On Thursday, July 2, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), will provide flexible, emergency aid for key child welfare programs working to support children, youth, and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The senators’ legislation will help ensure child welfare agencies and organizations are equipped with resources to continue protecting and supporting families during this public health crisis.
“Youth and families in the child welfare system are experiencing unprecedented financial stress, social isolation, and abrupt changes to daily life. Local child protective services will need additional support to continue meeting the needs of their communities, said Senator Brown.”
The Child Welfare Emergency Act would specifically invest in the health, safety, and wellbeing of children, youth, and families by:
- Investing $2 billion through Title IV-B to support state and tribal child welfare agencies in providing families, kinship caregivers, and young people with a broad range of support services, including assistance for transportation, housing, and utility payments. Child welfare agencies could also use this funding to expand adoption promotion and support services, or to hire, train and support caseworkers to conduct safe in-person home and remote visits, including the purchase of personal protective equipment and technology.
- Providing $30 million for kinship navigator programs to ensure kinship caregivers have access to information and resources, including food, safety supplies, technology, and COVID-19 testing.
- Dedicating $50 million to help states implement health oversight and coordination plans to ensure children in foster care are up-to-date on vaccinations and have access to needed care and telehealth services.
- Investing $15 million to states and tribes for training on trauma-informed de-escalation strategies for child welfare partners, congregate care facilities, and families.
- Requiring states to develop and implement de-escalation strategies to limit unnecessary involvement with law enforcement, and ensure any contact with law enforcement is non-coercive.
- Expediting eligibility for children living with a relative in foster care for federal support, and allow 100% federal support for kinship caregiver payments through the Title IV-E Guardianship Assistance Program and kinship-related Title IV-E adoption assistance payments.
- Providing $500 million for the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program to ensure young people have access to supports, such as housing, food, and cash assistance, and allow more of these funds to cover housing costs for foster youth. Funds could also be used for education and training vouchers, which help young people cover the cost of education.
- Establishing a moratorium on “aging out” of foster care to ensure no young person is cut off from critical housing and support services during the public health emergency.
- Increasing federal support to provide Title IV-E prevention services, such as parent training, family counseling, and substance use disorder treatment.
- Providing $30 million for the Court Improvement Program to ensure dependency courts have resources to facilitate the transition to remote hearings, train judges, volunteers, and court personnel on the use of technology, and support innovative programs to help families continue to address case plan requirements.
CWLA has endorsed the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act. Christine James-Brown, President & CEO of CWLA stated the following:
“This legislation will provide critical emergency funding during this crisis created by the pandemic and the resulting severe recession. Without Congress enacting this legislation this month, the extreme state and local budget cuts that will take place will result in the elimination of agencies, children’s services and family support services that will double down on the inequities and inequality that have been highlighted by this pandemic and that have been the focus of the intense debate over this past two months.”
The Senate Republicans are beginning to put together their own fifth COVID-19 relief package and Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) has mentioned that children will be in the forthcoming bill. He stated that “the focus will be kids, jobs, and health care.” It remains to be seen what he meant specifically when he said kids will be a focus of the GOP therefore we are hopefully that before August recess the next package includes all if not most of the child welfare bill.