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

   
   
Vol. 23, Issue 30: 9/27/2010   
Headlines

CAPTA Reauthorization Introduced in the Senate

Congress Considers One-Year Extension of TANF

Promise Neighborhoods Planning Grants Awarded

HHS Proposes Regulations Aimed to Improve Head Start Quality

New Series of Briefings on Child Welfare Begins

Hill Briefing Focuses on Educational Stability for Foster Youth

GAO Study Examines Child Care

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



CAPTA Reauthorization Introduced in the Senate

Legislation (S. 3817) to reauthorize the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday by Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Tom Harkin (D-IA). The bill includes some changes to CAPTA, including the promotion of differential response and family group decisionmaking as best practices; an emphasis on approaches that address how child maltreatment is linked to both domestic violence and substance abuse; and a refined Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention focus on the range of prevention services with attention to including the child and family voice in planning efforts. The bill also takes steps to enhance research on how to prevent child abuse and neglect in tribal families and expands the involvement of tribal leaders in an advisory role.

The legislation includes an increase of 10% over the current authorized levels, as well as a "such sums" authorization for the out years. In addition to CAPTA, the reauthorization bill encompasses the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Adoption Reform Act, and the Abandoned Infants Assistance Act. The legislation is scheduled for markup in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee this week. A House bill has yet to be introduced, but action is expected following passage of the reauthorization in the Senate.

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Congress Considers One-Year Extension of TANF

On Tuesday, September 21, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on welfare reform. Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) highlighted many stark differences between the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and other social safety nets. He pointed out that TANF has not responded as other safety net programs have in times economic stress, including the current recession. Major safety net programs including SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid are structured in a way to meet increased need during economic downturns, whereas TANF is a block grant and remains static without Congressional action. Funding for TANF has not been adjusted since its inception in 1996, not even to account for inflation.

Baucus focused on the effects that the 1996 welfare reform had on vulnerable children and families when, for example, TANF moved from a cash assistance welfare system to one that emphasized work and jobs, in addition to becoming a flexible block grant for states. His opening remarks pointed to some of the statistics regarding children and families in crisis on TANF caseloads, as vulnerable women with dependent children make up such a significant part of the TANF caseload. At the end of 2009, fewer than 2 million families received cash assistance through TANF, which was 3 million fewer than received Aid to Families with Dependent Children in 1994. Four out of every five TANF families with an adult are headed by a single woman, with 7 in 10 of those mothers caring for a child under the age of 6.

Following the chairman's remarks, ranking member Charles Grassley (R-IA) further explored the characteristics of TANF recipients, such as the increase in the child-only TANF caseloads and the inability of states to account for the use of TANF funds.

The invited witnesses offered recommendations for reforming TANF. The first witness, Vivyan Adair, a former TANF recipient, urged the committee to reconsider the work requirements in light of the negative effect that it has on many recipients' ability to participate in post-secondary education programs while receiving state support. Kay Brown, Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security at the Government Accountability Office, focused on the recession and the need for Congress to be mindful of the increasing poverty rate especially among young single mothers as they consider reauthorization.

The chairman and ranking member agreed that Congress would likely pass a one-year extension in the coming weeks and address full reauthorization in the next Congress.

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Promise Neighborhoods Planning Grants Awarded

On Tuesday, the Department of Education released the list of 21 recipients of Promise Neighborhood planning grants, selected from more than 300 nonprofits and universities that applied. Each grant provides up to $500,000 over one year to fund the planning of a comprehensive, continuum of services that improve educational achievement and health development outcomes in chronically poor communities.

These planning grants were funded out of the $20 million appropriated for the Promise Neighborhood program in FY 2010. Looking ahead, the administration has requested $210 million for Promise Neighborhoods in FY 2011, but the Senate Appropriation's committee has only approved $20 million, and the House has yet to release a number.

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HHS Proposes Regulations Aimed to Improve Head Start Quality

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) that requires the bottom 25% of Head Start programs not meeting quality benchmarks to compete for funding. The competition strategy, originating from a 2008 advisory committee recommendation, considers safety and fiscal accountability, in addition to a classroom assessment tool to determine whether a program is meeting the appropriate quality benchmarks. Along with the NPRM, HHS announced several new technical assistance programs, including four new national centers focused on disseminating information on evidence-based practices, experts providing on-the-ground training at various Head Start sites, and the designation of 10 strong Head Start programs in each state to provide peer-to-peer technical assistance. Comments on the NPRM are due December 21, 2010.

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New Series of Briefings on Child Welfare Begins

Last week, CWLA member agency the American Human Association (AHA) began an ongoing briefing series on various issues within the child welfare system with two separate briefings on Capitol Hill. The first event on Tuesday focused on the family group decisionmaking (FGDM) process, an innovative approach that brings together an at-risk family with a trained coordinator independent of their case to create and execute a plan for safeguarding their children. The discussion focused on efforts that have been undertaken in Alexandria and Fairfax, Virginia, to implement the FGDM process and the research that has been conducted showing more promising outcomes for families who have participated in family group decision making. On Thursday, the AHA event highlighted improvements in the involvement of fathers of children in the child welfare system. The issues discussed included the importance of paternal determination and locating and making contact with fathers early on, the need for training of caseworkers, court officials and lawyers so that they are more effectively engaging fathers, and the lack of resources and services that are currently provided to fathers, including legal counsel. Since Congress will soon be recessing for the elections, AHA plans to resume this briefing series next year when the 112th Congress convenes.

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Hill Briefing Focuses on Educational Stability for Foster Youth

On Thursday, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) and Fostering Media Connections held a briefing on the issue of educational stability for children in foster care ahead of the release of new data from Cal-Pass, an educational data system that compares outcomes for various student populations including youth in foster care. Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Michelle Bachman (R-MN) each spoke about the importance of supporting policies that further this goal. Bachman, mother of nine including four foster children, pointed to the School Choice for Foster Kids Act (H.R. 2072), a bill she introduced in April 2009. McDermott, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support and a child psychologist by training, discussed the importance of including educational stability provisions for foster youth in the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Several former foster youth were also in attendance and spoke eloquently on their experiences, including doing well at the Guardian Scholars program, which received a CWLA award in 2009. Molly McGrath, Director of Baltimore City Social Services, a CWLA member agency, shared some straightforward approaches she has implemented to ensure educational stability for Baltimore County foster children, including easy information-sharing practices as well as making use of school emergency care cards to find kinship placements. Stacie Turner, a former foster youth and TV personality on the Real Housewives of D.C., wrapped up the panel by discussing her efforts to offer opportunity for foster youth through the nonprofit Extra-Ordinary Life.

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GAO Study Examines Child Care

The Government Accountability Office recently released the results of a child care study that tested fraud prevention controls. Case studies were conducted at 10 sites in 5 states in which GAO officials pretended to be unqualified parents and unregulated providers. The outcomes raised concerns about the application and billing process and were presented in contrast to the hardships experienced by qualified families who are waiting to receive services. Interviews of waitlisted families were conducted with parents and sought to understand the effects of being unable to attain child care. The interviews revealed financial, educational, and work stability challenges in addition to concerns about negative effects on child development. Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services offered a response that active steps are being taken to address program improvement including guidance on verification procedures and conference calls on program integrity.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

October 8: Target adjournment for the House. Senate date is to be determined.
November 2: Election Day.
There is growing expectation for a lame duck Congressional session after the election.

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