Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am Shay Bilchik, President and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America. I welcome this opportunity to testify in behalf of more than 1,175 public and private nonprofit child-serving agencies nationwide on the reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) and reauthorization of the mandatory funding levels in the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF).
TANF reauthorization this year presents the first real opportunity for members of Congress, the Administration, and the nation to review and evaluate the significant decision made in 1996 to replace the Aid to Families with Dependent Children’s program (AFDC). We have an opportunity to evaluate what has worked and to make changes that, hopefully, will improve the lives of millions of low-income children and their families.
CWLA represents both public and private nonprofit agencies that serve children, youth, and families every day. Advancing child well-being is at the core of our agencies’ missions. CWLA is pleased the Administration has offered as one of its main themes the need for TANF to focus on ways to promote child well-being. We look forward to working with this Subcommittee and other members of Congress in crafting legislation that will improve the lives of our most vulnerable children.
CWLA agrees with the Administration’s proposal to tie child well-being to the purposes of the TANF statute. Including this phrasing in the purposes section of the law is one step to better provide a link between TANF and the children who make up most of the TANF caseload. CWLA also supports the Administration’s suggestion that TANF state plans should include measures of child well-being so that states design and implement TANF programs that will measure themselves against how they affect children.
Poverty is an overarching indicator of child well-being and should be addressed in TANF reauthorization. Although some have framed this part of the TANF reauthorization debate as a choice between child well-being and poverty reduction as a strategy, CWLA does not see these two measures as competing, but rather as complementing each other. With poverty as an overarching indicator of child well-being, the challenge will be to develop strategies that address the needs of these children.
CWLA encourages states to develop child well-being outcome measures. Each state should also move toward the goal of adopting some standardized indicators for child well-being based on indicators that researchers have found to be associated with positive outcomes for children. CWLA’s monograph, Making Children a National Priority: A Framework for Community Action, presents indicators of child well-being in terms of five fundamental needs: fulfilling basic needs, ensuring nurturing relationships, protecting children from harm, easing the impact of harm, and promoting optimal development.
Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, recently drafted a comprehensive list of indictors that significantly overlaps CWLA’s recommendations. These include a range of options in six areas: education, socioemotional development, health and safety, attitudes, family well-being, and poverty. Within each of these areas are more specific measures. For example, socioemotional development measures include indicators on adolescent mental health, behavioral problems, teen child-bearing, and afterschool activities. Family well-being includes a range of concerns and measures, such as parent monitoring and supervision, work efforts among adolescents, parent-child relationships, connectedness and activities, and housing adequacy and homelessness.
CWLA recommends this Subcommittee consider the existing research as a way to improve understanding of how states might better measure their TANF policies and their positive and negative effects on children and families. We would be pleased to further contribute to this discussion as this legislation is drafted, debated, and enacted, and as regulations are shaped.
States will also need federal leadership as they develop their own sets of child well-being indicators. Any new outcome measures should be coordinated with ongoing federal efforts to develop child well-being outcomes. The Adoption and Safe Families Act requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop measures for outcomes on safety, permanency, and well-being, by which all state child welfare agencies’ performance is reported to Congress annually.
Reports were published in 2000 and 2001, but, to date, only measures in safety and permanency have been implemented, with measures in well-being still in development. This is due, partly, to the complexities of measuring well-being and partly due to lack of comprehensive, comparable data being collected. Another federal effort under way is the development of measures to determine the well-being of youth leaving the foster care system, mandated by the Chafee Foster Care Independence Act.
CWLA urges Congress to carefully consider changes to the existing TANF work requirements and how they will affect children. One of the important messages of the 1996 law was the emphasis on work. The value of a job is important because it provides obvious financial benefits to children. A parent who is working serves as a model for children and the behaviors that we wish to see as children grow. Behaviors such as hard work, self-reliance, and achieving goals can all benefit children. When that work has meaning, it promotes dignity, self-worth, and self-esteem for the parent.
A quality job that allows a parent to advance in skills and income is important to families and children. A good job strengthens opportunities for parents that can benefit children. TANF already includes definite work requirements and targets for parents and states. Congress must carefully consider how changes to these existing work rules will affect families. We hope Congress will not engage in a debate that ignores the needs of struggling parents who are trying to work, to find quality child care, and to be the best parents they can be.
Additional work requirements could have the unintended result of becoming stressors and challenges to families. We must consider the amount of time it takes to get to work. We must ensure that policies allow parents to spend time with their children-to meet some of their children’s needs, such as affection, by which children develop self-esteem, and support so children can develop new skills and capabilities. We must ensure that families who may already be under stress and struggling to meet their own economic needs have time to tend to routine care and family needs and time for family emergencies.
There are ways to strengthen the current work requirements, such as replacing the caseload reduction credit with a credit that encourages states to place adults into jobs with substantial wages. CWLA urges Congress to reject strategies that will force states to meet a numerical goal of 40 hours of work, creating a system focused only on reaching numbers and not on moving families forward. We cannot ignore the reality that many of these parents spend several hours each week traveling to and from jobs, to and from child care providers, and to and from school.
Some proposals Congress may consider may include a flexible definition of activities and work. Additional work requirements may appear simple and flexible at the federal level, but when implemented locally, they may become more stringent. New federal work requirements may force states to design policies with a very specific number of work activities. States may try to avoid federal penalties rather than focus on progress for families. Consistent with a work policy that helps parents move into permanent, productive jobs, CWLA urges the Subcommittee to consider ways that work requirements can address barriers to self-sufficiency. We address this more fully in our comments on barriers and screening.
TANF and Child Welfare
There is a long historical link between Title IV-A of the Social Security Act and the child welfare system. The links that existed under AFDC continue under TANF, including funding, the families and children served, and the way the two programs are administered. A significant percentage of families in the child welfare system receive cash assistance and services funded by TANF. TANF funds also provide needed supports to prevent children from coming in contact with the child welfare system in the first place.
Child Only Cases
CWLA recommends that the flexibility to serve families through TANF be maintained and not altered in ways that would restrict states’ abilities to address the needs of children who are eligible for child-only grants.
Child-only cases under TANF, and under AFDC, have always represented a significant percentage of the overall cash assistance caseload. In 1999, child-only families represented 29% of the total number of families receiving TANF. This does not mean, however, that none of these families had a parent in the household, or that all of them were kinship care families. In fact, most of the child-only caseload includes a parent. Parents may be ineligible for TANF because of their legal alien status, because of their disability status under TANF, or because they receive Supplemental Security Income. In 1999, of the child-only caseload, 30% were children in families where the head of the household was related but not the parent. These child-only kinship families represented approximately 9% of the total families on TANF.
Kinship care allows relatives to care for their family members’ children within the context of the family. This form of family care strengthens the family system and enables children to remain within the family if separation from their biological parents is necessary. Kinship caregivers are being responsible family members and responsible members of society. Receiving TANF child-only stipends helps kinship caregivers meet some of the essential needs of the children for whom they have taken full responsibility. The caregivers that care for their family members’ children are usually living on fixed incomes. Many live in poverty, and they are not prepared financially to provide these children with basic essential items. They have chosen to keep their children within the family, however.
The child-only stipend provides some limited financial help with the daily expenses incurred in raising a child, but it is insufficient to cover the costs of raising a child. Child-only stipends vary considerably in different parts of the country. CWLA encourages states to increase the amount of monthly stipends for children living with kin.
Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance
The 1996 TANF law repealed the eligibility standards for AFDC. TANF, however, requires states to look back to the AFDC rules that existed on July 16, 1996, to determine eligibility for Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance. CWLA recommends the eligibility link between Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance and AFDC be removed. This change will eliminate a costly administrative burden and will treat all children with special needs equitably.
With or without increased work requirements, as a nation we must face the fact that our society has changed. Record levels of single parents with young children are in the workplace. Increasing numbers of two-parent families are discovering they need two incomes to make ends meet. As a result, we have an ever-growing need for child care.
CWLA applauds President Bush’s recent statements acknowledging the link between the quality of care and whether children enter school ready to learn. To change the current system of care into a quality system that is both a critical support for parents who work outside the home and an educational and child well-being tool for the children who attend that care, we need significant investments at the federal, state, and local levels.
It is true that the decade of the 1990s represented a historic increase in child care funding. It is also true that those increases came at the very same time as we experienced record workforce participation by parents with school-age and preschool children. In the 1990s, we also began to recognize the importance of early brain development and its impact on our national goals for education and child well-being.
Despite this increase in federal child care dollars, funding for the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) is inadequate. HHS indicates that approximately one in seven eligible children receive care. Many families have been placed on long waiting lists to get the financial support they need and for which they are eligible. And waiting lists do not tell the full story, since many lists may be limited in some way, and in some instances lists are not kept because the need is so great. Existing resources simply are not enough to reach all those in need.
In addition, states do not have adequate resources to ensure that child care services provided are of high quality. Many families who do receive child care support are forced to choose lower quality programs because states don’t have the funds to reimburse programs at a level necessary to ensure quality.
CWLA is disappointed with recommendations by the Administration and others who argue that no new resources are needed for child care and that current funding will address current or future work requirements in TANF. We should continue to recognize that our child care system is not designed merely to provide the minimal form of care for those who are on or who are leaving TANF.
In the conference report that accompanied the 1996 reauthorization legislation (Report 104-725), Congress made clear its intent: “States must spend a substantial portion of the amounts available to provide child care to low-income working families who are not working their way off welfare or at risk of becoming welfare dependents.” Congress made clear that child care was intended for more than just the goal of reducing cash assistance caseloads. That same law also increased the number of families who are potentially eligible for child care by increasing the maximum income eligibility from 75% to 85% of a state’s median income.
Child care must address the needs of those on or leaving TANF, as well as a broader population. All this must be done while improving standards and quality of that care. To accomplish these goals, CCDF funding must be increased substantially. CWLA recommends no less than a $11 billion increase in mandatory funds, as included in at least two legislative proposals before Congress. If work requirements are altered significantly, then this total will have to be increased even more.
Social Services Block Grant
The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) has long been a source of funding for child care. Recent state reports indicate, however, that the most prominent use of SSBG funds are for child welfare services. SSBG also funds a number of other human services, including services for the aging and people with disabilities. Many of these services are provided by community and faith-based organizations. While states continue to use SSBG funds for child care, the reduction in SSBG funding since 1996 has eroded the block grant to such an extent that many human services, including child care, are in competition for these funds. Clearly, SSBG does not sufficiently meet the great need for additional child care resources. CWLA urges Congress to restore SSBG funding in FY 2003 and beyond to $2.8 billion, the level agreed to in the 1996 TANF law. In doing so, this would allow other critical human service needs to be met.
TANF and Barriers to Employment: Substance Abuse
Families receiving TANF assistance face a number of barriers. As a result, some TANF recipients are unable to move from welfare to personal responsibility and work. These barriers may include substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, and disabilities. For those families who come to the attention of the child welfare system-a good portion of them TANF recipients-alcohol and other drug (AOD) use is a major contributing factor for remaining unemployed for long periods of time.
Estimates of the prevalence of substance abuse among TANF recipients range from 16% to 37%. In a survey of CWLA member agencies, caseworkers reported that up to 80% of the families that come to the attention of the child welfare system have a substance abuse problem. HHS estimated in August 2000 that at least 460,000 families on welfare-about 1.2 million parents and children-were affected by substance abuse. Several studies have suggested a high prevalence of substance abuse among women receiving TANF, with rates as high as 27% to 39%. Whatever the prevalence of the problem, TANF caseworkers, in particular, see substance abuse as perhaps the most inflexible of the barriers facing people who are trying to make the transition from welfare to permanent employment.
In keeping with the philosophy of removing obstacles to work to achieve the overall goals of personal responsibility and self-sufficiency, CWLA supports changes and improvements in screening and assessment, sanctions, and work requirements for those needing substance abuse treatment and applying for TANF benefits.
Family Screening and Assessment
The purpose of family assessment is to learn about and engage a family in identifying their needs, strengths, and current resources. Family screening and assessment is a key ingredient in our efforts to assist families in achieving self-sufficiency. It is also a vital tool for helping families improve their parenting abilities and to ensure child safety and well-being. Families seeking cash assistance often face many other stressors in their lives that can become barriers to completing TANF successfully and that can jeopardize child safety and well-being. These include the need for adequate housing and transportation, substance abuse and behavioral health treatment, and assistance with domestic violence.
Many jurisdictions have initiated screening and assessment for families. Some conduct an assessment with all new families requesting assistance. A personal responsibility plan is developed, based on the assessment findings. The plan sets forth the services the family will receive to address barriers, and includes recommendations from substance abuse or behavioral health assessments. Assessments may be conducted “mid-course” to determine client progress and make any necessary corrections to the service plan. Finally, some jurisdictions require a full assessment with the family prior to imposing sanctions.
These steps can prevent problems for families down the road-both the failure to meet work requirements and the increased risk of child abuse or neglect. For those families already involved with the child welfare system, joint TANF-child welfare assessments provide the opportunity to implement a coordinated service and work plan with the family. This reduces the likelihood that the family will experience “competing” or disjointed demands by different parts of the system and provides the family with a single plan for accomplishing both their work and family goals.
CWLA recommends that all families seeking TANF assistance should participate in an initial screening by a trained caseworker to identify and screen for barriers to work, such as substance abuse. This initial screening should identify potential barriers that might interfere with the family’s ability to work requisite hours and otherwise comply with program requirements. If the screening identifies potential barriers for the parents or safety risks for the children, the caseworker should conduct a full family assessment and, where necessary, refer the family member for a professional evaluation to assess substance abuse, behavioral health, or other concerns beyond the worker’s expertise.
We also believe that TANF workers should be trained to screen for barriers to work, including substance abuse, physical and behavioral health, and domestic violence, and for risks to child safety. Workers should also receive training in family assessment, enabling them to assess the needs, strengths, and resources of families as a tool for developing a plan that will lead to successful work and promote a safe environment for the children. Finally, for families already involved with the child welfare system, workers should be encouraged to conduct joint assessments and planning with child welfare so that both systems support families in their efforts to succeed in the workplace and as parents.
Substance Abuse and Sanctions
Families in need of services such as substance abuse treatment must receive the assistance they need to overcome barriers to employment. CWLA recommends that states conduct a presanction review before sanctioning parents who are considered noncompliant. Parents should not be subjected to sanctions and case closures because of the state’s limited substance abuse treatment capacity. If substance abuse treatment services, as specified in the individual responsibility plan, are not available to the parent, states should refrain from sanctions or case closures.
Substance Abuse and Work Requirements
We must view substance abuse treatment as both work and job preparation. Comprehensive, family-focused treatment programs, either residential or outpatient, require that parents engage in intensive therapy sessions, group counseling, parenting classes, and education or job training services. A 1998 Legal Action Center study, entitled Helping Women with Alcohol and Drug Problems Move from Welfare to Work, looked at 20 women’s treatment programs and found that 60% included work and vocational training as part of treatment, whereas 75% required work and vocational training during the substance abuse treatment process.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act