Policy Priorities

Policy Priorities image of kids

Legislative Updates

Pending legislation and administrative activities supported by the Children’s Defense Fund

CDF ensures that the voices of children are heard at the Congressional level by pursuing and supporting legislation that addresses children’s unique needs. The bills below directly or indirectly impact children in or at risk of entering the child welfare system and are supported by the Children’s Defense Fund.

New Laws

Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980)
Summary: On September 29, President Obama signed into law the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980). The bipartisan bill passed the House on July 23 and passed the Senate by unanimous consent on September 18, just hours before the Senate recessed for the campaign season.  This new law takes important steps forward in protecting and preventing children and youth in foster care from becoming victims of sex trafficking and makes many important improvements to the child welfare system that will help improve outcomes for children and youth in foster care.

Identifying and Protecting Children and Youth at Risk of Sex Trafficking

  • Requires state child welfare agencies to identify, document, and determine appropriate services for children in foster care, or those otherwise involved in the child welfare system, who are victims of child sex trafficking or at risk of becoming victims.
  • Requires states to immediately report to law enforcement children involved in the child welfare system who have been identified as being a victim of sex trafficking and children who have run away from foster care.
  • Adds new data on sex trafficking to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS) to help better understand the extent of the problem.
  • Requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect and report data on children who run away from foster care to better understand the characteristics of these children, their experiences while out of care, and other trends to inform efforts to prevent sex trafficking for this vulnerable population.
  • Establishes a National Advisory Committee on the Sex Trafficking of Children and Youth which will develop guidelines and recommendations for states and the federal government on how best to address the sex trafficking of children and youth

Promotes Normalcy and Empowers Youth

  • Promotes “normalcy” for youth in foster care by establishing a “reasonable and prudent parent standard” that would enable foster parents to make day-to-day decisions to allow children in foster care to more easily participate in age or developmentally appropriate social, scholastic and enrichment activities.
  • Eliminates as a permanence option for children under age 16 “Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement” (APPLA), which often left children permanently in long term foster care. It also requires extra steps to justify that APPLA is an appropriate option for older children. This change is intended to help more children move to permanent families before exiting foster care and prevent younger children from lingering in long-term foster care unnecessarily. These improvements should also help reduce the number of youth placed in group or other congregate care placements, which often place them at greater risk of become victims of sex trafficking. 
  • Requires children age 14 and older to be involved in their case planning and allows youth to select up to two adults to be a part of their case planning team. Child welfare agencies also must provide children ages 14 and older with a List of Rights that describes their rights with respect to education, health, visitation, court participation, safety and avoiding exploitation.
  • Requires states to provide children who exit foster care at age 18 or older without connecting to a permanent family (after being in foster care for at least 6 months) with a birth certificate, a social security card, health records and insurance information and a driver’s license or state ID to help with their transition to adulthood.

 Improving the Adoption Incentives Program

  • Reauthorizes the Adoption Incentive Program for three years (through FY2016) and expands the program to now include incentives for exits from foster care to guardianship as well as adoption.
  • Makes structural changes to how the incentives are calculated by determining the incentives based on improvements in rates rather than numbers in order to take into account the increases and decreases in numbers of children in foster care from year to year.
  • Extends for one year the guaranteed funding for Family Connection Grants, which support kinship navigator programs, intensive family-finding, family group decision making and residential substance abuse treatment programs targeted to children who might end up in foster care.

Improving International Child Support Recovery

  • Requires states to make necessary changes to implement the Hague Convention in enforcing international child support cases, increasing the amount of child support collected for families.
  • Requires data standardization within the child support enforcement program, improving administration. 
  • Requires all states to implement electronic processing of income withholding, as most states already do; this will improve the collection of child support and save taxpayers $48 million over 10 years.
  • Creates a task force to explore ways to improve the effectiveness of the child support enforcement program. 

The bill is the reconciled package of several House and Senate bills that addressed the prevention of domestic child sex trafficking in relation to the child welfare system (H.R. 4058, S.1878), the reauthorization and expansion of the adoption incentive program (H.R. 3205, S. 1876), and improvements to the child support program (H.R. 1896, S. 1877).

Sponsors: Representative Dave Camp (R-MI), Representative Sandy Levin (D-MI), Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA), Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). There were an additional 26 bipartisan cosponsors in the House.