House Moves Adoption-Child Welfare Bill, Senate Finalization This Week

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On Wednesday, July 23, the House of Representatives passed HR 4980, the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act.’ The legislation will reauthorize the Adoption Incentive Fund for three years and extend it to guardianship placements. It will also extend the Family Connections Grants by one year through this current fiscal year of 2014.

After many weeks of negotiation between the House and Senate committees, the legislation was agreed to several weeks ago and was taken up by the House under the “suspension” calendar which allows a speedier passage that allows for a voice vote. The plan is for the Senate to take similar action this week through a Senate “unanimous consent” process which also allows a voice vote.

The original bill had passed last October and December in the House and the Senate respectively but was delayed because Congress could not find more than $15 million to extend the Family Connection grants beyond the one year. The original House and Senate bills extended the Family Connections Grants for three years but the money to “offset” (pay for) that extension was taken up by the budget deal agreed to earlier this year. Many also saw the legislation as an opportunity to address domestic victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking and that added to the negotiation challenge.

The legislation was approved along with several other bills to address sex trafficking. One of those bills, HR 5081, would amend parts of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). The bill was held for a roll call vote unlike the other bills. While not providing additional funding it would require three new requirements (number 24, 25 and 26) which would require CPS to have procedures to identify victims of sex trafficking (as defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, TVPA), training of CPS personnel and the identification of services for victims. It also requires a report by HHS to the Congress. Such changes to CAPTA have not been debated or considered yet in the Senate as was the case in the larger bill (HR 4980) so it may require greater consideration by the Senate before they move on such CAPTA changes. It should be noted however that the House never voted on the CAPTA provisions either.

HR 4980 would:

• Reauthorize the Adoption Incentive Fund through FY 16, extends the awards to certain subsidized guardianship/kinship placements, bases the incentive on a ‘rate” rather than specific numbers of adoptions to provide better recognition of states that may have a smaller pool of adoptable children because they have fewer children in foster care, it refines targeting to adolescent children who have been coming into care in higher numbers;

• Extends the Family Connections Grants by one year through 2014 (this year only) which will likely be just enough to continue funding to programs that are currently in the third year of their funding—these programs are kinship navigator programs, family finding programs, family group decision making and family-based drug treatment;

• Strengthens requirements and directives to HHS in crafting a formula that will assure that states are reinvesting savings they will realize as a result of the 2008 expansion of Adoption Assistance funding, that law gradually expands federal assistance funding to cover all special needs adoptions in a state

• Adds state plan requirements regarding screening and services to victims of f sex trafficking, and locating and responding to children who have run away from foster care including plans to address, report and track children who run from care

• Includes sex trafficking data in the adoption and foster care analysis and reporting system (AFCARS)

• Requires the state to develop a “reasonable and prudent parent standard’ for the child’s participation in age or developmentally appropriate extracurricular, enrichment, cultural, and social activities and it requires states to assure foster parents or an individual in a care facility has the training and ability to exercise their judgment that will allow children to participate in these type of activities

• Limits to children age 16 or older the option of being placed in a planned permanent living arrangement (APPLA) and requires new documentation and determination requirements for an APPLA status

• Gives children age 14 and older authority to participate in the development of their own case plans, in consultation with up to two members of the case planning team

• Requires that foster children leaving foster care (unless in foster care less than six months) are not discharged without being provided with a copy of their birth certificate, Social Security card, health insurance information, copy of medical records, and a driver’s license or equivalent state-issued identification card.

• Requires notification of parents of a sibling (through adoption) when another child is removed from parental custody.

For a more detailed copy of a CWLA description of the legislation send an e-mail to john.sciamanna962@gmail.com

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