On Tuesday August 4, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on foster care and alternative to foster care placements. The hearing included testimony from five panelists representing state, kinship care, youth and parent perspectives.

Perhaps the most significant news made was when the Chairman, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), indicated in opening remarks that they hope to have a “markup” of child welfare legislation this fall. A markup is a congressional term for a committee debate and vote on passage of legislation and is without testimony.

Senator Hatch has continued to emphasize his concern over placements of children in group homes-congregate care however he modified some past statements. He said “I believe that we should do whatever we can to reduce the reliance on foster care group homes” but added ….”it is not sound public policy to work to reduce the reliance on group homes without addressing the need to support a family placement for children and youth currently in or at risk of entering one of these facilities.”
The hearing coincided with Senator Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) introduction of his new legislation, Family Stability and Kinship Care Act. Wyden introduced the bill the next day (see details below). In his opening remarks he reflected on his past advocacy and legislation in support of kinship care as an important alternative and said, ‘Now in 2015, I see an opportunity for Congress to go even further in helping kids thrive with kin. It begins with letting states run with fresh policies that will support families when they have fallen on hard times.” The committee heard from Ms. Sandra Killett, Parent Advocate, New York City, Ms. Rosalina Burton, Former Foster Youth, Escondido, CA, Ms. Donna Butts, Executive Director, Generations United, Mr. Chuck Nyby, Differential Response Operations, Oregon Department of Human Services, Ms. Ann Silverberg Williamson, Executive Director, Utah Department of Human Services.

More than a dozen members of the Committee were in attendance with several senators commenting on some of their key issues and concerns. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) discussed her past work on foster care issues in the Michigan legislature decades before and how we are still struggling to deal with some of the same issues and challenges. Then she noted how, “…we are willing to add to our defense spending but not find the funds to defend our families…”

Both Stabenow and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) referenced their support and sponsorship of the Family-Based Foster Care Services Act, S 429 that would encourage the use of therapeutic foster care through Medicaid and both urged committee action as part of reform.

Several Democrats referenced their support for the Wyden bill and several members discussed their recent interactions with young people who had been in foster care who served as interns in their offices this past summer.

Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) said that just looking at the finances does not tell you about the individual experiences and then recounted what he had learned from talking to a young intern who had experienced abuse first in her birth family and later in an adoptive family.