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

   
   
Vol. 18, Issue 24: 6/27/2005   
Headlines

House Considers Annual HHS Spending Bill

Hearing to Dissolve Consent Decrees Draws Concern

Leading Judicial Organizations Partner to Reduce Time Spent in Foster Care

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



House Considers Annual HHS Spending Bill

On June 23, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the annual appropriations bill (H.R. 3010) that funds programs administered by the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Overall spending for the three departments totals $602 billion. Much of this funding is for entitlement or mandatory programs, with most of these funds being used for Medicare and Medicaid. Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance comprises $6.8 billion of these mandatory funds.

The remaining $412.5 billion is discretionary spending, which is nearly $1 billion more than the White House had requested but less than the $142.6 billion being spent this fiscal year. In addition to the reduction from 2005, the bill must also absorb nearly a billion dollars in funding to implement the new prescription drug program in Medicare, slated to begin in January 2006.

The bill mirrors the President's recommendation to fund key child welfare programs, including the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) and Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Acts (CAPTA) at current levels. PSSF would be funded at $404 million, and CAPTA state grants would be funded at $27 million. Child care funding would be reduced by $11,000 and remain at just under $2.1 billion, whereas Head Start would receive a modest increase of $55 million, funded at $6.9 billion. In both cases, fewer children would be able to receive child care and Head Start services next year due to inflation. Some of the child care losses could be offset if a future child care and TANF reauthorization legislation included significant increases in child care funding.

The bill also provides $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.

Back to Headlines

Hearing to Dissolve Consent Decrees Draws Concern

On June 22, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property held a hearing on H.R. 1229, The Federal Consent Decree Fairness Act. Sponsored by Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), the legislation would allow a state or local government to modify or end an existing consent decree four years after it is originally agreed to, or after the election of a new state or local official. The bill would require the court to act on the motion to modify or end the consent decree within 90 days of filing. If not, the consent decree would end automatically.

Consent decrees are legal agreements enforced by courts and entered into usually by state or local governments with parties who file the complaint. In most instances, a federal court oversees an agreement entered into by the parties. The basis for the action frequently is federal law or regulations. The targets of these decrees include such areas as child welfare, health care, environmental law, mental health, civil rights, and discrimination.

Consent decrees have played a significant role in initiating statewide reforms within child welfare agencies. Several state statutes and comprehensive programs that serve the needs of children in the foster care system have been implemented as a result of consent decrees. According to CWLA's research, at least 20 states are under consent decrees that monitor child welfare agencies to ensure that children under the dependency of the state receive needed services.

Stating his support for the bill, Subcommittee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) said it would allow "states the ability to make necessary modifications to decrees that makes government adequately respond to the needs of the public." Testifying as lead witness, Blunt said, "Consent decrees have become a hiding place for public officials, relieving them of responsibility." He criticized consent decrees by pointing to two child welfare examples in Utah and Connecticut. He noted Connecticut had a budget crisis recently that resulted in state employees being laid off, but that child welfare workers, due to the consent decree, were mandated by the court to continue in their positions.

Several concerns expressed by Subcommittee Ranking Minority Member Howard Berman (D-CA) and the Ranking Minority Member of the Judiciary Committee John Conyers (D-MI) focused on the inability for decrees to have any effect under this legislation, as any incoming governor might file a motion to suspend the decree, thereby reducing any progress previously made. Conyers cautioned that requiring four-year reviews would, "set back civil rights progress by decades and gut the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)."

Former 22-year federal Judge Nathan Jones acknowledged that long-term consent decrees are sometimes necessary to ensure that laws are carried out, and that passage of the bill would not only hinder this necessary timeframe, but would likely deter plaintiffs from entering into consent decrees altogether. Jones further noted that current law already allows for the modification of a consent decree when necessary. He cautioned the committee that although some states may have specific concerns over the consent decrees they enter into, this bill "uses a cannon to swat a gnat."

The House bill would exempt consent decrees that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race and Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act. This exemption would not apply to those parts of the Civil Rights Act that cover discrimination based on age, gender, national origin, ability, employment, or sexual orientation. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), originator of the legislation, has introduced an identical bill, S.489, with 24 cosponsors. Testimony and text of the legislation are available at online at http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings.aspx?ID=114.

Back to Headlines

Leading Judicial Organizations Partner to Reduce Time Spent in Foster Care

On June 22, a new curriculum was released as a primer for state courts and child welfare agencies on working together to improve outcomes for children. Developed by the nation's leading judicial organizations, the curriculum presents a collaborative approach intended to lessen the time children remain in foster care while their cases are pending in court.

The National Curriculum for Caseflow Management in Juvenile Dependency Cases Involving Foster Care was inspired by a desire to recognize and eliminate case processing delays that often plague child welfare cases. Ensuring safe, timely permanency for children in foster care depends on the type of collection and sharing of information this curriculum strives to achieve so judges can make the most informed decisions for the children before them. Funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the curriculum builds on the recommendations of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care, which acknowledges the importance of collaboration among courts, child welfare agencies, and their respective personnel.

The curriculum's goal is to improve the juvenile dependency system's ability to oversee the movement of dependency cases involving foster care to shorten the time necessary for children to reach permanent placement. The curriculum, comprising highly interactive workshops, discussions, and team activities, is designed to foster collaboration among a variety of individuals engaged in child welfare. Encouraging collaboration between multidisciplinary, interagency teams, these teams would comprise court managers, clerks, attorneys representing the parents and children, and representatives of the child welfare agency under the leadership of a judge with juvenile dependency jurisdiction.

Arizona's Division of Dependent Children's Services piloted the curriculum in 2004 and achieved successful outcomes in the three counties where it was implemented, including condensing dual-adjudicated cases. The collaborative teams now meet on monthly to continue addressing concerns and strategies. William Stanton, Director of the Arizona Supreme Court Dependent Children's Services Division, envisions every county adopting the model in the near future. Other examples of successful court and agency collaborations nationwide are included in the report, Improving Outcomes Together: Court and Child Welfare Collaboration, also released June 22.

Ohio and California have already committed to implementing the curriculum in their jurisdictions, and the curriculum is expected to be presented and distributed at conferences throughout the rest of the country this summer. Full copies of the National Curriculum, the Improving Outcomes Together report, and a complete listing of the organizations involved in this effort are available on JERITT's (Judicial Education Reference, Information and Technical Transfer) website at http://jeritt.msu.edu. Information on states' experiences with the curriculum is expected to also be disseminated through the JERITT website as it becomes available.

Back to Headlines

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

June 10: House Appropriations Committee scheduled to complete its work on all 11 FY 2006 appropriations bills

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

July 2-July 10: July Fourth Recess

July 30-September 5: Summer Recess

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

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


Back to Headlines

Click here to see the list of previous issues

If you know of others who would like their names added to this list, please have them visit www.cwla.org/advocacy/monitoronline-optin.htm. To remove yourself from this list, send an e-mail to monitor@cwla.org with "Remove from Monitor Online List" in the subject line.

© Child Welfare League of America. The content of this publication may not be reproduced in any way, including posting on the Internet, without the permission of CWLA. For permission to use material from CWLA's website or publications, contact us using our website assistance form.