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

   
   
Vol. 21, Issue 35: 9/22/2008   
Headlines

Historic Child Welfare Legislation Moves to Senate

Congress Considers Returning After Election

Temporary FMAP Increase Still Possible as Part of Second Stimulus Package

Trying to Get Mental Health and Addiction Parity Across the Finish Line

House Subcommittee Examines Issue of Youth Serving Life Without Parole

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



Historic Child Welfare Legislation Moves to Senate

The Senate is scheduled to meet today, September 22, with the possibility it will give final approval to the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (H.R. 6893) and send the legislation to President Bush, who is expected to sign it into law this week. The legislation represents the most significant reform of child welfare in more than a decade, since Congress enacted the Adoption and Safe Families Act.

The legislation started to take shape in both the Senate and the House through the leadership of two key committees. In the House, Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), as Chair of the House Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, had introduced a major reform bill last February. Eventually, this bill lead to bipartisan discussions with his Republican counterpart, Ranking Subcommittee Member Jerry Weller (R-IL). The House passed their new bill in July by a voice vote.

A little later in the year, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced a bill that dealt with some key adoption and kinship issues. That bill would later serve as the vehicle for a bipartisan discussions, lead by Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT). Baucus and Grassley announced their version of a bipartisan deal in late July. Although the Senate had not completed action on the bill in July, the principals held intense discussions during the August recess to work out the details. A final agreement was announced on September 15. The House then passed the agreement as a new bill, H.R. 6893, on September 17.

The landmark legislation is the result of bipartisan and bicameral work that was spearheaded by key members of Congress over the past two months. The bill enacts significant reforms in seven areas: kinship care, direct access to federal child welfare funds by tribal governments, extension of foster care funds to youth up to age 21, an eventual elimination of the AFDC link to special-needs adoptions, expansion of federal child welfare training funds to private agencies and courts, increased access to education for foster children, and increased monitoring and access to health care for foster children.

Some of the changes, such as the adoption delink and extension of foster care to 21, will be phased in, but all provisions will help address significant challenges in child welfare when state and local programs have had an opportunity to implement them over the next few years. To read a more detailed analysis, visit our website.

Kinship care has been a major priority for CWLA over the past four years, with Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) announcing her bill at CWLA's 2004 National Conference. The bill was later introduced with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and a House version was introduced by Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL) and Tim Johnson (R-IL).

The final bill allows Title IV-E funds to extend to kinship families in the child welfare system. It reasserts state flexibility on licensing requirements on a case-by-case basis, with HHS directed to collect information on the issues. The legislation directs states to have a 30-day notification process to inform relatives, such as grandparents, when a child enters the child welfare system. Current state kinship waiver programs would be allowed to continue the same benefits under the new law.

Another important provision is new flexibility allowing tribal governments and consortia to apply for direct funding of Title IV-E foster care and adoption and kinship assistance. This has been a major priority for tribal advocates and members of Congress in both parties. Workforce issues also received some help when access to Title IV-E training funds was extended to private child welfare agencies. Weller had introduced a similar bill in recent years. That and the creation of a new loan forgiveness in the Higher Education reauthorization make two victories in this Congress regarding strategies to advance the child welfare workforce.

CWLA will be analyzing and providing further information on the legislation and its potential for assistance in child welfare systems across the country in the coming months.

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Congress Considers Returning After Election

Last week saw more discussion about Congress returning after the election. Issues to be addressed include the need to pass a continuing resolution (CR), which would provide short-term federal appropriations for FY 2009, and whether that would continue into January 2009 or just through the middle of November. Also was the possibility that Congress could return to hold hearings if the current economic situation continues to deteriorate with the recent turmoil in the financial world.

A CR should be decided this week and will likely set funding close to level or flat funding equal to 2008 levels. CWLA joined a number of Washington groups, led by the Coalition on Human Needs, and sent a letter requesting that such a CR recognize the need to add funding in a small number of key areas of demand, including child care, nutrition, energy relief programs, and the Social Services Block Grant. Congress was also considering passing full 2009 appropriations for Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans programs. A CR likely would be attached to such a small omnibus bill, referred to as a "minibus" appropriations bill.

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Temporary FMAP Increase Still Possible as Part of Second Stimulus Package

Congress is still considering a temporary increase in the percentage of federal matching funds states receive for their Medicaid programs, to help stimulate the nation's grim economic situation. The Center on Budget on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates 29 states are facing budget shortfalls of at least $48 billion in FY 2009. Medicaid is a vital health program, insuring more than 57 million vulnerable Americans, including children in foster care, but the program places great pressure on state budgets, especially in such tight economic times. Rather than states having to cut important services, a temporary FMAP increase would serve to protect our safety net. Congress passed a similar increase in 2003 that included a 2.95% increase in Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) rates for the last two quarters of 2003 and the first three quarters of 2004.

House Democrats in particular hope to put forth and move an economic stimulus bill containing a temporary FMAP increase before Congress adjourns. Other proposals under consideration include more money for food stamps, a further extension of jobless benefits for high unemployment states, natural disaster relief, and home energy assistance. How amenable the Senate or the President would be to this sort of increase or package is unclear, but increasingly dire situations on Wall Street and across the nation due to recent hurricanes and other natural disasters have certainly strengthened the case.

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Trying to Get Mental Health and Addiction Parity Across the Finish Line

With the Congressional session winding down, mental health and substance abuse parity legislation was at the forefront of discussions on both the Senate and House side of Capitol Hill last week. Significant strides toward full mental health and addiction parity have been made in this Congress. Both the House and Senate passed versions of comprehensive mental health and substance abuse parity (S. 558 and H.R. 1424) that would require group health plans with 50 or more enrollees who choose to offer mental health and addiction benefits to provide them on the same terms as other medical conditions. The Senate passed S. 558 in September 2007 by unanimous consent; the House passed H.R. 1424 in March 2008. Since then, the chambers have negotiated differences and finalized policy content for parity legislation.

On September 16, leaders of the Senate Finance Committee announced they were including this compromise parity legislation in a moving energy and tax package (H.R. 6049). How the House would proceed remained unclear at press time.

On September 17, Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) held a rally outside the Cannon House Office Building to boost the effort to get the legislation passed before the end of the month. Several members of Congress attended the rally, as well as community members and representatives of many advocacy organizations. Members of Congress who spoke at the parity rally acknowledged time is short but reaffirmed their commitment to getting parity signed into law this year.

Full parity has been pushed by advocates, including CWLA, for more than a decade. Enacting the legislation would be an enormous victory and do much to end longstanding discrimination between physical health conditions and mental health and substance abuse disorders.

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House Subcommittee Examines Issue of Youth Serving Life Without Parole

The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing September 11 on H.R. 4300, the "Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act." This legislation seeks to end the practice of sentencing youth younger than 18 at the time of their offenses to life without parole (LWOP). A 2008 report by Human Rights Watch found the United States is unique in this practice, with more than 2,484 youth serving LWOP in U.S. prisons.

Witnesses included Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Richard Dudley, a medical doctor from New York; Elizabeth Calvin, a children's rights advocate with Human Rights Watch; and Raphael Johnson, a reformed juvenile offender.

Recent national data show the use of LWOP for juveniles is disproportionate; approximately 59% of juveniles serving LWOP sentences were first-time offenders. National data also highlight racial disparities in the practice of juvenile LWOP, with African American 10 times more likely than white youth to be sentenced to LWOP for the same crime. The recurrent theme among all four witnesses was the profound absence of hope proliferated by juvenile LWOP. H.R. 4300 would efficiently abolish juvenile LWOP in America and give children sentenced to life the opportunity for parole once in 15 years.

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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 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, currently Executive Director of Children and Family Futures, Irvine, California 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. Dr. Young also serves as the Director of the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare, which is supported by Children’s Bureau and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

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.

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

Coming Shows

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

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. CWLA is calling on Congress and the next President to reestablish this important policymaking tradition. The time to act is now. Your support and involvement are crucial.

You can support this effort by going to www.cwla.org/advocacy/whitehouseconf10.htm. There, you can sign on to support CWLA's call for a White House Conference in 2010, let you members of Congress know of your support, complete a survey about what areas you would like to see such a White House Conference focus on, see which members of Congress are cosponsoring the authorizing legislation for a White House Conference, learn how to get your board to pass a resolution supporting this effort, and more!

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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 2009 federal fiscal year
November 4: Election Day
January 3, 2009: Start of 111th Congress
January 20, 2009: New President sworn in


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