The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) welcomes this opportunity to submit testimony in behalf of our more than 1,175 public and private nonprofit child-serving member agencies nationwide regarding the reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant and its impact on Native Americans. We would also like to take this opportunity to address other Tribal issues that Congress may consider in the context of TANF reauthorization this year, including extending Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance directly to tribes.
CWLA has worked over the years to support and maintain the Indian Child Welfare Act and to inform the field regarding the particular needs, strengths, and sovereignty issues affecting Indian children, families and communities. In the early 1990s CWLA provided training to jurisdictions around the country on the requirements of the Act and how the tribes, states, and agencies could work together on implementation. CWLA continues these efforts today. In fact, the CWLA Board of Directors in May 2001, passed a resolution that included committing the organization to continued work in educating our members and the field about Indian child welfare and related issues, including ICWA, and ongoing communication, partnership, and coordination with tribes and pertinent Native American organizations and governments.
Some of the recent collaborative efforts with tribal organizations include working with the Native American Foster Parent Association in Chicago to promote their accreditation and plan joint training for foster parents. We are participating in a series of forums on improving permanency for Native American children and families with the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), the National Resource Center on Foster Care and Permanency Planning, Casey Family Programs, and the National Indian Children’s Alliance. These forums have involved the tribes of South Dakota, Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Arizona and have focused on improving permanency for Native American children and their families through strengthened relationships among public child welfare agencies, tribal social services, tribal judges, and others who are instrumental in ensuring safety and permanency for Native American children.
CWLA, well known for our Standards of Excellence for Child Welfare Services, has long included experts from NICWA and other tribal organizations in developing and revising our standards. Most recent efforts have led to revised standards for services to abused or neglected children and their families, adoption services, and a new standard for kinship care services.
Over the past three years, CWLA and NICWA have worked together on the National Resource Center for Information Technology in Child Welfare. Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Resource Center includes in its mandate helping tribes to incorporate information technology and data use into their child welfare services and helping states to incorporate tribal child welfare issues into their information systems and data use.
CWLA believes that every child is unique and entitled to the protection and nurturing needed to develop to his or her full potential. To achieve this, CWLA advocates that services should be delivered in a manner that respects the cultural and ethnic diversity of our children, families, communities, and nation. In so doing, we advocate for services that reflect the culture and history of tribes, recognize the unique trust responsibilities of the federal government, and support the important role of tribes and tribal organizations in addressing the concerns of Indian children and families.
This year Congress has a real opportunity to improve the lives of low-income children and families through the reauthorization of the TANF program. Congress, the Administration, and the nation can now review and evaluate the significant decision made in 1996 to replace the Aid to Families with Dependent Children’s program. Another significant change made in 1996 was giving tribal nations the ability to establish and operate their own TANF programs. We now have an opportunity to evaluate what has worked and make changes that will improve the lives of many low-income children and their families, including Native American children and families.
In 1996, Congress acknowledged the importance of providing flexibility to states and tribes. Allowing tribes to directly access TANF funds, Congress recognized that many tribal governments were best equipped to address the needs of their own populations. Tribes now negotiate directly with HHS on access to TANF funds and on the design and administration of their TANF programs. At least 170 tribes in 15 states have TANF plans that have been approved by HHS.
More than 25% of the American Indian population lives in poverty, and the average income of American Indians is much lower than the nation as a whole. The challenges to implementing a welfare reform program that provides lasting jobs and a ladder of opportunity out of poverty for parents are particularly great in tribal areas.
The decision to allow tribes to access TANF funds directly and operate their own TANF programs was an important first step. Additional resources are now needed to allow tribes to develop integrated, community-based services to families and children.
The TANF program is made up of two funding sources: federal TANF block grant dollars and the required state maintenance-of-effort funds (MOE). When tribes take on the responsibility of running their own TANF program they do not necessarily have the financial resources to replace lost state MOE funds. CWLA supports efforts that provide additional federal funds, expand tribal capacity, recognize the growth in tribal populations over the life of the TANF block grant, and allow tribes access to funds, such as a recession contingency fund and bonuses for achievement that are currently included in the TANF block grant.
We recognize that members of the Senate, including Senator Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, are proposing ways to strengthen the tribal TANF program. CWLA is fully supportive of these efforts.
Tribal Access to Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance
Congress should also take the opportunity this year to extend direct access to Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance to tribes. Although tribes and states have used portions of their TANF block grant to build a system of preventive services and child welfare services, tribes cannot directly access Title IV-E funds in order to support critical efforts that protect children and support families.
Legislation has been introduced in the Senate, the Indian and Alaska Native Foster Care and Adoption Services Amendments (S. 550), that achieves this goal. This bill is sponsored by Senator Daschle and 16 other Senators, including members of the Committee on Indian Affairs. The legislation allows tribes the option of directly accessing federal Foster Care and Adoption Assistance funds. S. 550 is designed to improve services and encourage permanency for Native American children.
This legislation corrects a long-standing inequity in the Title IV-E program, which currently provides funds only to states. Currently, more than 70 tribes have agreements with states to access some of these funds. These agreements vary in the extent to which they provide funding for portions of program administration costs, foster care expenses, or both. Tribal governments and Native American children who are placed in out-of-home care by tribal agencies have not always been able to achieve the full potential benefit of IV-E funding under these arrangements. This bill will help ensure the implementation of appropriate and effective child welfare services in Indian Country.
Through the activities of National Resource Center for Information Technology in Child Welfare, in collaboration with NICWA, we have had a chance to review the way Indian child welfare services are now provided and funded, as well as the available data. We are convinced the data from HHS-sponsored national data sets do not capture all of the Native American children involved in child protection, foster care, and adoption. Even so, the available data indicates a clear overrepresentation of these children, at a rate of approximately 1.6 times what the population figures would predict. When we take into account the children placed by tribes with foster care funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs or tribal resources, the total number of Native American children in foster care at any point in time is estimated to approach 14,000, about 2.4 times their representation among all of our country’s children. Providing more comprehensive resources for Indian child welfare will help improve services and outcomes for these children and families and allow us to collect more accurate data about the children and families served.
CWLA also recognizes the need to improve tribal access to other existing federal block grants. We were fully supportive of efforts last year to expand tribal access to the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program. As an organization that strongly supports the restoration of funding to the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), we recognize the desire of tribal governments to have the same access to these block grant funds as states and territories. SSBG is a critical source of financial support for child welfare services. Fiscal year 2000 data indicates that states chose to use their SSBG funds for child welfare more than any other service. As members of the Senate expand tribal access to federal block grants including SSBG, we hope they will enhance that access by reversing the actions of the past several years and fully restore SSBG funding to $2.8 billion as established in the 1996 TANF law.
CWLA remains committed to promoting the well-being of children and protecting every child from harm in all settings. We look forward to working with this Committee and other members of Congress in crafting legislation that will improve the lives of our most vulnerable children, including Native American children.