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CWLA Testimony and Comments

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The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997

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Child Care

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Child Protection

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Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act

  • Dear Honorable Members of the Human Resources Subcommittee:

    CWLA appreciates the opportunity to comment on the House Ways and Means Committee' legislative draft to prevent and address sex trafficking of youth in foster care and will use these comments to jointly reflect on what is in your legislation and the legislation recently adopted by the Senate Finance Committee. We will limit our comments on this House legislation and its Senate counterpoint regarding youth in care. We recognize that the Senate legislation and an earlier bill by the House, address additional important issues, significantly the reauthorization of the adoption incentive fund, and we appreciate the bipartisan effort by the House in the passage of HR 3205.

    The challenge of addressing children that become victims of sexual trafficking and the need to focus greater attention and effort on youth in care are important elements of a continuum of care through state child welfare systems. This is a continuum that must address services from birth to adulthood and from prevention to permanent placements. This legislation addresses a part of that continuum, older children and youth in care, ages 14 and older. We urge Congress to continue to focus attention on these youth but to also make investments and pay attention to infants, toddlers and children up to the age of 14 as well. Many of the young people addressed in this legislation came into child welfare at an earlier point in their childhood and we cannot hope to assist these young people if we ignore the earlier opportunities to prevent child abuse or at least identify and address the impact of that child maltreatment including sexual abuse.

  • Data

    We appreciate the fact that the proposed legislation creates some important data collection improvements, particularly regarding information that will better explain the status of children in child care institutions and information that will better document the instances of teen pregnancy within the foster care population. With regard to the collection of data on children and youth who have been identified as victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking, we suggest that data be collected not just on those children in care who are victims of trafficking but that this number be further refined to document those children that were victims of sex trafficking before they entered foster care for the first time, and those children and youth who became victims after they entered the child welfare system.

  • Missing From Care

    We also support the draft provisions regarding children that are missing or who have run from care. CWLA, at the direction of Congress in 2004, developed protocols and best practice standards jointly with the Center on Missing and Exploited Children on how to address children missing from care. Effectively addressing the challenge of children who run from foster care and assisting them is an important component of dealing with victims of trafficking as well as addressing the needs of older youth in foster care. This can be a complex issue because some children run to friends or family and may return. Other children who run from care may not return. To address this population requires coordination with law enforcement and community partners (i.e. Memorandums of Understand), establishing points of contact within child welfare and law enforcement agencies, and training of workers and foster parents. We suggest the legislation also include language that HHS provide further technical assistance in implementing policies on children missing from care and that Congress assist in providing the funding for this work.

  • Sexual Exploitation of Children

    CWLA appreciates the effort of Congress to address the important challenge of children being victimized by sex traffickers. Child welfare and child protection systems are important partners in dealing with these crimes and victimization. We strongly urge Congress, however, to make sure that law enforcement is a part, and in many instances the lead, in addressing this problem. While child welfare needs to be an active participant in the strategy to address sexual trafficking, many times law enforcement will be the first responders in identifying victims.

    Child welfare agencies can help coordinate strategies within the state, but there needs to be equal requirements on law enforcement and other first responders such as education and other human service agencies as well as private points of contact such as major transportation hubs, shopping centers and hotels.

    Congress can set an important example of collaboration and coordination by working across committee and house lines to make sure that legislative mandates that are set on child welfare and child protection are matched by mandates on law enforcement, juvenile justice, courts, health care, education, commerce and other human service fields. Often victims of sex-trafficking will have contact with law enforcement, hotel personnel or homeless shelters and not be identified. Effective identification will require training in these areas, which is beyond the jurisdiction of child welfare agencies.

    In addition to greater coordination and collaboration there needs to be additional resources in providing services to the victim. Appropriate treatment needs to be tailored to the needs of this specific population. A child welfare system in which a child is removed from the home and placed in foster care, who then runs from care and is sexually exploited, and whereupon is identified by child protective services and placed back into foster care, creates a circle that does not address the needs of the child.

  • One of our CWLA members commented that (Pathways into and out of commercial sexual victimization of children. University of Massachusetts, Lowell.2009):

    ".(legislative efforts) ignores the sexual abuse and deep emotional trauma most of these kids experienced long before they entered foster care that makes them such easy prey for pimps. It also seems blind to the real relational work and mental health treatment necessary to support and help these kids, as well as the risks to foster parents (and group home staff) from the kids and their pimps, once they've entered 'the life.' "

  • Under one survey of victims it was stated by the authors:

    "Another theme that emerged from the youths' narrative was their experience that the services provided to them were too much or misguided. Experiences were either too intensive or the wrong kind of contact."

  • Treatment must address complex trauma, witnessing violence, neglect, abuse, and sexual violence. To that end, the National Colloquium: Shelter and Services Evaluation for Action by Shared Hope International, ECPAT-USA and The Protection Project at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies summarized some of the challenges and recommended approaches including but not limited to:
    • Placements could range from congregate care and foster care to community based care depending on the specific need and condition of the DMST (domestic minor sex trafficking) victim. Treatment and services are not uniform and must be taken on an individualized, case by case basis.
    • Age, socioeconomic status, culture, personality, and other associated factors require that each victim have tailored treatment plans. This necessitates flexible and adaptive programming. Each individual case is unique and must be treated as unique.
    • Residential facilities need to be staffed with or have regular access to medical and case professionals who can effectively assist the DMST victims through trauma-informed care. In addition, training in trauma-informed care must extend to all staff members, as well as host families or foster families that may open their homes to DMST survivors.
    • Providers must be equipped to identify and respond to internal security risks, such as victims' high flight risk, potential self-harm, harm to others or internal recruitment. All staff and volunteers must be trained to recognize and de-escalate behavior leading to internal security risks and recognize that these are often symptoms of trauma that require a therapeutic response.
    • Providers should have a response plan in place for external security threats. Law enforcement should be aware of the program's operation and available to respond if an emergency situation arises.
    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to begin to focus attention on prevention. What has been most absent from this discussion over the past few years is the reality that many of these children who run or exit foster care and end up in sex trafficking situations do so not because they were placed in foster care but because of the trauma and the events that caused them to be placed into foster care. In addition many of the victims of sexual exploitation may not have had previous contact with child welfare. Foster care services should be a safe harbor but there needs to be greater focus on the front end of child welfare.

  • As one of our members offered:

    "While foster care can exacerbate already existing trauma by moving kids between multiple placements, delaying permanency, and identifying the child as the problem, not the victim, it is rarely the cause of CSEC." (commercial sexual exploitation of children)

    Recent guidance by the Administration for Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) included some commonly referenced research (Guidance to States and Services for Addressing Human Trafficking of Children and Youth in the U.S. 2013):

    "According to reports, 70 percent to 90 percent of commercially sexually exploited youth have a history of child sexual abuse. Children who experience sexual abuse are 28 times more likely to be arrested for prostitution at some points in their lives than children who did not."

    While all fifty states have mandatory reporting laws in regard to reporting child abuse we do very little in training these mandatory reporters for signs of child maltreatment. In regard to child sexual abuse there are programs and models for educating the public and key first responders to signs of victimization but there is nothing in this discussion and legislation on child sexual trafficking to invest resources into these early identification policies. Surveys of young people who are engaged in sexual exploitation often recount instances of familial abuse of one form or another.

  • One of our member agencies commented:

    "Not all of these children will be a part of the child welfare system and may enter into trafficking after running from home and have not been involved in child protective services or child welfare."

    The discussion to this point and the legislation by the Senate and this draft do not provide any focus on prevention by trying to identify sexual abuse at an early age and in fact it would suggest stretching thin child welfare funding beyond the current population of zero through 21 and extending services to age 26. Clearly we would prefer a national policy that addresses all young adults and others who are victims of abuse, violence and other trauma but we know the child welfare system is under-resourced. When you examine funding for Child Welfare Services (Title IV-B), Promoting Safe and Stable Families (Title IV-B, core services), the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA state grants) and the Community Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP), the 2007, pre-recession, budget provided $751 million while the budget being adopted this week provides $671 million.

  • Prudent Parent

    CWLA proposes the "prudent parent standards" provisions be modified to include culturally appropriate training due to the diverse population that is in foster care. This includes ethnic, racial, tribal as well as gender differences which can and will have an impact on the types of activities that will be developmentally appropriate for a child in foster care. Another concern is the potential liability issues as referenced under the language in Section 201 (b) under "(10) (C) regarding the use of the term of "liability" instead of using the term "immunity." Recruiting foster parents is a challenging task. Decisions a foster parent makes in exercising the prudent parent standard have to be carefully judged.

    In addition there is a concern about a lack of resources to cover the costs of some of the age and developmentally appropriate activities for children in foster care. There is a willingness to support these activities and practices but there are challenges, including addressing the cost of extracurricular activities. The Senate legislation allows the collection of child support as a way to cover some of these costs. It is important to allow funds collected through child support to be passed onto the youth in foster care. This however may not yield much in revenue and will not be available in all instances for all youth. CWLA suggests that the House draft allow a pass-through of child support to be used for the child or youth in care. We would also encourage the inclusion of individual development accounts (IDAs) as a way for young people or children in care to receive and hold this pass-through of child support. In regard to the provision of child support, many of our members that serve youth age 18 and older want to make sure any resources passed on to a young person not be counted against their continued eligibility under Title IV-E.

    Other challenges included in either the Senate or House legislation includes the requirement for the provision of bank accounts and drivers licenses. Bank accounts generally are not provided fee-free and we do not want to create a potential for future credit problems for young people due to high cost bank accounts that may require minimum balances. Again this is a best practice that we strive for but a requirement that in every instance an account be opened may result in unintended consequences. Challenges that must be resolved include who is the cosigner if the youth is under age 18? And not all youth will receive child support collected. Who will deposit funds into a new account? Similarly, requirements around drivers' licenses require navigating issues such as auto insurance coverage, use of automobiles, and the fact that in some large urban areas, drivers licenses may not be needed, and foster parents may not own automobiles. CWLA proposes that technical assistance funding help address such challenges, if the legislation is enacted.

    Our members also felt very strongly against the penalty provision written into the Senate legislation. A state's penalties would build up very easily for every young person leaving foster care if they did not have all the information required. Several CWLA members sited instances whereby a small population of children could cause the child welfare program to lose significant funding. For example, one state raised a concern regarding children leaving care with a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). The purpose of this program is to help foreign children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected and who are unable to be reunited with their parents. As they leave foster care under this status, obtaining identification information from their country of origin may be difficult especially if they have not reached a certain age (18 for example, according to some foreign nation's policies). Even a few children in this category and other categories (bank accounts, etc.) would result in several percentage points in fines. As indicated earlier both historically and in describing the cuts for FY 2014, this system is under resourced and much of what these bills seek is an implementation and embedding of best practices, that will not happen as result of cutbacks. Members suggested that some of these provisions could be better advanced through incentives rather than sanctions.

  • Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA)

    CWLA supports greater attention and review for young people who have an APPLA status. Our goal is that no child or youth should leave state custody merely because they became too old according to law. The goal should be to assure a permanent family or adult guardian and mentor for all young people that reach the age of 18 or 21. In some instance however requiring on-going reviews may not be adequate in addressing that young person's needs. There is a significant percentage of youth that enter foster care at the age of 15, 16, 17 or 18 and in this population approximately one-third may enter care due to child behavioral problems (separate from alcohol or substance abuse related issues). These young people need services and support beyond or in addition to a permanency plan. Some members expressed that more extensive reviews be in place for youth at an age of 14.

  • Empowering Foster Youth Age 14 and Older

    CWLA supports efforts to provide greater participation and support for young people in foster care in their own transition plans. Providing a young person with their list of rights can be an aid in their development. Our members suggested that this list of rights should include a right to trauma informed counseling and perhaps include responsibilities as well. This is intended as a way to assist a young person in care to understand their responsibilities as they become adults and their transition into adulthood.

  • Summary

    In the House section of the draft, new requirements are included regarding the provision of key identification and personal information. As indicated in earlier comments we are concerned about how to effectively implement the bank account requirements when few financial institutions provide no-fee services. We also suggest there may be some barriers in regard to a young person under the age of eighteen and in some instances older youth whereby a bank account may require a cosigner. CWLA also has concerns over the Senate language that would set out specific penalties for the state child welfare system for failure to enforce these provisions. We support best practice but feel that a system that we believe is under resourced and underfunded will not be assisted or changed in the way sought by reducing federal funding further.

    CWLA thanks you for this opportunity to comment on the House draft and its Senate counterpart.

    Tim Briceland-Betts
    Child Welfare League of America


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Seclusion and Restraints

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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Title IV-B of the Social Security Act

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