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

   
   
Vol. 18, Issue 23: 6/20/2005   
Headlines

Senate Committee Hold Hearings on Gangs

House Continues Action on Annual Appropriations Bills

National Governors' Association Presents Medicaid Reform Recommendations to Congress

Congress Holds Hearings on Child Abuse and Sex Crimes, Sex Offender Registry Bills

Head Start Bills Include Provisions for Child Welfare

National Study Finds Mental Disorders Begin During Youth

Head Start Impact Study Released

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Senate Committee Hold Hearings on Gangs

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing focused on youth violence and gang prevention efforts in Philadelphia on June 13. Committee Chair Arlen Spector (R-PA) said these efforts "were just the start to find out what works and what doesn't" in terms of violence prevention and treatment efforts. Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Rick Santorum (R-PA) also attended the hearing.

Feinstein opened her remarks by promoting the Gang Prevention and Effective Deterrence Act (S.155), which features expanded measures of federal prosecution and increased waiver provisions for juveniles to be tried in adult court. Specter and Santorum both announced their support for the bill at the hearing. Biden insisted the committee "invest more into the programs that work," specifically for areas that provide afterschool programs, long-term treatment with effective aftercare, and early intervention for youth.

Several federal and state leaders presented at the hearing. Robert Flores, Administrator of the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, pointed out that although Philadelphia has experienced a recent increase in violence, the latest data on national arrests shows juvenile offending is declining. Sarah Hart, Director of the National Institute of Justice, also presented information showing that national arrests have declined and provided information on programs that have proven unsuccessful in reducing juvenile crime. She said evaluative studies have revealed methods such as boot camps, DARE, gun buy-back programs, and group therapy have had little success in reducing juvenile arrests. Her testimony also featured successful interventions, such as Multisystemic Therapy, Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care, and Functional Family Therapy (FFT) as programs that have shown high levels of success in deterring future youth violence and other antisocial behavior, and are also more cost-effective than detention.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson testified about the critical importance of a holistic viewpoint for law enforcement officials to deter future youth violence. Tell Senators, "We cannot arrest our way out of this problem," Johnson spoke about the need for increased community interaction for the deterrence of youth violence.

Specter indicated additional hearings would be held in Washington, DC, and possibly Los Angeles to further discuss youth violence prevention.


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House Continues Action on Annual Appropriations Bills

The House Appropriations Committee continued its work on key FY 2006 appropriations bills last week, approving the bill that sets funding for the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. The bill differs little from that approved by the subcommittee June 9. Overall spending for the three departments totals $602 billion, of which only $142 billion is discretionary. Most funds are for entitlement or mandatory programs, mostly Medicare and Medicaid.

The full committee adopted the subcommittee's recommendation, which mirrored those of the President to fund key child welfare programs, including Promoting Safe and Stable Families, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, and child care at current levels. Head Start receives a modest increase of $44 million, which means fewer children would be able to receive Head Start services next year. The committee also provided $50 million for tuition vouchers for youth who age out of foster care, $4 million more than this year's level, but $9 million less than requested by the President. For more information about funding decisions for key children programs go to www.cwla.org/advocacy/budget.htm.

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National Governors' Association Presents Medicaid Reform Recommendations to Congress

On June 15, Governors Mark Warner (D-VA) and Mike Huckabee (R-AR) presented the National Governors' Association's (NGA) preliminary policy paper outlining NGA's recommendations for Medicaid reform to the Senate Finance and House Energy and Commerce Committees. Although Warner and Huckabee stressed the report represented a unanimous, bipartisan proposal, discussion from House committee members was clearly divided along party lines.

Democratic members raised several concerns about the negative effect the recommended reforms would have on low-income families and children, specifically with proposed increases in copayments and benefit changes. With a goal of promoting greater "personal responsibility" among Medicaid beneficiaries, NGA recommendations include increasing copayment amounts, which have not been updated since 1982. For beneficiaries with already limited resources, these increased costs could make a child's needed medical care too expensive for some families. Additional recommendations include changes to prescription drug pricing, restrictions on asset transfers, comprehensive waiver reforms, and judicial reform of Medicaid management, including consent decrees.

Although NGA indicated it did not receive input from any child advocacy or health organizations in crafting its proposal, Energy and Commerce Chair Joe Barton (R-TX) assured the committee that future hearings would include representation from Medicaid beneficiaries. Twenty five million children receive Medicaid, and approximately nine million children are uninsured.

This year, Congress is required to reduce federal spending for Medicaid by $10 billion. As Congress is also considering $106 billion in tax cuts, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) argued Medicaid cuts would be unnecessary.

The NGA’s preliminary report is available at www.nga.org.


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Congress Holds Hearings on Child Abuse and Sex Crimes, Sex Offender Registry Bills

On June 7 and 9, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held three legislative hearings on 10 bills that would expand current federal criminal laws on violent and sexual offenses against children.

H.R. 2318 and H.R. 2388, introduced by Representative Mark Green (R-WI), would impose mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years to life on federal crimes of violence against children, crimes against children resulting in bodily injury and death, and sexual offenses against children. H.R. 2388 would also restrict judicial review of cases resulting in convictions for murder of a minor. Both bills have related legislation in the Senate.

The remaining bills seek to expand current sex offender registry programs by creating stricter guidelines for registering and monitoring offenders, harsher penalties for offenders who fail to register, a national registry to monitor offenders' movements across state lines, public Internet access to national registry information, the inclusion of juvenile sex offenders in the registry, and collection of DNA information on offenders convicted of violent crimes against children. One bill would also create a national registry of child abuse and neglect cases.

Witnesses frequently referenced specific recent sexual attacks on children that received national media attention. Witnesses included sponsors of the bills, representatives from the U.S Department of Justice, the Attorney General of Florida, the President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a victim of a sexual attack by a juvenile offender, and a mother of a murder victim. Ranking Subcommittee Democrat Bobby Scott (VA) raised major concerns over the criminal sentencing bills, voicing opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing and its questionable effect on reducing crime. John Rhodes, Assistant Federal Defender of the District of Montana, also raised concerns over the disproportionate effect the bills would have on Native Americans. Scott raised additional concerns over allowing the general public to access the sex offender registry, particularly given the lack of research indicating whether public registries actually reduce child sexual abuse. Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX.) suggested including offenders’ charges on the registry to avoid unjust labeling.

Voting on these bills has not been scheduled. More information on the hearings and legislation, including written copies and video footage of the testimony, is available online at http://judiciary.house.gov/committeestructure.aspx?committee=6. In addition, a Bureau of Justice Statistics report on recidivism among sex offenders, referenced throughout the hearings, is available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/rsorp94.htm.



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Head Start Bills Include Provisions for Child Welfare

Now that the relevant House and Senate committees have passed Head Start reauthorization bills, H.R. 2123 and S. 1107 are ready for floor debate. The two similar bills now contain language referring to children in foster care and protective services relating to provider training, agency coordination, eligibility, and research. Both bills would authorize funds for coordination and strategic planning with local agencies, now including child protective services, home-based services, and state officials responsible for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

In sections regarding appropriate provider training, both bills specifically refer to competency in dealing with "children referred by child welfare services." Accepted in the House, but not the Senate, is a provision to allow a limited number of "children referred by child welfare services, but whose families do not meet the low-income criteria" to participate in Head Start programs. The bills also stipulate that provider agencies offer parenting skills training, substance abuse counseling, training in child development, opportunities for parent mentor relationships, and in-home visitations to parents. Lastly, both bills now contain language that would use Head Start to develop and evaluate new ways to address the needs of children in child protective services and other children in need. Neither bill has yet been scheduled for floor debate.


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National Study Finds Mental Disorders Begin During Youth

Released June 6, the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, the most massive and comprehensive study of the prevalence and severity of mental disorders, indicates that one in four Americans meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder, and less than half of those in need receive treatment.

Reported by Harvard University’s Ronald Kessler and colleagues in a series of articles in the Archives of General Psychiatry, youth seem to be disproportionately affected by the onset of these disorders. Half of those diagnosed with mental disorders experience onset by age 14, three-quarters by age 24. Even more notably, the study found that a patient's likelihood of seeking treatment increases with the age of onset--meaning that more young people go untreated longer than do their older counterparts, which can lead to the development of additional mental health problems.

Further, the study reported that only 32.7% of those treated receive at least minimally adequate treatment. Kessler insisted that "interventions aimed at prevention or early treatment need to focus on youth." The study, released annually, surveyed a representative population of more than 9,000 English-speaking adults and focused on anxiety, mood, and impulse-control disorders and substance abuse.


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Head Start Impact Study Released

On June 9, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a study on the effects of the Head Start program. The Congressionally mandated report, Head Start Impact Study: First Year Findings, used a sample of 84 grantees and 5,000 3- and 4-year-old children. This first report covers the 2002-2003 school year and indicates that Head Start children performed better in terms of prereading, prewriting, and vocal skills than did non-Head Start children, although both were below what was considered the norm. Head Start families also showed some differences among families, with Head Start parents more likely to read to their children and more likely to access dental care.

Despite differences between Head Start and non-Head Start children and families, there were different Washington interpretations of the results. HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt issued a press release indicating, "The study found that Head Start produced small to moderate impacts in areas such as prereading, prewriting, vocabulary, and in health and parent practice domains. However, these impacts did not close the gap between low-income children in the Head Start program and the general population of 3- and 4-year olds."

The National Head Start Association countered: "Head Start does a better job than any other national early childhood program to narrow the school readiness gap between low-income children and their more advantaged peers. These are our nation's most disadvantaged children, and they face multiple (and often very severe) barriers to learning."

Leavitt said, "President Bush wants to make sure all children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten...This report underscores the need to continue to enhance the effectiveness of the Head Start program to ensure that no child is disadvantaged in their formal educational experience because of the circumstances of their birth."

The Bush Administration has proposed converting Head Start, which now provides direct funding to local programs, into an optional block grant in which funding would instead go to the states. Although the House of Representatives last year did approve a bill to do that in a limited number of states, this year key House and Senate committees have not included such an option in reauthorization bills.

View this report

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

June 30: House scheduled to complete action on all 11 FY 2006 appropriations bills

July 2-10: July 4th Recess

July 30-September 5: Summer Recess

September 16: Deadline for assigned committees to adopt $35 billion in cuts to mandatory programs for reconciliation bill

September 23: Deadline for tax-writing committees to adopt tax cuts of $70 billion


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