On Tuesday Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a new bill, S. 1964, the Child Welfare Oversight and Accountability Act of 2017. Its basic features are a de-link of Title IV-E kinship/subsidized guardianship from the AFDC eligibility, create a different and more flexible kinship care licensing standard for kinship placements, extend access to Title IV-E training funds by de-linking eligibility to the AFDC eligibility standard, create new enforceable penalty provisions for the Program Improvement Plans (PIP) that result from not meeting the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs) and create and mandate a minimum casework caseload/workload standard for child welfare workers.
The legislation was released in conjunction with a new Finance Committee Report, An Examination of Foster Care in the United States and the Use of Privatization. The report wrapped a lot of its findings and conclusions around an internet-generated February 2015 report by Mother Jones and BuzzFeed on the for-profit MENTOR chain of foster care and out of home care facilities in several states.
The report was highly critical of states, very critical of the for-profit provider MENTOR and in praise of Congressional action. Interspersed with specific details about the MENTOR company was ongoing critical comments on state accountability, state oversight of providers, and a lack of detail on the history of those providers. The Committee report also complained about a lack of common terms regarding, private, for-profit and non-profit providers and which entity has ultimate oversight of the child. The detailed information on MENTOR was supplemented with information from the 33 of 51 states that responded to a series of questions included in a letter from the Senate Finance Committee. They also included greater detail from five states that were asked to provide a more in depth response ( Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Texas) which seemed to earn those five states greater criticism for their efforts.
Some of the key recommendations for states:
Improve outreach, customer service, and support services for foster parents; enhance oversight of foster families; more frequent performance reviews of child welfare service providers; track child safety and well-being outcomes at the individual provider level; set maximum caseload size for child welfare workers; greater funding for the training of front-end staff; revoke contracts from providers unable to provide safe foster care placements for children; provide subsidized guardianship payments to relatives; make child death review teams transparent, timely, and well-staffed; make placement setting decisions based on the assessed strengths and needs of children; and establish child welfare ombudsman offices.
Work to engage states, Congress, and the broader child welfare community in understanding the purpose and state- specific relevance of the CFSRs; provide clarification on how states and Tribes are defining, using, and overseeing Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC) and establish a common definition; develop and have states use a uniform definition of child abuse and neglect fatalities; aid states in developing the means and mechanisms to accurately collect provider-specific outcomes data, consistent with AFCARS, NCANDS, and the CFSRs; and establish maximum caseload guidelines for manageable caseload sizes for the child welfare workforce.
Support funding and oversight for states and Tribes to enhance foster parent recruitment and retention activities; support funding and oversight for states and Tribes to enhance caseworker recruitment and retention; allow states and Tribes to use title IV–E funds to support evidence-based services aimed at safely preventing foster care; consider de-linking subsidized guardianship payments from AFDC income standard; require all states to report to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) using standard definitions and provide support for this data collection; consider legislation creating an explicit private right of action for children and youth in foster care tied to components of the case plan; consider changes requiring HHS to assess fiscal penalties on states for failing to meet CFSR outcomes; consider amending state-mandate child outcomes data to collect outcomes such as: child fatalities, maltreatment in care, recurrence of maltreatment within 6 months, exits from foster care by reason for the exit, time to reunification, re-entry rates, and the average number of placements; consider prohibiting Title IV–E reimbursements for providers who perform poorly on key safety, permanency, and well-being indicators; require states to make their contracts with private child welfare service providers publicly available and include whether providers are private not-for-profit or private for-profit.
The related legislation: S 1964:
· De-links Title IV-E kinship/guardianship assistance from AFDC and reduce the number of months in relative foster care from 6 to 3 months as a condition of eligibility
· Amends licensing and background check requirements to be consistent with background checks for foster and adoptive placements which, unlike guardianships, do not require background checks for all adults living in the home
· Requires kinship/guardianship payments equal to what is paid to the same category of foster care placements
· Requires a penalty provision under the Program Improvement Plan (PIP) that result from the CFSRs and require that any penalty be reinvested by the state into reform efforts
· By 2020 HHS will establish and states will implement a caseload/work load standard developed in conjunction with states and national organizations
· Expands access to workforce training funds to all workers contracted to provide child welfare and protection services by eliminating the link to AFDC while reducing the match from 75 percent to 50 percent
· Establishes a national definition of child maltreatment fatalities and apply it across the states and create annual reviews of child maltreatment fatalities
· Creates a private right of action by individuals that have been in foster care for failure to comply with the case plan with a five-year sunset after a child/youth’s exit form care
· Requires states to post on websites private foster care providers and whether they are for or non-profit.
CWLA is still reviewing the legislation which includes several provisions CWLA has endorsed including a de-linking of kinship care placements and an expansion of workforce training funds as well as caseload standards. Action will not take place this year and since some key members of Congress have insisted that child welfare reforms only be allowed through cuts to other parts of child welfare it’s not clear how much traction it can gain in the rest of this Congress. It also would not overlap with last Congress’s Families First Act. A proposal that still may be under consideration by at least some members of Congress.