On Wednesday, June 24, 2020, the President issued an Executive Order (EO) on “Strengthening the Child Welfare System for America’s Children.” The EO includes a number of directives to HHS regarding future data collection reports to the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC) and some future adjustments to the Child and Families Services Reviews (CFSR) over the next six months to three years.
The EO was accompanied by a call to agencies and other child welfare parties that included comments by Assistant Secretary Lyn Johnson and Presidential Advisor Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President. The special emphasis during that discussion was on “robust partnerships between state agencies and public, private, faith-based, and communities.” The EO and press materials included links to various funding options under HHS.
Within one-year, HHS is directed to issue guidance on partnering with local nongovernmental organizations. This may be a useful point for advocates and local agencies that are now under severe pressure due to the pandemic and deep recession. Child welfare agencies provide a range of services, from primary prevention to placements in foster care, relative care, and adoptive families and family support, including child care. Still, many nonprofit agencies face an existential threat due to the twin crises of the pandemic and severe cuts in state and local budgets.
The announcement of the EO referenced Congress’s inclusion of $45 million for Child Welfare Services (Title IV-B part 1, which was included in the COVID-19 CARES Act -bill number three). The Administration indicated there was an additional $300 million in flexible funds, but it is unclear what that funding is or comes from.
The question is whether or not the Administration will support the ongoing efforts by national, state and local advocacy communities to increase funding for Title IV-B programs substantially, Title IV-E Chafee funding for youth in care and transition out, CAPTA state grants, increased matches through Medicaid and Title IV-E and the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) as part of the next COVID-19 package.
The EO focuses on data collection and public information on the number of children in foster care who have siblings in care, data on siblings placed together, additional data collection for the CFSRs, (within two years), there is also language around expanding the number of homes for children, and youth-focused on data collection through the CFSR on the number of homes available, retention rates and target for the needed number of homes (also within two years).
Also referenced in the EO: expanding educational options through the use of existing technical assistance to promote training and curriculum, increasing the availability of trauma-informed training, enhanced access to web-based training material to be provided free of charge, supporting guardianship through information to states on the importance and availability of funds to increase guardianship through the title IV-E Guardianship Assistance Program, and a directive to HHS to establish a plan to address barriers to accessing existing federal assistance and benefits for eligible individuals.
The EO also orders a study within six months of the 1994 Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) and the more restrictive 1996 IEPA that added requirements under Title IV-E that restrict placements on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The way the law was implemented was controversial, especially in light of recent discussion over racial inequity. It is sure to attract additional review since many critics feel the 1994 (and especially the 1996 amendments) did not adequately address the need to recruit more families of color.