On Thursday, September 28, 2023, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee held a hearing about Title IV-B of the Social Security Act entitled, “Modernizing Child Welfare to Protect Vulnerable Children.” Title IV-B is a small but important source of funding for child welfare agencies and community-based organizations, and it is due to be reauthorized this year.
Chairman Darin LaHood (R-IL) opened the hearing by acknowledging the long tradition of bipartisan work on child welfare and listed several issues for the subcommittee to address in Title IV-B reauthorization, including transition age youth, supporting grandparents and other kin caregivers, strengthening family courts and ensuring legal representation, upstream prevention and interventions, and addressing the shortage of caseworkers. Chairman LaHood noted, “families form the bedrock of a strong society, and it is crucial to have a child welfare system in place that supports children in moments of crisis and keeps families intact whenever possible,” highlighting what would a key theme of the hearing, family preservation.
Ranking Member Danny Davis (D-IL) used his opening remarks to bring attention to other key issues in child welfare, such as the overrepresentation of black children in foster care, the good work of the Court Improvement Program (CIP) and the Regional Partnership Grants (RPGs), and the need for additional investments in this program. He stated, “the best way to fix the foster care system is to help families from the start,” and that Title IV-B is a key program in supporting prevention and family preservation.
Dr. David Sanders, Executive Vice President of Systems Improvement, Casey Family Programs, focused his testimony on ensuring the safety of children and the need to “keep children safe with their families, not safe from their families,” raising the key issues of reducing child abuse and neglect fatalities and reducing the length of time children spend in foster care. Democrat members of the committee asked Dr. Sanders questions about increasing investment in Title IV-B, and he specified that investing in prevention, kin finding, and tribal children is particularly important. Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) highlighted her bill, the Strengthening Tribal Families Act, which strengthens oversight of the Indian Child Welfare Act implementation.
Tracy Gruber, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, highlighted the importance of Title IV-B in family preservation and the workforce crisis, but also addressed challenges facing the states in accessing and using IV-B funds, namely the difficulty in navigating the different funding requirements. Multiple members on both sides of the aisle addressed Director Gruber in their questions, but Republicans focused their questions for her on the benefits of streamlining child welfare funding and eliminating barriers for states. She specifically called on Congress to focus more on outcomes and to eliminate the set asides in Title IV-B. The set asides include programs like the RPGs, the CIP, Kinship Navigators, Tribal funds, and workforce funds, as well as the four categories of services that states must spend 20% of their Promoting Safe and Stable Families funding on (family support, family preservation, reunification, and adoption services).
Cherie Craft, Founding Executive Director of the DC-based nonprofit Smart from the Start, used her testimony to explain the benefits of Family Resource Centers (FRCs) and the need to provide community-based services and supports to families before they come to the attention of child welfare. Several members asked Ms. Craft questions regarding prevention and the effectiveness of services keeping families together.
This theme of prevention was continued by Katherine Marquart, Recruitment Manager of the Missouri nonprofit FosterAdopt Connect, who focused on kinship care as a key driver in improved outcomes for children and families. Ms. Marquart also highlighted the workforce crisis, noting that high caseloads and difficult work lead to high rates of turnover. During questions from Members, she specified that increased training and retention, along with the availability of mental health services for caseworkers, are necessary to address these issues.
The final witness, Prudence Beidler Carr, Center Director of the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and Law, explained the child welfare system both as a social service and as a legal system, and highlighted the role of state courts in child removal decisions. The CIP is the only child welfare funding specifically for courts and needs to be substantially increased. Representatives Blake Moore (R-UT) and Carol Miller (R-WV) both mentioned bills they’ve introduced to strengthen the CIP, such as the Strengthening Courts for Kids and Families Act in the 117th Congress.
Overall, the hearing was well-attended by members of the Subcommittee and displayed strong bipartisan commitment to improving child welfare. The witnesses were excellent and well-spoken, highlighting several key issues in the field; their testimonies can be found here. CWLA looks forward to working with members of the Subcommittee in making improvements and investments in this vital program. Find CWLA’s priorities for Title IV-B Reauthorization here.