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September 28, 2023

ABA testifies before Congress on modernizing child welfare

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2023 – The American Bar Association’s director of the Center on Children and the Law, Prudence Beidler Carr, testified today before the House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Work & Welfare about “Modernizing Child Welfare to Protect Vulnerable Children.”

After noting that more than 37% of children in the United States will experience a Child Protective Services investigation before age 18, Carr said that “traditionally, parents have not had access to an attorney during these investigations and must navigate the legal implications on their own. That is beginning to change.”

State courts oversee the cases of about 610,000 children in foster care each year, and “in recognition of the high stakes for children and the families involved and the connection between services and law, Congress established the Court Improvement Program (CIP) in 1993,” she said.

“CIP grants are the only federal funds state courts receive for child welfare work” Carr said, and Congress authorized $10 million in emergency CIP funding in 2020 in response to COVID-19.

“This support was extremely effective in mitigating case delays after courts initially shut down because the funding facilitated time-sensitive investments in such things as Zoom licenses and training on how to hold virtual hearings for judges, attorneys, and party participants,” she said.

“In recognition of the value of this program and the fact that annual funding has not changed since 2006, the president’s budget in both the current and prior administrations have proposed an additional $30 million for CIP.” Carr said. “Recent legislative proposals have also supported CIP expansion and examined opportunities for greater investments in court technology and access to legal representation for both children and parents.”

Also testifying at the hearing were David Sanders, executive vice president of systems improvement at Casey Family Programs in Bainbridge Island, Washington; Tracy Gruber, executive director of the Utah Department of Health and Human Resources in Salt Lake City; Cherie Craft, founding executive director of Smart from the Start in Washington, D.C.; and Katherine Marquart, recruitment manager at FosterAdopt Connect in Jackson County, Missouri.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.