The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and our nearly 900 public and private nonprofit child-serving member agencies nationwide applauds the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee for addressing the issue of federal funding for child welfare at this hearing. We believe that as a country we must confirm our commitment to prevent child abuse and neglect and support those children whose lives have been affected by abuse and neglect. We support strengthened partnerships between federal, state, and local governments and providers in the nonprofit and charitable communities in order to do a better job of protecting our nation’s most vulnerable children.
A Comprehensive System of Care
We urge this Subcommittee to examine the entire child welfare system in its review of federal financing. In addition to foster care, the child welfare system also includes child abuse and neglect prevention, treatment, out-of-home care, adoption, and services provided to children and families when a child returns from foster care or becomes part of a family through adoption.
Nearly three million children are reported as abused and/or neglected annually and nearly 900,000 children are substantiated as victims of abuse and neglect. We do not know if these reports actually capture all of the children whose lives may be affected by abuse and neglect. We do know that of the children reported as neglected or abused, many will receive some form of preventive services. However, we also know that 40% of children substantiated as victims of abuse or neglect never receive any services. Approximately 20% of children reported as abused and neglected are placed in foster care as a result of an investigation or assessment.
Federal Funding Sources that Support Child Welfare
CWLA urges the Subcommittee to expand its review of federal funding for child welfare to encompass the entire system of federal supports. The funding made available through Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance is absolutely critical and should be maintained as an uncapped, open-ended entitlement program. However, an exclusive focus on Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance funding, which provides 49% of all federal funding for child welfare services, is too narrow and captures only a portion of the patchwork of federal supports that states and communities use for child welfare. Examining Title IV-E in isolation, or merely restructuring it, is an inadequate response to the comprehensive reform needed. True reform of this nation’s federal financial support of children in the child welfare system must not be limited to maintenance payments to support children in foster care or other residential facilities. Reform must include a continued and expanded commitment for Title IV-E administrative and training funding, which provides funding towards a strong and well-trained workforce. Comprehensive reform must also include a review of the other major funding streams that support children and families in the child welfare system. These supports include Title IV-B prevention funds, CAPTA, Medicaid, TANF, and the Social Services Block Grant.
Foster Care Caseloads are Affected by a Number of Factors
A review of federal financing must also include a review of all of the factors that impact foster care caseloads, including those factors outside the control of the child welfare system. While there were 523,000 children in foster care at the end of fiscal year 2003, each year over 800,000 children will spend some time in foster care. In 2003, 278,000 children left foster care while 296,000 children entered foster care.
Factors within the child welfare system that affect foster care caseloads include the lack of preventive and supportive services for families and children and an inadequately staffed, and in some instances poorly trained, child welfare workforce. Many factors outside the control of the child welfare system impact the number of children placed into foster care. These include poverty, the economy, and epidemics-such as the explosion of HIV-AIDS in the 1980s (a topic recently examined by this Subcommittee) and the crack-cocaine epidemic in our urban centers in the late 1980s.
The current use and manufacture of methamphetamines in many rural areas is the most compelling factor to suggest that foster care caseloads may increase. According to a June 2003 report from the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 2,023 reported children residing in seized meth labs in the United States in 2002. This represents an increase from 216 cases reported in 2000. National data also suggests that in at least 70% of all methamphetamine arrests, there is a child living in the home.
Other factors that influence foster care caseloads include the impact of state and local policy, political leadership, how well courts coordinate with child welfare systems, and court oversight through consent decrees and other oversight efforts.
Reducing Foster Care Caseloads
CWLA agrees with the goals of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA)-to ensure that children are placed into, or remain in foster care only if absolutely necessary for their safety. New investments in prevention are needed to reach this goal. CWLA fully supports a comprehensive child welfare system that is able to take measures to ensure that child abuse and neglect is prevented and that families have the supports they need to care for their children so fewer children need foster care.
No evidence exists that demonstrates that capping federal support for foster care will result in fewer children needing foster care. A Title IV-E entitlement does not lead to more children being removed from their homes and placed into foster care simply because open-ended federal funding is provided for foster care.
In fact, evidence contradicts suggestions that Title IV-E foster care funding drives state systems to remove children in order to draw-down federal funds. CWLA examined state foster care caseloads from 1999 through 2002, and found that 28 states showed patterns that counter these suggestions. These 28 states followed one of two patterns: either they experienced a decline in their foster care caseloads and their Title IV-E claims decreased faster than their non-Title IV-E funded placements; or their overall caseloads increased and their Title IV-E claims increased slower than their non-Title IV-E funded placements. Of the remaining 23 states, one state showed inconclusive evidence and the remaining 22 states results were mixed.
If Title IV-E drove states to remove children and place them in foster care, then the patterns in these 28 states would have been different. When a state’s foster care caseload increased, Title IV-E funded placements would have increased faster than the non-Title IV-E funded placements. Additionally, when a state’s foster care caseload decreased, Title IV-E funded placements would have decreased slower than the non-Title IV-E funded placements.
Foster care placements have declined from 1999 through 2002, from 565,253 in 1999 to 532,739 in 2002. Caseloads have varied widely, with 24 states experiencing some increases and another 27 experiencing some decreases. Overall, while placements declined between 1999 and 2002, the non Title IV-E subsidized placements have actually increased. The number of children placed in foster care without federal assistance has increased. Between 1999 and 2002 Title IV-E placements declined from 302,422 to 254,004, while non-Title IV-E funded placements increased from 262,831 in 1999 to 278,735 in 2002. The number of children placed in foster care who were eligible for federal funding actually decreased.
Furthermore, if Title IV-E drove states to remove children and place them in foster care, states would not be using other flexible funds, such as state or local dollars and other federal funds like the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), for foster care placements except when absolutely necessary. For example, Texas experienced a substantial increase of 30.7% in overall foster care caseloads and a recent Urban Institute survey of state child welfare financing found that Texas uses more TANF funds than any other state as a percentage of its overall child welfare financing. Forty-seven percent of federal funding for out-of-home care in Texas comes from the TANF block grant-not Title IV-E. Title IV-E provided 39% of the state’s out-of-home placement funding.
CWLA’s Call for Reform
CWLA believes that the way to ensure the goals articulated in ASFA is to ensure that states and communities have the resources necessary to prevent foster care placements from ever occurring. CWLA urges this Subcommittee to ensure that sufficient federal supports are in place to prevent child abuse and neglect and support families. CWLA urges Congress to take action on what is truly needed to build a comprehensive system of care so that children are protected.
CWLA recognizes that the child welfare system, as currently constructed, cannot protect all children adequately. Failures occur. They are not limited to any single state. These failures will continue to occur until we put into place a comprehensive child protection system. If Congress feels constrained this year, then incremental steps can be implemented to improve the lives of children.
- Fully fund Title IV-B (Subparts 1 and 2) and make funding mandatory. Furthermore, an increase should be considered so that services can be provided to the 40% of children who are now reported as not receiving services, even though abuse or neglect has been substantiated. As part of an effort to improve accountability, an annual report on Title IV-B spending should be required. This detailed information will provide data on how many children and adults are assisted with these funds.
- Eliminate the financial eligibility criteria for Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption assistance. Current outdated income eligibility criteria represent a carryover from when federal foster care funding was part of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).
CWLA appreciates, however, that incremental change may be necessary in addressing this concern; therefore, CWLA recommends, as an interim step, that the Title IV-E Foster Care eligibility link with AFDC be replaced with a link to another federal program, such as Medicaid.
- Maintain the federal commitment to provide guaranteed support for training child welfare workers through the Title IV-E training program. Access to these federal training funds should be expanded to support the training of private agency staff, related child-serving agency workers, and court staff working with any children in the child welfare system.
- Maintain Title IV-E administrative funding as a separate source of funding. Some may think of “administration” as funding for office space or supplies, but these funds are used to support the activities of the child welfare workforce. To better understand and improve accountability, annual reporting requirements should be strengthened to ensure that states’ use of these funds are more clearly reported to better describe expenditures that are administrative expenses and those that are case planning and management, pre-placement services, and other important activities.
- Extend Title IV-E funding to kinship/guardianship placements for children in state custody. Grants should also be provided to states to facilitate the development of kinship navigator programs. States should be allowed to have separate training standards for kinship placements while safety and background requirements are met.
- Make Medicaid targeted case management (TCM) and rehabilitative services available for children in the child welfare system. The federal matching rate for TCM and rehabilitative services should not be reduced. State child welfare systems should have a lead role in how Medicaid services are provided to children in the child welfare system to ensure that therapeutic and rehabilitative services are available to these kids.
- Provide new federal resources to states and private child welfare agencies to help the expansion of the child welfare workforce. Federal loan forgiveness should also be made available to students who become child welfare workers.
- Provide Native American tribes with direct access to Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance and greater access to Title IV-B funding. The Senate version of a TANF reauthorization includes a provision that would expand Title IV-E access in this way. We urge Congress to include this provision in the final TANF bill.
- Restore funding to the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG, Title XX of the Social Security Act). In 2002, SSBG represented 12% of all federal funding for child welfare services.
CWLA believes that important and necessary reforms must be enacted to ensure a consistent level of safety and care for all of America’s children. We look forward to working with this Subcommittee to develop and move forward with proposals that meets all the needs of America’s most vulnerable children and families and ensures that every child is protected.