On Friday, August 7, Chairman Danny Davis (D-IL) and Ranking Member Jackie Walorski (R-IN) of the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee released the bipartisan Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act (H.R.7947), which provides critical supports to children and families in the child welfare system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After months of stalled progress, this bipartisan legislation provides much-needed emergency support for children, youth, and families facing unprecedented stress and disruptions due to the public health crisis by addressing challenges found across the child welfare continuum. It reflects many of the recommendations elevated by the child welfare community in the April 10 sign-on letter to House and Senate leadership on the emergency support needed for children and families in response to the pandemic. Once enacted, it would provide much needed resources to help support struggling families, keep children safe, and help youth thrive during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act would:
- Dramatically increase resources to help older youth successfully transition from foster care to adulthood and maintain their health during the pandemic. Older youth who have made tremendous progress toward successful adulthood, often without the support of family, are seeing that progress upended by the economic impact of the pandemic. The bill will help mitigate the daily challenges facing these young people by providing $400 million to the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood (Chafee) and adjusting program requirements to make it more able to meet youths’ specific needs during the public health emergency.
- Prevent youth from aging out of the foster care system during the crisis. This bill also keeps more young people connected to supports and safe housing by placing a moratorium on youth “aging out” of foster care and by allowing youth who have already aged out during the pandemic to re-enter care. Now more than ever, extended foster care is a life line for young people as it provides them with the safety and security of knowing they can maintain their current living arrangements and services and ensures they will be in the best position to stay healthy and continue working towards their goals for their future.
- Increase investment in the Title IV-E Prevention Program. The COVID-19 pandemic creates many new stressors for vulnerable families and communities need the tools and resources to offer prevention and early intervention services to help families remain safe and healthy. By increasing the federal reimbursement for the Title IV-E Prevention Program to 100 percent, this bill would build on important reform efforts already underway across the country and will allow states, tribes, and territories to act swiftly to provide evidence-based, trauma-informed mental health and substance use treatment and in-home skill-based parenting programs to help keep families strong and keep children safely at home with their families.
- Provide $85 million for services and programs to support birth, foster, adoptive and kinship families and to help child welfare courts adapt to the pandemic. A targeted investment of federal funds into the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program will give communities the flexibility they need to boost investments in services that support families during this challenging time. Investment in the Court Improvement Program will help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the functioning of the child welfare courts, such as enhancements in technology to ensure timely hearings and avoid delays in reunification and other legal proceedings to achieve permanency.
- Help relatives caring for children by increasing federal support for Kinship Navigator Programs. Grandparents and other relatives who step in to raise children and keep them safely with family and out of foster care, face unique challenges during this COVID crisis. These relative caregivers are often older and are particularly vulnerable to the virus and are struggling to safely access basic food, medicine, and supplies without exposing themselves to the virus. By increasing the federal share for Kinship Navigators to 100 percent and temporarily waiving the evidence standard required for federal reimbursement, this bill creates stronger flexibility to reach more kinship caregivers and provide them with access to resources and information they need to safely care for children.
- Provide flexibilities for home visiting programs to continue serving families safely. Allowing for necessary adaptations to ensure that young parents can continue to receive home visiting services will ensure that funding for these vital programs will not be reduced because of measures taken to ensure safety of home visiting staff and clients. Delaying deadlines and providing programmatic flexibility allow home visiting programs to adapt to the public health crisis while safely providing necessary supports to families.
It is important to acknowledge that the bill represents only provisions that are under the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee and Congress must still invest heavily in primary prevention and family support by funding Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention grants, which are under the jurisdiction of a different committee. In the Senate, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act (S. 4172), which includes the provisions in the Davis/Walorski bill along with additional support in a number of critical areas. As Congress moves forward in the broader negotiations for the next COVID-19 relief package, we strongly urge for the inclusion of the provisions put forth in these different proposals.
CDF is proud to endorse the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act and is thankful to Chairman Davis and Ranking Member Walorski for their leadership. Children and families need support to face the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly children and families of color who are disproportionately impacted by both the pandemic and systemic racism in the child welfare system. This bill is an important step toward protecting children and strengthening families.