CWLA Summary of the Pew Commission's Policy Recommendations
On May 18, 2004, the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care released a report entitled Fostering our Future: Safety, Permanence and Well-Being for Children in Foster Care. The report is the result of a nonpartisan panel of experts who spent more than a year looking at ways to improve the lives of children in foster care and those at risk of abuse and neglect.
CWLA commends the work of the PEW Commission. We are in general agreement with the commission on the need to replace the outdated eligibility for foster care and adoption assistance. In addition, we support the expansion of Title IV-E funding to kinship and guardianship placements, and we fully support the commission's efforts to improve and expand the link between child welfare systems and state courts.
CWLA does have serious reservations, however, regarding the conversion of Title IV-E administration and training funds into a block grant. Although the goal is to create a fund that could be invested in much-needed up-front prevention services, we feel this proposal does not do that. This proposal converts current administrative and training funds already being spent by states for such critically important functions as case management and preplacement services before a child is placed in care.
Title IV-E administrative funding pays the cost of the child welfare worker in recruiting new foster parents and adoptive parents. This funding also assists in such vital areas as family meetings that may eventually lead to reunifying the family, and the caseworker's time spent in court ensuring all reasonable efforts have been made to protect that child and to ensure a family is not separated unnecessarily.
We believe an essential component to any reform effort must be to seek ways to strengthen and improve the workforce while also improving our efforts at prevention and early intervention. The federal support to accomplish this is a key element of the state/federal partnership needed to protect this nation's most vulnerable children, and this support is put at risk under the Commission's proposal.
While the commission proposes to create a block grant that would increase each year by a specific formula the reality is that, short of a constitutional amendment, no congress can obligate future congresses on funding levels. That is why we continue to advocate for the entitlement structure which is based on eligible children. Block grants including the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program and the Child Welfare Services (CWS) program have not increased in recent years and, in fact, have been cut.
The history of SSBG is particularly instructive and relevant. SSBG continues to be a major source of child welfare funding. Despite being a grant-based entitlement to states, it has experienced dramatic cuts in the past ten years. In 1981 SSBG was converted from an entitlement based on eligible populations to an entitlement block grant to the states. In 1981 it was written into law with specific funding increases. SSBG was funded at $2.4 billion in 1982 rising eventually to $2.8 billion in 1989. That last increase was amended by Congress in 1989 as its top funding level. Since that point it has continued to suffer from cutbacks. It decreased from $2.8 billion in 1995 to $2.3 billion in 1997, to $1.7 billion in 2001, and in the last two presidential budgets has been targeted for an addition $500 million cut.
The report is available on the Pew Commission's website.
Child Welfare Financing
The Pew Commission recommendations on child welfare financing reform include a proposal to redesign and build on two major federal funding sources for child welfare: Title IV-E and Title IV-B of the Social Security Act.
- Pew Commission Title IV-E Proposals
- Federal Title IV-E maintenance payments for foster care will remain funded as an entitlement. These funds are used to pay for the room and board of children in out-of-home care. The federal government provided $2 billion in foster care maintenance payments in FY 2002.
- Federal Title IV-E adoption assistance payments will also remain as an entitlement. The federal government provided $1.3 billion in FY 2002 for adoption assistance payments.
- Federal Title IV-E Independent Living will remain a capped entitlement. In FY 2004, the federal government provided $140 million for these services and an additional $45 million for educational and training vouchers for youth aging out of foster care and those youth adopted after the age of 16.
- The financial eligibility requirement for Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance will be removed. Eligibility for Title IV-E assistance or maintenance payments will no longer be linked to the non-existent AFDC program. Currently, the federal government provides support for less than half of children in foster care.
The Commission offers several ways to expand eligibility. A cost-neutral proposal suggests that the federal Title IV-E reimbursements to the states would be reduced by 35% and states could claim reimbursements for all children in care. This proposal would be phased in over a four-year period. One proposal that is not cost neutral allows states to claim federal Title IV-E reimbursement for all children in care whose family income is at 50% of the federal poverty rate or lower (the federal poverty rate is currently $15,260 for a family of three). Under this proposal, the number of children receiving federal assistance would increase over 17 years. Another proposal would create a "hold harmless" fund to provide states losing funding under a cost-neutral structure the opportunity to submit a supplemental claim in the amount of the loss.
- Native American tribes would have the option to receive direct access to Title IV-E funds for both foster care and adoption assistance through a negotiated process with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Currently, tribes must contract payments through agreements with states.
- The cap on Title IV-E funding for all U.S. territories would be removed. Territories would be able to access Title IV-E funds under the same conditions as states receiving funds.
- Title IV-E will be expanded to cover the costs of assisted guardianship in cases when a court has determined that neither reunification nor adoption are feasible permanency options. The federal match would be the same percentage as the match for foster care and adoption assistance. Currently, more than 30 states provide guardianship payments with state funds. With the exception of states that currently have federal waivers in place, there are currently no federal supports for this permanency option.
Under the Commission's proposal, states will be allowed to determine issues related to licensing, payment rates, and eligibility for guardianship arrangements. The Commission recommends that the rates states set should not be lower than the rate paid for adoption subsidies. Native America tribes and U.S. territories would also be eligible to receive direct access to these funds.
- The State Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) will continue to be funded as an entitlement with the federal government providing 50% of the funding.
- Title IV-E Administration and Training funding will be shifted to a new "Safe Children and Strong Families" indexed grant. Currently, states draw federal funds for Title IV-E Administration and Training through an entitlement based on the number of children served.
Pew Commission Safe Children and Strong Families Grant Proposal
The Commission proposal includes a new "Safe Children and Strong Families Grant." This grant is designed to address the need for greater flexibility in how states can use federal funds to help abused and neglected children and to provide states with a reliable, mandatory source of federal dollars to build the continuum of services that children and families need.
- The grant includes four existing programs: Title IV-B Child Welfare Services (currently funded at $292 million); Title IV-B Promoting Safe and Stable Families (currently funded at $405 million); Title IV-E Administration (FY 2002 Title IV-E administration claims were $2 billion); and Title IV-E Training (FY 2002 Title IV-E training claims were $243 million).
- Funding for the grant would be set at the combined existing funding level of each of the four programs. Each state's grant amount would be based on its historical spending for each of these programs. For the first year, total funding for the grant program would also include an additional $200 million in new funds. In subsequent years, each state's allocation would grow by 2% plus the inflation rate as measured by the Consumer Price Index. Federal funding for the grant will be mandatory to ensure that the funding level will not be subject to decisions made by Congress through the annual appropriations process. The Commission expects funding to increase to $3.7 billion in 2005.
- Grant funds could be used for a wide variety of direct services, including prevention and support services; family preservation services; staff activities supporting the foster care and adoption assistance programs, such as preparation for court hearing and case plan development and review; recruitment and licensure of foster homes; and training of private agency staff, public agency staff, and court personnel. States would need to demonstrate investments in these areas, but would not be required to spend a certain portion of the funds on any one activity. These funds could not be used for foster care maintenance payments.
- States would be required to submit a state plan to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) detailing how grant funds are used.
- States would be required to appropriate a state match based on a combination of the 50% match a state now contributes under Title IV-E Administration and the 25% match a state contributes under the Title IV-B programs. On average, a state match rate would be approximately 32%.
- The Commission recommends that states retain the Title IV-B evaluation, research, training, and technical assistance set-asides.
Pew Commission Child Welfare Reinvestment Option
- States will have the ability to transfer Title IV-E Maintenance funds into the Safe Children and Strong Families Grant.
- Each state would have a baseline for anticipating maintenance expenditures. If a state were able to reduce its foster care expenditures, the difference between the projected expenditures and the state's actual expenditures and accompanying state match dollars could be transferred into the Safe Children and Strong Families Grant.
- HHS, in consultation with the American Public Human Services Association, would convene an expert panel to determine the national standards by which expenditure baselines would be calculated. The baseline would measure the cost and number of children in care each year. If a state's expenditures stayed below that cost, the difference could be transferred to the Safe Children and Strong Families Grant.
Pew Commission Incentives for Innovation and Performance
- The existing adoption incentive fund would be increased from $45 million to $90 million. The fund would be restructured to provide bonuses to support three permanency options: reunification, guardianship, and adoption. The three goals would be tied together by requiring states to maintain or increase the percentage of reunifications, guardianships, and adoptions each year to continue receiving the funds. These payments cannot replace a state's investments in those activities. Similar to the existing program, states would receive enhanced payments for increasing their rates of permanency for older children and children with special needs.
- The Commission recommends that HHS convene a collaborative working group of state officials, professional organizations, and researchers to review existing standards from a variety of sources and recommend a national set of best practice standards for both worker competence and caseload size. States that meet and maintain those standards would receive an enhanced 1% federal match to their Safe Children and Strong Families Grant funds.
- Child welfare waivers would continue. The current cap on the number of waivers approved by HHS each year would be lifted. HHS would be able to approve waivers that replicate waiver demonstrations that have been implemented in other states. The waiver and approval processes would be streamlined and HHS would urge states to solicit waiver applications from counties and cities.
Pew Commission Accountability: Child and Family Services Reviews
The Commission recommends that HHS take three steps to make the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs) a more effective tool for improving outcomes for children:
- Include more and better measures of actual well-being to supplement the process measures currently included in the CFSRs. The Commission recommends that the National Academy of Sciences be directed to convene a panel of foster care experts to recommend the best outcomes and measures to use in data collection.
- Penalties assessed to a state for not complying with the requirements outlined in its Program Improvement Plan (PIP) resulting from the state's CFSR would be reinvested into a state's PIP instead of being paid to the federal government.
- Use longitudinal data, rather than point-in-time data, for a more accurate assessment of a state's progress.
- To better ensure the safety, permanency and well being of children, courts need to implement a system to effectively track and analyze their court processes and caseloads.
- All dependency courts would be urged to adopt the court performance measures developed by the American Bar Association, the National Center for State Courts, and the National Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
- Courts would be urged to use these measures to ensure their accountability and to use this information in allocating resources to where they are most needed. As part of these recommendations, Congress is urged to appropriate $10 million in start up funds to help state courts build data-collection and analysis capacity.
To enhance child safety and well-being, the Commission suggests that there must be greater collaboration between the state child welfare agencies and the courts.
- HHS should require that the child welfare agency demonstrate effective collaborations through its Title IV-E state plan, Program Improvement Plans, and Court Improvement Program plans
- HHS should require the establishment of state commissions on children in foster care to be made up of child welfare directors and the state Chief Justice.
- Congress should appropriate $10 million through the Court Improvement Program for the training of court personnel, child welfare staff, and others involved in protecting and caring for children.
- Courts and agencies on the local and state levels should collaborate and jointly plan for the collection and sharing of all relevant aggregate data and information.
To ensure a direct, effective, and informed voice for children and families in judicial proceedings, children and their families must have a direct voice in court proceedings.
- Courts should be organized to enable children and parents to participate in their own court proceedings in a meaningful way.
- Congress should appropriate $5 million to expand the Court Appointed Special Advocate program. In addition, state courts should adopt standards of practice, preparation, education, and compensation for attorneys in the field.
- The legal profession is encouraged to build up a pool of qualified attorneys in this field and Congress should support loan forgiveness programs. Schools, professional associations, and others should help build the pool of qualified attorneys available to children and parents in dependency courts.
The judicial leadership in state courts is urged to take on a greater advocacy role for children in the child welfare system and to assume leadership in assuring that their respective states implement the needed court reforms.
- State Chief Justices should create an oversight capacity and assistance within their Administrative Office of the Courts.
- States' judicial systems should be organized so that there are dedicated courts for dependency cases. Many states coordinate dependency cases along with civil and criminal proceedings.
- State judicial leaders should be promoting court standards for workload, training, and problem-solving.
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