On July 2nd, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), alongside Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), introduced the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act. The bill will provide a much-needed infusion of resources to help the child welfare system adequately respond to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act includes nearly all of the resources requested by nearly 600 child welfare organizations, including the Children’s Defense Fund, in April of this year (Two of the asks related to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act are outside of the jurisdiction of the committee where this bill was introduced and have been included in other bills in their relevant committees.). The bill goes further, including establishing a moratorium on aging-out of foster care, requiring states to develop and implement de-escalation strategies in child welfare, and providing more support for permanency for children living with relatives in foster care.
Specifically, The Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act would:
- Invest $2 billion to support state and tribal child welfare agencies in providing families, kinship caregivers, and young people with a broad range of support services to stabilize families. Child welfare agencies could also use this funding to expand adoption promotion and support services, or to hire, train and support caseworkers to conduct safe in-person home and remote visits, including the purchase of personal protective equipment and technology.
- Provide $500 million for the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood to ensure young people have access to supports, such as housing, food, and cash assistance, and allow more of these funds to cover housing costs for foster youth. Funds could also be used for education and training vouchers, which help young people cover the cost of education.
- Establish a moratorium on “aging out” of foster care to ensure no young person is cut off from critical housing and support services during the public health emergency.
- Provide $30 million for Kinship Navigator Programs to ensure kinship caregivers have access to information and resources, including food, safety supplies, technology, and COVID-19 testing.
- Increase federal support to provide Title IV-E prevention services, such as parent training, family counseling, mental health and substance use prevention and treatment.
- Provide $30 million for the Court Improvement Program to ensure dependency courts have resources to facilitate the transition to remote hearings, train judges, volunteers, and court personnel on the use of technology, and support innovative programs to help families continue to address case plan requirements
- Expedite eligibility for children living with a relative in foster care for federal support, and allow 100% federal support for kinship caregiver payments through the Title IV-E Guardianship Assistance Program and kinship-related Title IV-E adoption assistance payments.
- Dedicate $50 million to help states implement health oversight and coordination plans to ensure children in foster care are up-to-date on vaccinations and have access to needed care and telehealth services.
- Provide $15 million to states and tribes for training on trauma-informed de-escalation strategies for child welfare partners, congregate care facilities, and families.
- Require states to develop and implement de-escalation strategies to limit unnecessary involvement with law enforcement, and ensure any contact with law enforcement is non-coercive.
The Children’s Defense Fund is proud to support the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act. Our nation’s most vulnerable 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 would bolster critical supports for children, youth and families across the entire child welfare continuum, from strengthening families to keeping children safe to addressing the needs of those already involved in the child welfare system. It is an important step toward protecting children and strengthening families.