrats in the 110th Congress made it a priority to expand the popular program so it could cover millions more uninsured, but eligible children. Congress was able to pass two compromise bills (H.R. 976 and H.R. 3963) that would have reauthorized SCHIP for five years, improved upon its initial successes, and provided coverage to millions more children, but President Bush vetoed both measures. Congress attempted to override each of President Bush's vetoes, but fell short of the necessary two-thirds votes--by 13 votes the first time around and later by 15 votes.

As a result of this gridlock, SCHIP was extended through March 31, 2009, with sufficient funding to maintain current enrollment and avoid shortfalls (P.L. 110-173). Some Democrats had vowed to bring SCHIP up again this Congressional session, making children's health care a highly visible election issue. These Democrats have recently stated, however, they will not hold such a vote due to (among other reasons) lack of time, an increased cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, and the fact they would likely still face a Presidential veto that they would not be able to override.

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A Conversation on Child Welfare Issues

On September 9, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), in conjunction with Casey Family Programs hosted a Conversation on Child Welfare Issues. This discussion explored various issues facing children and families in the child welfare system. The panel offered experience, expertise, and policy implications for the need to provide, improve, and ultimately prevent the dependence on the child welfare system.

The panel comprised Jorge Cabrera, Senior Director, Casey Family Programs in San Diego; Miriam Calderόn, Executive Director, Education and Children's Policy from National Council of La Raza (NCLR); Julio Carranza, a former foster care youth; Jackie Contreras, Casey Family Programs; and Josephine Garza, Executive Director, National Latino Children's Institute (NLCI). Also in attendance were Representatives Jim Costa (D-CA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

Recommendations from the panel included the need for home visiting programs, a culturally sensitive child welfare system that provides culturally relevant services, mental health services, extending the services for youth who are aging out of the foster care system, more permanency options, and services for relatives who want to help provide for their kin in the foster care system but lack the resources needed to properly care for them.

Carranza urged states to do more to recruit Latino adoptive parents so children can have the opportunity to participate in cultural activities, something he was never able to do. The child welfare experts on the panel mentioned the disproportionate number of Latino children in the child welfare system and the fact that many are languishing in care and are less likely to reunify or be adopted.

Calderón talked about the effects immigration raids have on children, noting that more than 5 million children in this country have at least one undocumented parent, and that more than two-thirds of these children are citizens who end up in the foster care system because their parents were deported.

Members of Congress echoed this point by calling for a comprehensive immigration reform that would seek to protect children who are so negatively affected by the current immigration policies.

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New Policy Agenda for Candidates and Congress

Today, the National Collaboration for Youth released its policy agenda for the 111th Congress and the Presidential candidates. The agenda, Toward a Brighter Future: An Essential Agenda for America's Young People, contains recommendations for federal policy changes and investments designed to invest in the needs of children and youth. The agenda focuses on three core elements of a strategy for how the federal government works on issues facing young people: a focus on the whole child, a fundamental premise that all young people should be treated with dignity and equality, and a positive youth development approach that builds from assets in young people’s lives, not from deficits.

Although most would agree that children are our greatest asset, the federal government's investment in children and youth is in steep decline. The agenda seeks to move toward a brighter future and invest in the needs of our children and youth, and to give our young people the tools to succeed. View the agenda at www.collab4youth.org.

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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, 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."

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

Coming Shows

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


Tens of millions of American children are growing up in the shadow of alcohol and substance abuse--with a family life characterized by chaos and confusion, and unstable parental behavior that ranges from loving to withdrawn to violent. Nearly 24% (17 million) of America's children live with a parent or other adult who drinks heavily or binge drinks. About 13% (9.2 million) live with a parent or other adult who uses illegal drugs. Up to 80% of children in the child welfare system are affected by substance abuse.

Revitalizing families affected by parental substance abuse calls for a continuum of integrated community-based services that includes substance abuse treatment, family therapy, mental health services, education, and training in life skills, job readiness, and parenting. But a shortage of funding for these services is a significant barrier to long-term recovery and family success.

Our guests are two nationally recognized experts who will discuss the epidemic of parental substance abuse; its devastating effects on children, families, and communities; and family-focused models that provide an integrated system of care that supports long-term recovery and family restoration.

Nancy Young, Executive Director of Children and Family Futures, Irvine, California, and Director of the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare, has worked as a consultant for more than 30 states and regional offices on prevention and treatment issues affecting families involved with welfare and child welfare.

Sara Tienda, Assistant Director of SHIELDS for Families, a Los Angeles nonprofit dedicated to developing, delivering, and evaluating culturally sensitive, comprehensive service models that empower and advocate for families affected by substance abuse and child abuse.

Wednesday October 1
The Messages Project


Carolyn LeCroy is an award-winning film and video producer with her own company, Women in Transition. She was recently featured on CNN as a "CNN Hero" for her "Messages Project, which she established in 1999. The Messages Project visits six state prisons in Virginia three times a year to create videotapes from incarcerated parents to children. The tapes are mailed to children and families, often with a book or poems and messages that have been recorded on the tape.

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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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

  • September 26: House and Senate Scheduled End to 110th Congress
  • October 1: Start of Federal Fiscal Year 2009
  • November 4: Election Day
  • January 3, 2009: Start of 111th Congress
  • January 20, 2009: New President Sworn In


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