Summer 2013 Public Policy Update
In addition to supporting a network of 933 CASA programs throughout the country, the National CASA Association advocates for abused and neglected children on the national level by working with elected officials and government agencies, and by partnering with other national child welfare organizations.
The updates below are provided by National CASA Deputy CEO Carmela Welte.
In this issue:
FY 2014 Appropriations Stalled: Senate Recommends $6 Million for the CASA Program
$91 billion is the difference between the House of Representatives budget and that of the Senate for the next fiscal year, and it is a very wide divide. The House Republican leadership is demanding steeper reductions in domestic spending in the next fiscal year. The Senate Democratic leadership is moving forward in approving appropriations measures, working with a budget of $1.058 trillion. And the President is pushing for a roll back of sequester cuts, and has threatened to veto any spending measures that slash any deeper than sequestration . Congress must approve spending for the next fiscal year by the end of September, and until the two chambers reach agreement on the budget, all appropriations measures will be held up. Failure to reach an agreement could result in a government shutdown, or passage of a short-term spending bill to keep the government running at the current level.
In addition to a budget showdown at the end of September, a fight to extend the debt ceiling is looming for October-November. So once again, Congress is embroiled in heated partisan battles that significantly impact domestic discretionary programs, as well as the economy.
The Senate Appropriations Committee finalized its recommendations for the Department of Justice on July 18. Included in the measure is $6 million for the CASA program, which includes state and local program grants as well as training and technical assistance. While we had been seeking the authorized amount of $12 million, $6 million is a significant improvement over the House recommendation of just $3.5 million. Normally, the House and Senate-passed versions would be referred to a conference committee, to negotiate the differences in the bills. But until there is agreement on a budget , negotiations over individual spending bills are on hold.
Back to top
CEO Michael Piraino Speaks at Congressional Caucus Seattle Meeting
The Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth held a listening session in Seattle May 28 – 29. The meeting focused on the child welfare system in Washington State, with presentations by state experts. Michael Piraino spoke on CASA’s work to ensure timely and permanent placements of children, citing examples of positive outcomes provided by CASA programs within the state.
The Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth provides a forum for Members of Congress to discuss and develop policy recommendations to strengthen the child welfare system and improve the overall well-being of youth and families. Co-chaired by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the bipartisan Caucus joins over 100 Members of Congress to discuss the challenges facing all foster youth and develop bipartisan policy initiatives.n addition to introducing bipartisan legislation that aims to improve the lives of foster youth, the Caucus hosts briefings, hearings, and Listening Tours across the country.
Back to top
Child Sex Trafficking Continues to Receive Congressional Attention
Several Congressional briefings over the past year on domestic child sex trafficking has resulted in the introduction of several legislative proposals to address the issue. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) have similar bills, H.R. 1732 and H.R. 2744 respectively, that calls upon states to develop best practice guidelines for child welfare agencies and juvenile/family courts to better serve child victims of trafficking, and to begin collecting and reporting data on victims of trafficking in the child welfare system. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Mark Kirk (R-IL) sponsor the Senate companion bill.
Soon to be re-introduced in both the House and the Senate is bipartisan legislation that seeks to strengthen the investigation and prosecution offenders who exploit children. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) were principal sponsors in the last Congress.
National CASA’s 2013 Public Policy Agenda includes support for legislation to strengthen the response and services for minor sex trafficking victims, including child welfare, courts, law enforcement and advocates.
Back to top
CASA Volunteer Addresses the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Financial Challenges of Older Youth in Care
Jim Shaw, a CASA volunteer of 9 years, and board member of the Child Advocates of Fort Bend (TX) program, spoke at a roundtable session of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFFB) on July 17 in Washington, D.C. The session was cosponsored by the National Foster Care Coalition, to highlight for the Bureau the financial challenges and barriers faced by youth in foster care. Jim described the financial struggles that continue to plague 3 young adults for whom Jim advocated as a CASA volunteer. One young man had been in care since infancy, except for a few short years in an adoptive home, in which he was relegated to live on the garage floor, before he was returned to CPS. That young man is now 23, married, with $25,000 in debt. Yet he is attending school, and holds a part time job. Jim explained that for most older youth in care, there is little opportunity for them to make even minor decisions in charting their futures.
Recognizing the struggles of transitioning youth, Child Advocates of Ft. Bend established its WINGS project in 2005 to prepare them to successfully live on their own when they age out of care. CASA volunteers receive special training to better assist youth in navigating the foster care system, overcome struggles, with a viable plan for transitioning into adulthood. A summer Lifeskills program provides hands-on training in a variety of skills critical for youth to be able to manage independently. Youth are provided the opportunity to complete a job application, conduct mock job interviews with businesses in the community, tour college campuses, open a checking account, shop for groceries, receive cooking lessons, learn about purchasing a car and public transportation, and how to obtain housing. Thirty youth enrolled in the 2013 Lifeskills summer program.
The CFPB roundtable session also included two speakers from FosterClub who had been victims of credit fraud. One young man explained that it was only when he was setting up his first apartment that he learned of large past due utility bills that were fraudulently accumulated under his name since 1974. He was born in 1988. A young woman explained that it was only after she emancipated that she learned of a house mortgage that had been taken out in her name.
There was agreement throughout the session on the need to provide financial education for youth in foster care, and training for caseworkers and advocates in working with youth who will be transitioning out of foster care. The CFPB is responsible for restricting unfair, deceptive, or abuse financial practices, and for promoting financial education. The Bureau is currently developing a financial curriculum for those working with older foster youth.
Thanks to Jim Shaw for representing CASA advocacy at this roundtable session in Washington, DC, and to Child Advocates of Ft. Bend for sharing information about its WINGS Project. Our appreciation also extends to Texas CASA, which provided an informative hand out on policy recommendations for consideration by the CFPB.
Federal law (P.L. 112-34, Sec. 106(b)) now requires that child welfare agencies conduct credit checks for all youth in care at age 16 and annually until they leave care. The child welfare agency must help resolve issues, with assistance from Court Appointed Special Advocates when feasible. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has just published an informative guide Protecting the Credit of Youth in Foster Care, written by ChildFocus Partners. The guide begins by relating the experiences of Suamhirs Rivera, a former foster youth whose CASA volunteer in the San Diego Voices for Children program helped him remove some of the fraudulent charges on his credit record. CASA and GAL volunteers will find this a helpful guide in addressing financial issues, and there are useful resources at the end of the guide for youth themselves in addressing their financial challenges.
Back to top
House Committee Reviews Human Service Programs
Congressman Dave Reichert (R-WA), chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources, has convened a three-part series on welfare reform issues, including programs, funding, evaluation and research. The chairman explained the goal is to determine how more programs can be more accountable for their performance, and how to ensure they provide a real safety net for families. In announcing the final hearing for July 31, the chairman stated “Too often, today’s maze of safety net programs doesn’t work to provide real help to those who have fallen on hard times. As our prior hearings have shown, few of these programs can actually claim to fix the problems they were created to solve.” Some witnesses have described a fragmented system of low-income programs, and too often, there is little evidence about the effectiveness of current programs meant to assist the poor. TANF is typically viewed as the main welfare program as it is the main source of cash assistance to poor families. Congress has been slow to reauthorize the TANF program, because of increased scrutiny of its effectiveness and as a target for spending reductions.
Back to top
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) Provides Medicaid Coverage for Older and Former Foster Youth
Please note and share this information with advocates for older youth. Effective January 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that states must provide Medicaid coverage for individuals under age 26 who were in foster care at age 18 and receiving Medicaid. The mandatory coverage is available up to age 26, and youth in care at age 18 are automatically eligible. For older youth currently served by CASA/GAL volunteers, please be sure that they understand that this extension of coverage is available to them, and that the child welfare agency assures this extension of coverage.
This important provision in ACA was actually suggested by a former foster youth interning for Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), when the intern learned that the ACA allows health insurance coverage under a parent’s plan for their children up to age 26.
The Department of Health and Human Services has not yet released a final ruling if the extension of Medicaid coverage is portable to another state, i.e., that it must be recognized state if the youth moves to another state after the age of 18.
Back to top
Schools Must Provide Timely Evaluation, Eligibility and Services for Transferring Students in Foster Care
The US Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the Department of Education issued a policy letter on July 19 addressing the rights of "highly mobile" students with disabilities. The letter specifies that "highly mobile children include children experiencing frequent family moves into new school districts, such as…children in the foster care system, and children who are homeless". The letter focuses on two main IDEA issues – timely evaluation and eligibility (including that "response to intervention" approaches cannot be used to delay evaluation by receiving school districts) and comparable services at receiving school district, including Extended School Year services. The specific IDEA issues identified in this letter are of particular relevance to children in foster care. Please share this information with advocates that are working to ensure appropriate special education evaluation, identification and services for children.
For additional resources related to children in care and special education please visit the Legal Center for Foster Care and Education website.
Back to top
Youth in Care Do Not Need to Report Direct IV-E Payments on Federal Student Aid Applications
The US Department of Education (DOE) has been receiving inquiries from child welfare and financial aid offices about “how extended foster care payments made by a state directly to foster youth are treated when determining a student's Title IV student aid eligibility, including whether these payments should be reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).” There seemed to be inconsistencies with how Chafee funds provided to college students affected reported financial aid, as well as impact their eligibility for other financial aid. This issue affects an increasing number of students as more states pass legislation extending foster care up to the age of 21. This letter issued by the DOE describes the treatment of extended foster care payments that are made directly to the student when determining Title IV federal student aid eligibility. It states: “Extended foster care payments paid under the authority of Title IV – Part E of the Social Security Act are excluded from income for purposes of the calculation of a student's Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and thus not reported on the FAFSA.”
Back to top
Attorney General Testifies on Justice Appropriations for FY 2014
Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice on June 6, to discuss FY 2014 appropriations for the Justice Department. The Agency’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year would eliminate funding for the CASA program, and the two other programs in the Victims of Child Abuse Act (juvenile and family courts and Child Advocacy Centers).
In her opening remarks, Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) acknowledged the need for fiscal restraint, explaining we need to have a “safer, smarter government while protecting all our children.” Senator Mikulski expressed her deep concern for the “explosive” rise and overcrowding of the prison population. She noted there are 224,000 people in our prisons, and the population increases year after year. 25% of the Justice Department budget request for FY 2014 goes towards prisons. The chairwoman explained that she believes in tough enforcement and rigorous prosecution, yet, she queried, what is the Justice Department doing to reduce the escalating prison population. Attorney General Holder responded that the agency’s focus on prevention is through programs within the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in the Office of Justice Programs (OJP). Chairwoman Mikulski responded that she wants to hear a specific plan from the Justice Department about what prevention programs Congress should fund. A plan that addresses the continuum from birth to juvenile delinquency to prison, considering both humanitarian needs as well as citizen safety.
A University of Chicago study found that as many as 1/3 of former foster youth are involved in subsequent criminal behavior. Funding for the CASA program, which has been acknowledged as a juvenile delinquency program by OJJDP, should be included among the prevention programs that both Chairwoman Mikulski and the attorney general referenced. National CASA will follow up with Senator Mikulski to demonstrate how CASA advocacy for children and youth in foster care can be a significant deterrent to criminal behavior.
The House of Representatives is expected to begin mark up of several appropriations measures before the 4th of July recess, principally, defense, homeland security and agriculture. Both chambers are likely to take up the balance of appropriations upon return from the holiday recess in July.
Back to top
New Website a Handy Reference for State Foster Care Data
The Mentor Network Charitable Foundation and Boston University unveiled a new 50 State Chartbook on Foster Care at a congressional briefing on May 20. The website provides individual state profiles, consolidating foster care data from national tracking systems, including data collected by the Children’s Bureau, as well as information provided by state agencies. The website can be a convenient reference for state and local CASA programs to compare program outcomes with the general state foster care population.
Back to top
Key Child Welfare Legislation Introduced
The Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act, H.R. 1732 was introduced on April 25 by Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Tom Marino (R-PA). The legislation, which has 16 co sponsors, was referred to the Ways and Means and the Education and Workforce Committees. The legislation directs HHS to develop guidelines for child welfare agencies and juvenile/family courts to appropriately serve youth who are, or at risk of becoming, victims of trafficking. CAPTA funds can be used by states to plan for provisions and procedures to assess and identify victims of trafficking, as well as training and services for victims. HHS must consult with appropriate federal agencies, and review current data collection and efforts, and provide a report to Congress on the challenges involved.
Rep. George Miller (D-CA) has reintroduced his legislation to end child abuse in residential programs. H.R. 1981 was introduced on May 15, and referred to the House Education and Workforce Committee. The legislation seeks to regulate residential care facilities that escape state or federal oversight, commonly referred to as “boot camps”, because of the way they are funded. The legislation has passed the House in previous sessions of Congress.
Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) has re-introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, H.R. 2028. The legislation would prohibit discrimination in adoption or foster care placements based on the sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status of any prospective adoptive or foster parent, or the sexual orientation or gender identity of the child involved. The measure was introduced on May 16, with 61 co sponsors. It is has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee for consideration. The Senate companion bill, S. 1069, was introduced May 23 by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), with 6 cosponsors.
The Foster Children Opportunity Act, H.R. 2036 was introduced by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) on May 16, with 13 cosponsors. This legislation, which has been included in National CASA’s public policy agenda for several years, requires states to have procedures to assist alien children in the child welfare system achieve special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) or other lawful permanent resident status for which they are eligible before exiting foster care. A permanency hearing is required to determine whether a SIJS or lawful permanent resident status petition has been filed, if in the child’s best interest. Court improvement funds can be used to educate and train child welfare and court staff on forms of relief under immigration law.
The legislation was championed by Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) in previous sessions of Congress. Because Rep. Stark is no longer in Congress, Rep. O’Rourke has stepped up to move the legislation forward.
Back to top
Intersection Between Child Welfare and Domestic Child Trafficking
While good national data is not available, several studies have found a very high percentage of domestic child victims of trafficking were former foster youth or youth who had run away from foster care. The Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking and the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth brought together child welfare advocates, youth and providers on May 16 to discuss commercial exploitation of youth, especially youth in foster care. The forum offered an opportunity to share strategies and best practices to prevent trafficking as well as treatment and support for child and youth victims. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) both discussed the need for action, and acknowledged this is one issue that draws bipartisan support in Congress. HHS Acting Assistant Secretary George Sheldon discussed his agency’s Human Trafficking Briefing Series which provides ten actions for child welfare agencies to address sex trafficking.
A consistent recommendation among forum participants was the need to change the way youth victims are viewed and treated. Children as young as 11 or 12 are trafficked, and in many jurisdictions they are treated as criminals, and do not receive the services and support they need.
The National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council shared a set of recommendations developed in response to its survey of current and former foster youth. Among the recommendations, the youth council calls for criminalizing the act of allowing known sexual offenders into foster homes and the provision and identification of a youth-friendly resource to whom youth may report sex abuse.
Back to top
Congressional Committee Learns About “Normalcy” for Foster Youth
The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources conducted a hearing in early May on Letting Kids Be Kids: Balancing Safety with Opportunity for Foster Youth. In his opening remarks, Chairman Dave Reichert (R-WA) said that in addition to the very difficult circumstances for children in foster care, some of the rules have “the unintended effect of making life even harder…Rules may keep them from spending time with friends, participating in sports, and even getting a driver’s license or finding a summer job.”
The hearing was not to identify prospective legislation, but rather to highlight innovative practices in some states such as Washington, California and Florida. David Wilkins, Secretary, Florida Department of Children and Families, as well as Tanya Wilkins, an advocate for foster care and adoption in Florida described that state’s statute and practices to assure greater access and participation in everyday activities for youth in care. The Florida GAL Program has a practice bulletin outlining provisions and expectations of that state’s statute to provide “normalcy” for youth in care, and also provides a checklist for volunteer GALs.
Subsequent to the congressional hearing, Chairman Dave Reichert and Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) sent a letter to state child welfare agencies asking them to ease some of the current restrictions of activities for children in care. The letter cited some of the limitations placed upon youth in care including basic teen activities such as dating, obtaining a drivers license, taking part in foster family vacations and sleeping over at a friend’s house. States are invited to provide suggestions for federal actions that can or should be taken to encourage states to address such barriers.
Back to top
National Commission to Eliminate Child Fatalities Forming
The Protect Our Kids Act, enacted into law in January 2013, establishes a national commission to address child fatalities. The legislation calls for the appointment of 12 commissioners within 90 days, by the Administration and congressional leaders, yet just 4 appointments have been announced to date. Cassie Statuto Bevan, faculty at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Social Policy and Practice was chosen by Speaker John Boehner. Previously Ms. Bevan worked for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Rep. Nancy Johnson, and the House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Boehner also appointed Susan Dreyfus, currently president and CEO of the Alliance for Children and Families, and formerly Secretary with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Marilyn Bruguier Zimmerman, a member of the Assiniboine-Sioux tribes, and Director of the National Native Children’s Trauma Center has been appointed by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). Senator Reid also selected Amy Ayoub of Las Vegas, who has testified before the state legislature on child trafficking legislation.
Back to top
We Would Like to Hear from You
National CASA represents the CASA/GAL network throughout the year at congressional briefings and in national meetings dealing with child welfare policy. We would like to be better informed about policy issues and innovations that you are working on in your state or community. Please email Carmela Welte, with thoughts and activities in which you are involved. By sharing your ideas, this will help us better understand issues within your state, and opportunities to include CASA advocacy in legislation or briefings.
- We have been invited to participate in a roundtable convened by the FTC on financial barriers facing youth in care, and after emancipation. Does your state or program have a special project to address such barriers, or to assist them with identity theft or credit fraud?
- The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges intends to introduce an improvement to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children to open up court cooperation between states. What challenges have you encountered in expediting placement of children across state lines?
- A prospective funder is interested in a Court/CASA project to improve permanency and well-being outcomes for children in care. Do you have a special project that might be piloted with other programs?
Examples of other policy issues currently being discussed by Congress, federal agencies and national child welfare organizations are:
Abuse and neglect in military families, homelessness, educational stability and improved outcomes, psychotropic medications, and substance abuse, and increasing or declining referrals into the foster care system.
Let us know your thoughts or how you are involved in these or other issues. Email Carmela Welte, Deputy CEO.
Back to top
National CASA's 2013 Public Policy Agenda
National CASA’s Public Policy committee sets an annual agenda to prioritize federal policy activities for our attention in the year. Below is the agenda for 2013, as approved by the board of trustees on June 1.
The National CASA Association encourages Congress and the Administration to:
Enact foster care financing reform to support children and promote permanency.
- Sustain funding of crucial supports and services for our nation’s most vulnerable children to assure their safety and well-being. (e.g., Victims of Child Abuse programs, SSBG)
- The Administration and Congress should restore the authorized funding level of $12 million for the CASA program, as authorized in the Violence Against Women Act (PL 109 – 271). Restore funding of $2.3 million for judicial training for child abuse and neglect courts.
- Reauthorize the CASA program at $12 million for FY 2014 – 2018, and judicial training for child abuse and neglect courts at $2.3 million.
- Provide support to extend GAL advocacy to children in tribal court dependency proceedings.
Reform of immigration policies should account for children’s unique needs, ensure their federal protections and consider their best interests. State child welfare agencies should provide assurance that they have a process to determine eligibility of children who have been abused or neglected to become legal permanent residents under the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) provisions of existing immigration law.Establish a National Resource Center for Foster Children, as a resource for children in care to learn about resources that may be available to them, as well as their rights while in care and after emancipation.Strengthen Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) to support the most vulnerable families, and to provide greater support to children in the child welfare system.Assure that state child welfare agencies provide prevention measures and assistance to domestic child victims of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Support training for child welfare, law enforcement and court personnel, attorneys and child advocates likely to come in contact with child victims of human trafficking.Create a National Commission on Children to assess and ensure the safety and well-being of children.
- Expand eligibility for foster care and adoption assistance to all children in out of home care
- Extend IV – E to support CASA advocacy for children in the court system because of abuse or neglect.
Approved by National CASA Education and Public Policy Committee February 26, 2013
Approved by National CASA Board of Trustees June 1, 2013
Please contact Carmela Welte, Deputy CEO, for information about any of the above proposals or other policy issues.
Back to top