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

   
   
Vol. 24, Issue 14: 5/9/2011   
Headlines

Budget Negotiations Occurring on Multiple Fronts

Fighting to Preserve the Medicaid Entitlement

Stark Reintroduces Every Child Deserves a Family Act

Marking Foster Care Month and Children's Mental Health Awareness Day

Maltreatment of Young Children: Risk and Response

ACF Issues Call for Child Welfare and Child Care to Strengthen Links

These Cuts Won't Heal: Budget Webcast Today

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Budget Negotiations Occurring on Multiple Fronts

While the House has already passed its 2012 budget resolution, the Senate has proceeded more slowly as it awaits progress to develop from two distinct groups of legislators that are currently meeting. The first, known as the "Gang of Six," is a group of three Democratic senators and three Republican senators who have been meeting behind closed doors for months to try to craft a deficit reduction plan that can obtain bipartisan support. They are using the recommendations issued last December from the President's deficit commission, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, as their starting point. The commission's final recommendations did receive support from the majority of commission members, Democrat and Republican alike, and thus far has been the only plan to be formally endorsed by members from both parties. That plan takes a comprehensive approach to deficit reduction, by cutting and freezing both security and non-security discretionary spending, making some modest changes to entitlement programs to achieve savings, while reforming the tax code to bring in more revenue. Importantly, the commission's final recommendations did specifically state that programs protecting the most vulnerable citizens should be protected and maintained. It is unclear how close the Gang of Six senators are to a deal at this point, but press reports indicate they are struggling to find agreement on revenue enhancements and entitlement cuts.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to initiate a second series of talks between the White House and House and Senate leaders. These sessions formally began last week and the parties plan to meet twice weekly during May. Both parties have similar targets in mind--about $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade or so--but vastly different opinions of how to do so, especially with respect to taxes and entitlements. Last week there was some confusion about whether the Republicans have abandoned the proposal in the House budget that would replace Medicare with vouchers for private insurance, although it appears that proposal has been set aside for now. However, it is believed that House Republicans will continue to pursue cuts to Medicaid and/or replacing the program with state block grants.

The timeline for these negotiations as well as the 2012 budget process remains up in the air. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) is participating in the Gang of Six talks but has signaled that the Senate Budget Committee will likely proceed with a budget markup as soon as this week. The Senate could also be holding two budget votes this week on the floor, one on the House-passed budget and one on President Obama's budget that was released in February. Neither plan is expected to pass, but vote counts for the two plans could impact ongoing negotiations. Finally, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said last week that the nation's statutory debt limit must be increased by the early August at the latest in order to prevent any default. Long-term deficit reduction provisions are expected to be paired with a short-term increase in the debt limit.

Updated information, including the latest on these negotiations and the impact on child welfare services, will be provided during the CWLA members-only These Cuts Won't Heal webinar today at 3 p.m. Eastern. More information on the webcast and a link to register is provided below.

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Fighting to Preserve the Medicaid Entitlement

In the Senate last week, Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) held a press conference to oppose efforts to block grant Medicaid. Included in the fiscal year 2012 budget approved by the House are $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid. At the press event, Rockefeller said he would fight proposals to turn Medicaid into a block grant program. Joining him were Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Al Franken (D-MN), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

Those opposed to turning Medicaid into a block grant argue that the change would negatively affect access and coverage for the 68 million low-income children, parents, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and senior citizens enrolled in Medicaid, especially for those in rural and other already underserved areas. Medicaid is a vital part of the safety net for the children and youth in the child welfare system who are at higher risk for physical and mental health issues, stemming either from the maltreatment that led to their placement or from preexisting health conditions and long-term service needs.

Earlier this spring Rockefeller and some of his colleagues sent a letter to President Obama opposing proposals that would cap or significantly cut Medicaid spending. More than 150 organizations, many of them children's advocates, sent a similar letter to members of Congress.

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Stark Reintroduces Every Child Deserves a Family Act

Representative Pete Stark (D-CA), with 33 original cosponsors, reintroduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act last week. H.R. 1681 prohibits states from discriminating in placements of foster and adoptive children on the basis of sexual preference and allows federal funding to be cut off for such discriminatory practices. The legislation is intended to addresses the critical shortage of stable, safe, and loving homes currently available to children in the foster care system. At the end of FY 2009 there were 114,556 children in the foster care system nationally awaiting placement in an adoptive home.

Linda Spears, CWLA's Vice President of Policy and Public Affairs, spoke about CWLA's support for H.R. 1681 at Stark's briefing last week to announce the bill. "Far too many children in foster care have little hope for a permanent family and end up being parented by the government. We must support all qualified adults who are interested in providing a nurturing adoptive homeóregardless of their marital status or sexual orientation," Spears said. "Having a real live, caring parent is incredibly important for ensuring a child's success. Rep. Stark's bill represents progress for these children whose goal is to simply be loved."

Adoption by gay and lesbian parents is currently being addressed in several states. On April 7 the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that struck down a law banning unmarried, cohabitating partners from being foster or adoptive parents. In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1188 last week, which requires adoption agencies give primary consideration to married couples. Finally, in Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell is advising against non-discrimination regulations that would require lesbian and gay parents to be allowed to adopt or foster children.

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Marking Foster Care Month and Children's Mental Health Awareness Day

On May 5, Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) introduced her first bill in Congress recognizing May as National Foster Care Month, continuing the efforts she initiated as the former Assembly Speaker in Sacramento, California, in support of foster care initiatives. The resolution recognizing National Foster Care Month commends the efforts of all individuals working to improve the outcomes of children in the child welfare system, including advocates and role models for foster youth. A fierce advocate for foster youth and their caregivers, Bass said, "Our society is judged on how we treat the most vulnerable amongst us. We must provide a hand up to foster youth and celebrate their accomplishments, praise foster families, caregivers, and relatives for their selflessness to others, continue investing in life improving foster care services, and always assist children as they age out of the foster care system."

On May 3, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) celebrated National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, which is an effort to raise awareness about the importance of children's mental health and that positive mental health is essential to a child's healthy development from birth. This year, the national theme focused on building resilience in young children dealing with trauma. Leading mental health organizations hosted a legislative briefing on Capitol Hill to highlight work both on the Hill and in the field to raise awareness of the needs of children with mental illness. Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to support mental health including the Mental Health in Schools Act (H.R. 751) and the Achievement Through Prevention Act (S. 541). These bills recognize the prevalence of mental illness amongst children and youth and the importance of prevention and intervention.

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Maltreatment of Young Children: Risk and Response

Attention to the maltreatment of the youngest children was amplified over Child Abuse Prevention Month in April. In particular, two reports were released that together reveal infants and toddlers' elevated risk of maltreatment and resulting harm, as well as policies, programs, and practices to counter both.

Child Trends released Young and Vulnerable: Children Five and Under Experience High Maltreatment Rates, which makes use of data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect, and the National Incidence Study to demonstrate youngest children's disproportionate maltreatment through an array of statistical analysis. The paper concludes with an overview of relevant federal policies.

Additionally, Zero To Three and policy partners, including CWLA's Linda Spears, Vice President of Policy and Public Affairs, published A Call to Action on Behalf of Maltreated Infants and Toddlers. This report represents a collective vision of important policy, program, and practice steps to better address the developmental needs of infants and toddlers who come to the attention of the child welfare system. It is intended to provide a starting point for federal, state, and local policymakers and administrators to assess and identify where and how they can revise or institute policies and practices that protect the development and safety of infants and toddlers.

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ACF Issues Call for Child Welfare and Child Care to Strengthen Links

The Administration for Children and Families, Administration for Children, Youth and Families and Office of Child Care in the Department of Health and Human Services have issued a letter with accompanying information to encourage states to better align child welfare and early childhood systems to meet the developmental needs of children birth to age 8 in foster care and support educational success and well-being. Building on the educational requirements from the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, the collaboration encourages state agencies to similarly work together for young children's educational success. The accompanying resource is the first in a series of tip sheets (PDF) to provide handy, how-to information to policymakers and providers on creating successful collaboration across early childhood and child welfare systems. They also invite examples of policies and practices already in place that link child welfare and early childhood initiatives. Please send examples of your policies and practices and we will compile them and forward them along to ACF.

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These Cuts Won't Heal: Budget Webcast Today

As part of the CWLA budget campaign, These Cuts Won't Heal, the Government Affairs Division is hosting a series of members-only webcasts. Registration is open for the next webcast, which will be today at 3 p.m. Eastern, highlighting current negotiations on the FY 2012 budget and the federal debt limit.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

- May 16 to 20: House recess
- May 30 to June 3: Senate recess

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