June 01, 2016

ABA urges Congress to strengthen child welfare system programs

The ABA is urging Congress to strengthen federal programs that provide services and support to families in the child welfare system and expressed support this month for H.R. 5456, bipartisan legislation passed by the House June 21.

In a June 20 letter to the leadership of the House Ways and Means Committee and its Subcommittee on Human Resources, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman said that the ABA supports reform of the federal child welfare financing structure to end fiscal incentives to place children in foster care. He also said that the ABA supports the legislation’s  focus on ensuring that children entering foster care are placed in the least restrictive, most appropriate family-life setting.

Susman wrote that H.R. 5456, the Family First Prevention Services Act, takes “crucial steps” toward achieving these goals by allowing use of federal child welfare funds under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act to be used for preventive services. These funds will enable more children to remain in their homes or with kin caregivers while receiving needed support and services. Currently, funds under Title IV-E are available only after a child enters foster care.

The legislation also includes reauthorization of the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Program and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act (PSSF) under Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, which support programs that help stabilize families by providing immediate preventive services while children remain at home and by funding reunification services so that children can be safely returned home in a timely manner.

In addition, the bill would eliminate a 15-month time limit on providing reunification services under PSSF so that federally supported reunification efforts can continue in appropriate circumstances.

Other provisions in the bill supported by the ABA would:

• extend funding for Court Improvement Program (CIP) grants, which currently provide $30 million in federal funds to help improve state courts’ performance in child abuse and neglect cases;

• identify model licensing standards for relative foster family homes;

• provide a 50 percent federal match for evidence-based Kinship Navigator programs that provide critical services and information to support kinship care providers; and

• expand access to the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program to ensure that youth in foster care have access to quality education and additional resources for transitioning to adulthood.

The association also maintains that the CIP statute should be amended to require a focus on legal representation with additional funding provided to achieve that goal. States could use the money to set up or enhance programs to administer legal services in child welfare cases, including setting and enforcing caseload, compensation, and attorney evaluation standards.

Similar legislation, S. 3065, was introduced in the Senate June 15 and is pending in the Senate Finance Committee.

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