The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump last week, provides roughly $2 trillion in stimulus and public health funds, primarily focused on ensuring that resources are available to respond to the immediate disaster response and economic needs. We are so thankful for our partners in Congress who tirelessly advocated for the needs of children and families, but disappointed that the needs of the children and families that touch the child welfare system were not addressed. It is incumbent on the advocacy community and the public at large to continue elevating the needs of these vulnerable children and families.
We are urging Congress to act immediately to provide crucial support to families facing the stress and disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic by equipping the child welfare system with the tools it needs to handle the crisis.
State and local leaders across the country are working hard to continue vital child welfare prevention and intervention services during these extraordinary times, but they face major challenges and need support from Congress. Funding is urgently needed to strengthen the state and local systems that prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect and that address the needs of children, youth, and families already in the foster care system.
The impacts of COVID-19 are putting stress on families who are attempting to navigate new public health safety protocols, school closures, uncertain childcare arrangements, job losses, social isolation, and significant barriers to many critical support services. Without interventions to support families, the kinds of stress that the COVID-19 pandemic is creating can contribute to increased risk of child abuse and neglect.
Strengthening the system to face these challenges requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the entire child welfare continuum: (1) Supporting families to prevent child abuse and neglect from occurring; (2) Ensuring adequate resources for systems to respond and intervene to child abuse and neglect; and (3) Addressing the needs of children and families who are already in, or transitioning out of, the foster care system.
Specifically, the Children’s Defense Fund is urging swift Congressional action to:
- Support families to keep children safe from child abuse and neglect.
- Increase Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CB-CAP) grants to $1 billion to quickly deploy resources directly to locally-driven prevention services and programs that are best suited to meet the needs of families. Robust funding to CB-CAPs will ensure needed support to communities in every state and will help state and local systems adapt to the unique challenges of serving families during this pandemic.
- Increase funding by $1 billion under Title IV-B, Part 2, the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) to help eliminate the need for out-of-home placements, both to protect children and to prevent the child welfare system from being overwhelmed by the crisis. PSSF is a critical funding source for stabilizing families, foster parents and other prevention efforts for states during times of crisis.
- Ensure the FMAP rate increase is provided to the new Title IV-E Prevention Program. This is important to clarify because the Title IV-E Prevention Program is not currently reimbursed at the FMAP rate, but instead is reimbursed at a 50% rate (it moves to FMAP reimbursement in 2027), so we recommend a total of 50% plus whatever is the final FMAP increase.
- Strengthen response and intervention systems to meet the challenge of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- Include $20 million of additional funding for kinship navigator programs to ensure access to information and resources for older relative caregivers at acute risk of COVID-19, such as food, health and safety supplies, and other necessities. More than 2.5 million children are being raised by grandparents and other relatives who step in to keep them safely with family and out of foster care, saving taxpayers more than $4 billion each year. The caregivers, who are often older, are high risk of incapacitating illness or death if exposed to the virus. These “grandfamilies” are struggling to get basic supplies because they typically need to leave their home to get the food, medicine or other necessities placing themselves at greater risk of exposure. They also need information and help to plan alternative care for the children if the caregivers become too sick to care for the children.
- Increase, by several billion dollars, the funding for the Social Services Block Grant, which can help states provide critical services and supports tailored to the needs of their community. These funds can fill in gaps not covered elsewhere and backfill many human services, given the flexibility of SSBG. This should also include a set-aside for Tribes, which does not currently exist.
- Provide $500 million for CAPTA Title I to ensure state and local child protection systems can continue to respond quickly to the needs of this vulnerable population despite increases in maltreatment reports and barriers to ordinary service delivery during the pandemic. This funding will ensure the child protection workforce has necessary technological and protective resources to prevent the interruption of vital support services to children and families amidst this crisis.
- Address the needs of older youth already in, or transitioning out of, the foster care system.
- Increase Title IV-E Chafee funds to $500 million to allow states additional funding to support older youth in care and transitioning out of care. This would allow states important flexibility in expanding Chafee funds for services and supports for transitioning youth, including financial assistance and employment assistance, in the face of this pandemic.
It is crucial these supports are provided to help families navigate this uncertain time, and vital to ensure all children remain safe in their homes.