On Wednesday, May 17 the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held their own hearing on the substance-abuse issue and the relationship to child welfare.  It follows last week’s Senate Finance Committee hearing on the use of evidence-based services and its relationship to child welfare.

In his opening statement, the Chairman, Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-FL) said,

“In Florida, we know all too well of the consequences. We started to address this epidemic years ago by reducing access to opioids and decreasing their supply. Now its cheaper and just as potent relative—heroin—is taking over. Heroin overdose deaths in Florida increased by 900 percent from 2010 to 2014. Unfortunately, the epicenter for Florida’s crisis is in my district—Manatee County—where more people died from heroin overdoses per capita than any other Florida county in 2014.”

The committee witnesses included opening Comments from Congressmember Karen Bass (D-CA) and Congressman Tom Marino (R-PA) as chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth.  Also speaking was Tina Willauer, the Kentucky-based START (Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams). Willauer was featured at recent Senate briefing. The program was originally implemented in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.  It has been implemented through an original RPG grant in 2007.  The START model pairs a child welfare worker with a person in recovery from a substance abuse disorder to conduct active outreach and engagement of parents in treatment and services. Primarily focused on mothers who have given birth to an infant with prenatal substance exposure, outreach begins at the hospital. Ms. Willauer shared her experiences and the impact of the program and highlighted its effectiveness in saving dollars through reduced foster care placements.

Her testimony was followed by testimony from Hector Glynn, The Village for Families & Children, Dr. Katherine Barillas, OneVoice Texas, and Bryan Lindert, Eckert Kids.

The testimony from Bryan Lindert focused on Eckert’s use of data and their use of predictive analytics and review of that data to both reduce child fatalities and improve oversight.  As noted in his opening comments, Hillsborough County Florida is a home county for Congressman Buchanan.

During the question and answer period Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), ranking member, asked about his home state of Texas and some of the recent challenges resulting in court oversight. He asked Dr Barillas about whether the challenges the state was having wasn’t really a question of more resources and not just shifting around current child welfare funds. She emphasized some of the critical components lacking was a lack of oversight, caseworker overload and turnover and a lack of support for youth aging out of care. She did agree that one of the challenges was a need for more resources.  Doggett once again expressed his concern that the Congress need to invest more resources in foster care or not just shift around dollars.

Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL) said that he was going to be introducing legislation to expand drug treatment.  It is expected to build on the regional partnership grants which are due for reauthorization this year.  It may be similar to legislation that had been introduced in congresses by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY) was more skeptical in terms of the need for more resources and thought it might be more a reallocation issue. Congresswoman Diane Black (R-TN), who is not on the Subcommittee but participated as a guest member, took her questioning period to focus on her work in the state of Tennessee in promoting the Nurse Family Partnership home visiting program.

The subcommittee and members continue to be engaged with their Senate counterparts over discussion on the IV-B reauthorizations.  It is believed that if there is a possibility for advancing parts of the Families First draft as part of that reauthorization.