July 01, 2011

ABA Supports Extension of Child Welfare Programs

The ABA recommended last month that Congress reauthorize existing programs and enhance federal efforts that provide key services and supports to families involved, or at risk of becoming involved, in the child welfare system and the state courts that handle such cases.

In a statement submitted for the record of a June 16 hearing before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman urged reauthorization of the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services (CWS) and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) programs of Title IV-B of the Social Security Act. These programs, Susman said, provide vital support to states’ effort to protect at-risk youth and differ from most federal child welfare funding, which is available only after a child enters foster care.

“PSSF is a critical resource because it helps states stabilize families by supporting immediate preventive services while children remain at home and also by funding reunification services so children can be safety returned home in a timely manner,” he explained.

Susman said the ABA recommends a greater funding level for the PSSF to allow the program to enhance substance abuse and mental health treatment as well as housing assistance. In addition, he said the current time limit of 15 months for reunification services should be eliminated so that federally supported reunification efforts can continue among families in appropriate circumstances.

Another critical program is the Court Improvement Program (CIP), which provides $30 million in federal funds to state courts each year to improve their handling of child abuse and neglect cases. Although the CIP has been found to be very successful in addressing the goals of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, reforms are still required in court staffing, case management, judicial selection and training, performance measurement and accountability, and quality legal representation, according to the ABA.

The association recommends that Congress amend the CIP to require state CIPs to improve representation for parties in the child welfare system and to clarify that Title IV-E of the Social Security Act may be used to reimburse states for the cost of legal representation for parents and children.

The association also recommends the establishment of a new federal permanency incentive program to reward states that increase their rates of safe and stable parental reunification and guardianships. Money awarded to states under the program would be reinvested into child welfare services.

The final ABA recommendation suggests a technical change to the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act to ensure true school stability for children in foster care during their entire stay in care and to create a common language for state and local education agencies, district and schools to use.

In his statement, Susman emphasized the work of the ABA Center on Children and the Law, which was established in 1978 to help improve children’s lives through advances in law, justice, knowledge, practice and public policy.

During the June 16 hearing, witnesses appearing before the subcommittee to support reauthorization of CWS and PSSF included Bryan Samuels, commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services; John Sciamanna, American Humane Association; and Tracy Wareing, American Public Human Services Association.

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