SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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H.R. 867, THE ''ADOPTION PROMOTION ACT OF 1997''
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
APRIL 8, 1997
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPrinted for the use of the Committee on Ways and Means
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
BILL ARCHER, Texas, Chairman
PHILIP M. CRANE, Illinois
BILL THOMAS, California
E. CLAY SHAW, Jr., Florida
NANCY L. JOHNSON, Connecticut
JIM BUNNING, Kentucky
AMO HOUGHTON, New York
WALLY HERGER, California
JIM McCRERY, Louisiana
DAVE CAMP, Michigan
JIM RAMSTAD, Minnesota
JIM NUSSLE, Iowa
SAM JOHNSON, Texas
JENNIFER DUNN, Washington
MAC COLLINS, Georgia
ROB PORTMAN, Ohio
PHILIP S. ENGLISH, Pennsylvania
JOHN ENSIGN, Nevada
JON CHRISTENSEN, Nebraska
WES WATKINS, Oklahoma
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJ.D. HAYWORTH, Arizona
JERRY WELLER, Illinois
KENNY HULSHOF, Missouri
CHARLES B. RANGEL, New York
FORTNEY PETE STARK, California
ROBERT T. MATSUI, California
BARBARA B. KENNELLY, Connecticut
WILLIAM J. COYNE, Pennsylvania
SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, Maryland
JIM McDERMOTT, Washington
GERALD D. KLECZKA, Wisconsin
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
RICHARD E. NEAL, Massachusetts
MICHAEL R. McNULTY, New York
WILLIAM J. JEFFERSON, Louisiana
JOHN S. TANNER, Tennessee
XAVIER BECERRA, California
KAREN L. THURMAN, Florida
A.L. Singleton, Chief of Staff
Janice Mays, Minority Chief Counsel
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSubcommittee on Human Resources
E. CLAY SHAW, Jr., Florida, Chairman
DAVE CAMP, Michigan
JIM McCRERY, Louisiana
MAC COLLINS, Georgia
PHILIP S. ENGLISH, Pennsylvania
JOHN ENSIGN, Nevada
J.D. HAYWORTH, Arizona
WES WATKINS, Oklahoma
SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
FORTNEY PETE STARK, California
ROBERT T. MATSUI, California
WILLIAM J. COYNE, Pennsylvania
JIM McDERMOTT, Washington
Pursuant to clause 2(e)(4) of Rule XI of the Rules of the House, public hearing records of the Committee on Ways and Means are published in electronic form. The printed hearing record remains the official version. Because electronic submissions are used to prepare both printed and electronic versions of the hearing record, the process of converting between various electronic formats may introduce unintentional errors or omissions. Such occurrences are inherent in the current publication process and should diminish as the process is further refined. The electronic version of the hearing record does not include materials which were not submitted in an electronic format. These materials are kept on file in the official Committee records.
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C O N T E N T S
Text of H.R. 867
Advisory of March 31, 1997, announcing the hearing
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Hon. Olivia A. Golden, Ph.D., Acting Assistant Secretary, Children and Families
American Public Welfare Association, Jess McDonald
Camp, Hon. Dave, a Representative in Congress from the State of Michigan
Children's Defense Fund, MaryLee Allen
Children's Rights Council, Ronald K. Henry, Esq
Consortium for Child Welfare, Robert M. Guttman, Esq
DeWine, Hon. Mike, a U.S. Senator from the State of Ohio
Hear My Voice, Janice Mink
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Jess McDonald
Kennelly, Hon. Barbara B., a Representative in Congress from the State of Connecticut
National Council For Adoption, William L. Pierce
SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Child Welfare League of America, Inc., statement
National Association of Homes and Services for Children, statement
National Black Child Development Institute, Inc., Clarice Dibble Walker, statement
INSERT OFFSET FOLIOS 1 TO 19 HERE
[The official Committee record contains the text of H.R. 867 which can be viewed at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin//bdquery/z?d105:h.r.867:]
H.R. 867, THE ''ADOPTION PROMOTION ACT OF 1997''
TUESDAY, APRIL 8, 1997
House of Representatives,
Committee on Ways and Means,
Subcommittee on Human Resources,
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 3:10 p.m., in room B318, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. E. Clay Shaw, Jr. (Chairman of the Subcommittee), presiding.
[The advisory announcing the hearing follows:]
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCFROM THE COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
CONTACT: (202) 2251025
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 31, 1997
Shaw Announces Hearing on
H.R. 867, the ''Adoption Promotion Act of 1997''
Congressman E. Clay Shaw, Jr., (RFL), Chairman, Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Committee on Ways and Means, today announced that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing on H.R. 867, the ''Adoption Promotion Act of 1997.'' The hearing will take place on Tuesday, April 8, 1997, in room B318 of the Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 3:00 p.m.
Oral testimony at this hearing will be heard from invited witnesses only. Witnesses will include the Administration and representatives of child welfare and adoption organizations. However, any individual or organization not scheduled for an oral appearance may submit a written statement for consideration by the Committee and for inclusion in the printed record of the hearing.
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On February 27, 1997, Rep. Dave Camp (RMI), Rep. Barbara Kennelly (DCT), and Chairman Shaw, introduced H.R. 867, the ''Adoption Promotion Act of 1997.''
The major provisions of the legislation would promote adoption by: allowing States to define cases of severe abuse or neglect in which States could move more quickly to adoption; providing for earlier permanency hearings; allowing foster parents to be heard at hearings and reviews; requiring States to move toward adoption in many cases in which children have been in foster care for 18 months; allowing States to use a large federal data base to locate fathers for purposes of notifying them of an impending proceeding to terminate parental rights; providing funds to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help States implement the new procedures to promote adoption; and providing cash bonuses to States that increase the number of adoptions of children in foster care. In announcing the hearing on the Camp-Kennelly legislation, Chairman Shaw noted: ''The purpose of this bipartisan legislation is to help States do a better job of protecting maltreated children, while moving these children toward adoption, when appropriate, in a more timely fashion. Both Representatives Camp and Kennelly have worked for many months on this legislation, and have met tirelessly with a wide range of advocates, interested parties, and child welfare administrators to perfect their proposal.''
''When children are in danger of continued abuse, safety must be the paramount concern of social workers, judges, and all who come into contact with the child and family. This means there are some circumstances where efforts to keep the child with the family will endanger the child's life,'' Camp said. Camp further stated: ''The legislation would require States to initiate proceedings to move young children who have spent 75 percent of the past two years in the foster care system into suitable families. This provision is intended to ensure that children do not languish in foster care having neither a rehabilitated family nor a chance for a permanent adoptive home.''
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Kennelly added: ''Of the half a million children in foster care, HHS estimates that 100,000 will not return to their biological families. Yet only about 20,000 children a year are adopted. Our legislation will move us toward the President's goal of doubling the number of adoptions out of foster care by the year 2002 by providing for a per child adoption bonus to each State that increases its annual number of finalized adoptions from the foster care system. States that qualify will be eligible to receive $4,000 for each foster child and $6,000 for a child with special needs. This provision will help move increasing numbers of children into safe, loving and permanent homes.''
DETAILS FOR SUBMISSION OF WRITTEN COMMENTS:
Any person or organization wishing to submit a written statement for the printed record of the hearing should submit at least six (6) copies of their statement and a 3.5-inch diskette in WordPerfect or ASCII format, with their address and date of hearing noted, by the close of business, Tuesday, April 15, 1997, to A.L. Singleton, Chief of Staff, Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives, 1102 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515. If those filing written statements wish to have their statements distributed to the press and interested public at the hearing, they may deliver 200 additional copies for this purpose to the Subcommittee on Human Resources office, room B317 Rayburn House Office Building, at least one hour before the hearing begins.
Each statement presented for printing to the Committee by a witness, any written statement or exhibit submitted for the printed record or any written comments in response to a request for written comments must conform to the guidelines listed below. Any statement or exhibit not in compliance with these guidelines will not be printed, but will be maintained in the Committee files for review and use by the Committee.
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1. All statements and any accompanying exhibits for printing must be typed in single space on legal-size paper and may not exceed a total of 10 pages including attachments. At the same time written statements are submitted to the Committee, witnesses are now requested to submit their statements on a 3.5-inch diskette in WordPerfect or ASCII format.
2. Copies of whole documents submitted as exhibit material will not be accepted for printing. Instead, exhibit material should be referenced and quoted or paraphrased. All exhibit material not meeting these specifications will be maintained in the Committee files for review and use by the Committee.
3. A witness appearing at a public hearing, or submitting a statement for the record of a public hearing, or submitting written comments in response to a published request for comments by the Committee, must include on his statement or submission a list of all clients, persons, or organizations on whose behalf the witness appears.
4. A supplemental sheet must accompany each statement listing the name, full address, a telephone number where the witness or the designated representative may be reached and a topical outline or summary of the comments and recommendations in the full statement. This supplemental sheet will not be included in the printed record.
The above restrictions and limitations apply only to material being submitted for printing. Statements and exhibits or supplementary material submitted solely for distribution to the Members, the press and the public during the course of a public hearing may be submitted in other forms.
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Note: All Committee advisories and news releases are available on the World Wide Web at 'HTTP://WWW.HOUSE.GOV/WAYS_MEANS/'.
The Committee seeks to make its facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. If you are in need of special accommodations, please call 2022251721 or 2022251904 TTD/TTY in advance of the event (four business days notice is requested). Questions with regard to special accommodation needs in general (including availability of Committee materials in alternative formats) may be directed to the Committee as noted above.
Chairman SHAW. Excuse me for starting 2 minutes late. I know that I, along with many of the Members, have just gotten back into town, and that always seems to delay things somewhat.
It is not often that any of us have the opportunity to do something that is universally regarded as good, particularly here in Washington. Today we take the first step toward increasing the number of adoptions in America. Throughout history, communities have found that adoption is an exceptionally effective way to ensure that children are reared in loving and attentive families.
For many good and complex reasons, our Nation has come to place great value on the rights of biological parents. Though we often claim that our family courts and social work professions are organized to protect the best interests of the children, many professional experts and policymakers have come to believe that our child protection system tilts somewhat in favor of the right of biological parents over the rights of the children. This imbalance shows up especially in the difficulty in terminating the right of parents who have abused and neglected their children. Our child protection system takes extraordinary steps to protect these parents.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I believe every Member of this Subcommittee agrees that we should provide such help, but in providing help to troubled families, we must also acknowledge that some families will not be improved by services. In these cases, we must move toward adoption or other permanent placement in a much more expeditious fashion than we have in the past. When some States keep children in foster care for an average of well over 3 years, and when black children in some States have average foster care stays that are twice as long as those of white children, we know something is wrong, and something must be done.
The solutions to these dilemmas are our topic today. By freeing States from Federal redtape, by encouraging States to place time limits on family rehabilitation and providing cash bonuses for States that increase adoption, the Camp-Kennelly legislation will lead to a substantial increase in the number of children adopted each year, which in turn means a substantial decrease in the number of children languishing in foster care.
In my view, the Camp-Kennelly adoption bill is one of the finest and most important pieces of legislation the Congress will consider this year.
Representatives Camp and Kennelly and their staffs have met tirelessly with nearly every group that has an interest in child protection and adoption. They started with a list of proposals last fall, and they circulated widely to initiate a concrete discussion about specific policy proposals. Through a time-consuming process of meetings and discussions that has lasted for 6 months, Representatives Camp and Kennelly created the excellent bill they have introduced on February 27. Further improvements are expected to be included in a bipartisan amendment offered at the beginning of next week's markup. Thus, today's hearing on the Camp-Kennelly legislation comes at the perfect moment.
We are anxious to hear from the excellent witnesses we have invited to comment on the bill. At the outset, I want to thank our witnesses for their excellent testimony and to assure them we will carefully consider their recommendations as we develop the bipartisan amendment.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The opening statement follows:]
INSERT OFFSET FOLIO 01 HERE
[The official Committee record contains additional material here.]
Chairman SHAW. Mr. Levin, I now recognize you for any opening statement you might wish to make.
Mr. LEVIN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We all appreciate your calling this hearing.
Let me join you first in congratulating Dave Camp and Barbara Kennelly and their staffs for all the work you have put into this bill, and we are also glad to see our former colleague who moved on to the lower House. I tell that to one of your colleagues all the time, and get the same chuckle from him.
But we are very glad to see you, Senator, and also, again, thanks to our colleagues Barbara Kennelly and David Camp for all their work.
Mr. Chairman, like you, on this Subcommittee we have been through a number of discussions and considerations of this issue, and we have been looking for legislation that will help to bring some clarity and certainty for these children out of the confusion that often exists. Our aim is that every child in foster care have a safe, loving, permanent home. What this bill will do is to remove some of the barriers that stand in the way of achieving that.
I would ask, Mr. Chairman, that my full statement be placed in the record. Like you and our other colleagues, I am anxious to get on to the testimony so that we will be in a position to mark this bill up next week.
[The opening statement follows:]
INSERT OFFSET FOLIOS 20 TO 21 HERE
[The official Committee record contains additional material here.]
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Chairman SHAW. Thank you, Sandy.
Our House has often been called the people's House, where, Senator DeWine, I will call it the House of real people. We are glad to welcome you back. I don't think anybody knows more about children than you do, having watched so many of yours grow up. You have certainly done your part in populating the Earth.
With that, I would like to welcome you and our colleague, a former Member of this Subcommittee, Ms. Kennelly, as well as Mr. Camp, who sits next to me on this panel. All of you take your seats.
I would at this point like to remind all the witnesses, I know this panel doesn't need to be reminded, that we do have the 5-minute rule. Your full statements will be made a part of the record, and you are invited to summarize and proceed as you see fit.
STATEMENT OF HON. MIKE DeWINE, A U.S. SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF OHIO
Senator DEWINE. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much. I am glad to be back testifying in front of the Subcommittee and glad to be back in the people's House.
I come here today to strongly support legislation that has been introduced by Representatives Camp and Kennelly. I believe this legislation would begin to solve a major national problem, a national problem you referenced in your opening statement, and that is to find safe and permanent homes for children who are caught up in the foster care system.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, the last time I testified before this Subcommittee, I talked about that problem, the fact that far too many children are spending their most important, most formative years, really, in a legal limbo, a legal limbo that denies them their chance to be adopted.
These children are being denied what all children should have, the chance to be loved and cared for by parents. Nearly half a million children are in this country's foster care system. One hundred thousand of these children are available at any time for adoption, but too few of the children who are available for adoption are actually being adopted. In 1995, only 20,000 foster care children were adopted nationwide. Mr. Chairman, in my view it is very important for Congress to act soon so that more of these children can be placed in good homes with permanent, stable, loving families.
Representatives Camp and Kennelly are leading this bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives. Their efforts have been outstanding. They propose taking important steps, such as limiting the amount of time the youngest children spend in foster care. Under this bill, if a child is under the age of 10 and has spent 18 of the last 24 months in State foster care, this bill would require States to initiate proceedings to terminate parental rights, unless the judge, unless the court, determines that adoption is not in the child's best interest.
This, frankly, just makes good common sense. To all of us, 2 years is just a small percentage of our lives, or to most of us our age anyway it is, but to an 8-year-old child, 2 years is one-fourth of that child's life, 2 vital years that young children can never get back. Children simply do not get a second chance to grow up.
The Camp-Kennelly legislation also would require that foster parents be given notice of court reviews and hearings and an opportunity to be heard at these hearings, and who better to testify to the court about that particular child than the man and woman who are taking care of that child?
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, it is right that these foster parents be heard. To exclude the foster parents from the court proceedings may mean silencing the child's most forceful and most informed advocates.
Furthermore, this bill does something extremely important that I am also working to do in the U.S. Senate. It will clarify the meaning of ''reasonable efforts,'' reasonable efforts having to do with family reunification, so that it is absolutely clear that when it comes to determining what reunification efforts are reasonable, the child's health and safety will always be the paramount concern.
The Camp-Kennelly bill would also permit States to identify certain aggravated circumstances where reasonable efforts to reunify would simply not be required, such as in the case of abandonment, torture, chronic abuse, sexual abuse, murder of sibling, felony assault.
Mr. Chairman, while I applaud this effort to illustrate the sort of heinous circumstances where reunification would not be in the child's best interests, I would urge my colleagues to consider going one step further. I believe States should be required to adopt these examples as a bare minimum.
Let me conclude, Mr. Chairman, by once again commending my colleagues, Representatives Camp and Kennelly, for leading these efforts in the House of Representatives. I believe this bill raises hopes that this Congress will send to the President legislation increasing the prospects that foster children will find a home that is both permanent and safe.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement follows:]
Statement of Hon. Mike DeWine, a U.S. Senator from the State of Ohio
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm very glad to have this opportunity to testify in support of legislation introduced by Representatives Camp and Kennelly, that would, in my view, begin to solve a major national problemfinding safe and permanent homes for children caught up in the foster care system.
The last time I testified before this Subcommittee, I talked about that problemthe fact that far too many children are spending their most important, formative years in a legal limbo that denies them their chance to be adopted. These children are being denied what all children should havethe chance to be loved and cared for by parents.
Nearly 500,000 children are in this country's foster care system. One hundred thousand of these children are available for adoptionbut too few of the children who are available for adoption are actually being adopted. In 1995, only 20,000 foster children were adopted nationwide.
In my view, it is very important for Congress to act soonso that more of these children can be placed in good homes with permanent, stable, loving families.
Representatives Camp and Kennelly are leading this bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives. Their efforts have been outstanding. They propose taking important steps such as limiting the amount of time that the youngest children spend in foster care. If a child is under the age of 10, and has spent 18 of the last 24 months in state foster care, this bill requires states to initiate proceedings to terminate parental rightsunless the court determines that adoption is not in the child's best interests. This is just simple common sense. To all of us, two years is just a small percentage of our lives, but to an eight year old child, two years is a fourth of his lifetwo vital years that young children can never get back. Children don't get a second chance to grow up.
The Camp-Kennelly legislation also would require that foster parents be given notice of court reviews and hearings, and an opportunity to be heard at these hearings. Mr. Chairman, it is right that these foster parents be heard! To exclude the foster parents from the court proceedings may mean silencing the child's most forceful and informed advocates.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Furthermore, the Camp-Kennelly bill does something extremely important that I am also working to do in the Senate. It would clarify the meaning of ''reasonable efforts''so that it is absolutely clear that when it comes to determining what reunification efforts are reasonable, the child's health and safety are the paramount concern.
The Camp-Kennelly bill would also permit states to identify certain ''aggravated circumstances'' where reasonable efforts to reunify would not be requiredsuch as in the case of abandonment, torture, chronic abuse, sexual abuse, murder of a sibling, and felony assault.
While I applaud this effort to illustrate the sort of heinous circumstances where reunification would not be in the child's best interests, I urge my colleagues to consider going one step further. I believe that states should be required to adopt these examples as a minimum.
Let me conclude by once again commending Representatives Camp and Kennelly for leading these efforts. It raises hopes that this Congress will send to the President legislation increasing the prospects that foster children will find a home that is permanent and safe.
Chairman SHAW. Thank you, Senator.
STATEMENT OF HON. DAVE CAMP, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MICHIGAN
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CAMP. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee today, and thank you for your very kind remarks. And I want to thank Mr. Levin for his remarks. I also want to mention how much I appreciate Senator DeWine's comments and his efforts, and I want to thank him and Congresswoman Kennelly for their outstanding efforts on behalf of children.
Mr. Chairman, children are forced into foster care for a variety of reasons, and in my former life as a child advocate in Michigan, I have seen the abuse and neglect that often brings these children into the system. While foster care is an important temporary answer to a child's needs, it has often become a permanent solution. With nearly half a million children currently residing in foster care, and thousands more joining them each year, that in itself is a tragedy. But many of these children spend several years, up to 3 years, in foster care, and as Senator DeWine mentioned, that can be a lifetime in the life of a young child. So in a temporary setting, children don't often know if and when they will have to pack their bags and go home or move to another temporary home.
The bill that Congresswoman Kennelly and I have introduced seeks to address these problems by working to give children a loving, permanent home. In the bill before us, it represents much bipartisan consultation with each other and with child welfare groups and advocates. The Subcommittee has worked diligently to ensure that their concerns were addressed, and we now have an opportunity to act.
As Senator DeWine mentioned, attempts to define ''reasonable efforts'' have left many of us dazed and confused. What constitutes reasonable efforts for one may be unreasonable to another. Everyone agrees we need to address this issue.
Our legislation will help accomplish several goals. First, it will allow us to, in some cases, allow courts to abandon the reasonable effort standard or language in some extreme instances. It also provides for concurrent planning so that when a child enters foster care, a social worker can plan to reunite the family, but may also plan to locate a permanent adoptive family if reunification efforts fail. Then last, the legislation provides incentive payments to States for successful adoptions. States should be rewarded for moving children into permanent homes, not leaving them in temporary placements. The bill also does a number of other things that Senator DeWine mentioned.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would conclude my remarks now and have my formal statement be a part of the record.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement follows:]
Statement of Hon. Dave Camp, a Representative in Congress from the State of Michigan
Thank you Mr. Chairman and thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Committee today.
I appreciate the comments of Senator DeWine and want to commend both him and Congresswoman Kennelly for their outstanding efforts on behalf of children.
As you know, Congresswoman Kennelly and I have been working on this issue for nearly a year. We have drafted and redrafted our proposal and have developed sound legislation that enjoys bipartisan support.
Mr. Chairman, as you know, children are forced into foster care for a variety of reasons. As a child advocate in Michigan, I have seen the abuse and neglect that bring these children into the system.
Foster care, while being an important temporary answer to a child's needs, has all too often become a permanent solution to a child's problems.
Nearly 500,000 children currently reside in foster care and thousands more join them each year. This in itself is a tragedy but many of these children spend up to three years in foster care. For a young child, three years can be a lifetimeand this is the real tragedy. A child can spend much of his or her life in a temporary settingnot knowing if and when they will have to pack their bags and move to another temporary home.
The Camp/Kennelly bill seeks to addresses these problems by working to give the child a permanent home. The bill before us represents months of bipartisan consultation with child welfare groups and advocates. The subcommittee has worked diligently to ensure that their concerns were addressed and we now have the opportunity to act.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The ''reasonable efforts'' provision has become a cumbersome albatross around the necks of social workers and judges. Attempts to define reasonable efforts have left everyone dazed and confused. What may constitute a reasonable effort for one person may be wholly unreasonable to another.
I met a gentleman this past weekMr. Jim Williams, who wanted to be here today but his adopted son is ill. He described to me the efforts of social workers to reunite his foster child with her mother. Despite abandoning her three little boys, the social services agency flew her to be with her family, paying for the air fare and hotel stay on several separate occasions. The case was finally resolved when the mother voluntarily gave up her children. They now have a safe and happy home with loving parents.
Everyone agrees that the best thing for a child is a loving family and this bill seeks to place more children in these homes.
Our legislation accomplishes this goal in three simple ways. First, it allows states to abandon reasonable efforts in instances such as, when the child has been abused, or a sibling has been killed.
Second, it provides for concurrent planning so that when a child enters the foster care system, the social worker can plan to reunite the family, but may also locate a potential adoptive family so that if reunification efforts failthe child can immediately be adopted.
Third, the legislation provides incentive payments to states for successful adoptions. States should be rewarded for moving children into permanent homes, not leaving them in temporary placements.
At this time I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
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Chairman SHAW. Thank you, Mr. Camp.
Mrs. Kennelly, welcome back to the finest Subcommittee.
STATEMENT OF HON. BARBARA B. KENNELLY, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
Mrs. KENNELLY. I miss you, Mr. Shaw. But you are in good hands with Mr. Levin.
Mr. Chairman, let me also start off by saying thank you for holding these hearings. I do appreciate it. Mr. Camp and I are excited about this legislation and thank the Senator for coming over and joining with us today. I think we have a good piece of legislation to promote adoption and protect children. I think and hope this will be a first step in a bipartisan effort to find safe, loving, and permanent homes for children.
It goes without saying that in the best of all possible worlds, every child belongs with their parents. But we must also recognize there are times when a child's safety is threatened by living at home, and sometimes we have to do something about it. There is no doubt there are many good services out there that can be provided to a family to make it possible for a child to stay at home or return to a home in trying times. But at other times, family reunification risks the life of children. We believe that is not a risk worth taking.
To prevent children from being returned to unsafe homes, our legislation revises the current Federal requirement, and we all know we thought we were doing the right thing with ''reasonable effort,'' but that term wasn't clear enough for some individuals who wanted to do their job but didn't know quite when reasonable efforts ended. So, in short, we are clarifying when reunifying a family is not reasonable. You have to say it out loud. It is not reasonable when a child has been tortured or a sibling has been murdered by a parent. Those things are not reasonable to try to reestablish the home in most cases.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But it is not enough to merely prevent children from returning to a dangerous situation. We must also do more to find permanent homes for children who cannot return to their birth family. Our foster care system is an extremely valuable safety net, but it should not be a way of life. Unfortunately, we have all heard the statistics about children remaining too long without foster care homes, or having too many foster care homes, or too young children being too long without a permanent home. These last 12 years the figures have doubled.
So the lack of permanency has a lasting and often negative effect on a child, and this is what we are trying to address today. To address this problem, we are asking the agencies, asking those working with children, to also have reasonable efforts to find a permanent home. We are saying expedite the time from 18 to 12 months for a hearing. We are saying younger children, when they have been in foster care for 18 months, start looking at permanency for that child, fully realizing that the courts have the last word.
And then the other situation, which we will find down the line we have been talking about, and that is funding. Mr. Camp has set forth a series of bonuses, $4,000 additional for any adopted child over last year's levels, $2,000 additional bonus for hard-to-place children. And we are hopingin fact, we are feeling rather good about this, because CBO has told us these bonuses will actually save the Federal Government $10 million by reducing foster care expenditures. We can make the bill, I would think nowI haven't discussed this fully with David, but we could at least say maybe this is mandatory spending and not an authorization.
But I think we have a unique opportunity, as we have said, and I think you realize, to have protection and permanency for children. I reallywhen David asked me to join him on this, I had to give this a great deal of thought, because I was involved with the preservation of the family. I was involved with historically looking at this whole question, reading about it when I came to Congress, understanding that years ago in the history of the country, children were chattel. Nothing was done for them. They were owned by their parents. Of course, we came forth and became a country that understood children had to be protected. But maybe we didn't get quite clear enough that the life of the child is the main thing, the protection and safety of that child. So we are going into new territory here. We are saying things that have to be said.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But let me end by saying, Mr. Chairman, at this break when we were in our district work period, I was 1 day on the east coast, and the last newspaperwe are all addicted to newspapersthe last newspaper I read before I got on the plane had a front page headline about a child who died at the hands of a parent. We all know the cases, we know how hard people work, but we know these things happen. And I flew to the other coast to visit my daughter and grandchild, got off the plane, and there was the headline in her paper, in California, different case, same situation.
So that is why we come forth at the beginning with some trepidation, but now feeling very comfortable with this legislation, that children have to be protected when the situation with their parents is untenable.
I thank you very much for this hearing.
[The prepared statement follows:]
Statement of Hon. Barbara B. Kennelly, a Representative in Congress from the State of Connecticut
Mr. Chairman, let me start by thanking you for holding this hearing on legislation that Mr. Camp and I have introduced to protect children and promote adoption. I hope today marks the first of many steps we will take on a bipartisan path towards finding safe, loving and permanent homes for children.
In the best of all worlds, we all agree the best place for a child is with his or her parents. But we must also recognize there are times when a child's safety is threatened by living at home. Sometimes services can be provided to a family to make it possible for a child to stay in or return home, and our legislation would require those services to continue. But at other times family reunification risks the lives of children, and we believe that's not a risk worth taking.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To prevent children from being returned to unsafe homes, our legislation revises the current federal requirement that states make ''reasonable efforts'' to reunify abused children with their families. In short, we are clarifying that reunifying a family is not reasonable when it presents a clear and undeniable danger to the child. The legislation provides states with examples of situations when ''reasonable efforts'' are unreasonable, such as when a child has been tortured or a sibling has been murdered by a parent.
But it is not enough to merely prevent children from returning to dangerous homes. We must also do more to find permanent homes for children who cannot return to their birth families. Our foster care system is an extremely valuable safety net, but it should not be a way of life for children. Unfortunately, this temporary safe harbor has become permanent for far too many children. In fact, the number of children in foster care almost doubled over the last 12 years, going from 276,000 in 1984 to 494,000 in 1995. Furthermore, more than 40% of foster children stay in the system for more than two years, and almost one-third of foster children were placed in at least three different settings while in foster care. This lack of permanency has a lasting and often negative impact on the emotional stability and intellectual growth of young children.
To address this problem, we propose four solutions. First, we call on states to pursue ''reasonable efforts'' to place children for adoption when reunifying families is not possible. Second, we propose expediting the reviews of foster children by requiring a permanency hearing after 12 months, rather than after 18 months. Third, for younger children who have spent more than 18 months in foster care, we suggest requiring states to consider terminating parental rights so a child can be freed for adoption. Of course, the courts would still have the final word on whether termination is in the best interest of the child. And finally, we advocate giving states financial bonuses if they increase the number of children leaving foster care for adoption. Our legislation would provide states with $4000 for every additional child that is adopted from the foster care system compared to the prior year, plus an additional $2000 for every ''special needs'' child adopted. And now that CBO has told us these bonuses will actually save the federal government $10 million by reducing foster care expenditures, we can make the bill's adoption bonuses mandatory spending, rather than an authorization.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, I believe that we have a unique opportunity to bring Democrats and Republicans together under a common goalprotection and permanency for children. Under your able leadership, and under the skillful leadership of the ranking member, Mr. Levin, I believe we can make that goal a reality. I look forward to continuing our work together, and I would be happy to answer any questions.
Chairman SHAW. Thank you, Barbara. I very much appreciate the work that you and David have done on this legislation.
Mr. MCCRERY. Mr. Chairman, I don't have any questions. I appreciate very much the witnesses and the work that Mr. Camp and Ms. Kennelly have done, and, Senator DeWine, it is always a pleasure to have you here.
Thank you for your comments.
Chairman SHAW. Mr. Levin.
Mr. LEVIN. Mr. Chairman, just a comment. I think all of us have some detailed questions, and maybe we will burden the next panel with them, because we are all going to come back to them. You might want to look at these from this side instead of the witness table.
We have commented on the bipartisanship of this effort, but listening to our three distinguished colleagues and the substance of their testimony, it strikes me that in addition to a bipartisanship flavor, there is also something else embedded in your proposal that we have talked about, and I think sometimes been overpolarized about, and that is the relative roles of the Federal and the State governments.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think as we bring this to the floor, we will need to be able to answer the question, What is the Federal interest? Why aren't we just leaving this issue to the States? And it seems to me your testimony responds to it, and essentially what you are suggesting is a recognition that there is a Federal interest, but all the answers are not here, and that what we need to do is find a creative Federal/State partnership to address this set of problems.
For example, you have proposed an incentive system so that we want administration to basically remain within the States, but within certain standards, and in this case you are proposing some incentives so that the States indeed carry out their responsibilities.
I just suggest that your presentation should give us all some pause before we stand up and recite what is perhaps a standard doctrine on State versus Federal responsibility.
So I applaud you for it. I think there is a national interest. I think, Mrs. Kennelly, talking about a headline in one State reflecting an action in another, it is an indication that there is a national interest, and we need to find creative ways to implement a national interest without all the answers or all the administration coming from here, but within some pretty clear standards that have to apply, because in a sense I think we are saying that kids in one State are kids of that State, but they are also American kids.
Mrs. KENNELLY. Mr. Chairman, may I just respond?
Mr. LEVIN. I just applaud you for this.
Mrs. KENNELLY. I would once more say, reasonable effort, Sandy, I think what happened was by leaving it open or not clarifying it, and that is a Federal standard, that people working at home within the States trying to carry out their jobs didn't know when reasonable effort ended and where unreasonable effort began. So I think there is something federally that we have done and that we have to clarify.
Mr. LEVIN. We did not do that very well, right. When we express a national interest and there are standards, we had better make them reasonably clear.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Anyway, listening to you, I was struck by the implications that this has for kids and, I think, the implications it may well have for other programs in addition to this effort to try to approach this in a bipartisan way. This is not only a bipartisan effort, but it is a partnership, national-State partnership effort, that I think we realize has to exist. If not, what Senator Mike DeWine has said, We are going to continue to have these hundreds of thousands of kids who are just in between, who are kind of out there nowhere.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman SHAW. Mr. Collins.
Mr. COLLINS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I commend my colleagues for this effort that they have put forth. This is just one small cog in the wheel, though, of dealing with children and families and responsibilities that are neglected by families.
We look forward to working with you on this one particular area, but there are many other areas we will be covering throughout this Congress through many other pieces of legislation. A lot of it will pertain to the Ways and Means Committee that will also help stabilize families, we hope. We can't legislate that responsibility, but we sure can give them incentives to live up to the opportunity.
We thank you.
Chairman SHAW. Mr. English.
Mr. ENGLISH. No questions.
Chairman SHAW. Mr. Watkins.
Mr. WATKINS. Mr. Chairman, Members and distinguished panel, I would just like to express my personal thanks for your concern, compassion, and willingness to try to tackle this issue. From personal experience, I am a father of an adopted daughter who came from a foster home that burned. She was basically homeless. And we had our home open, thanks to my wife, for a number of these young ladies over the years.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We became involved when my wife realized girls were being put in jail by no fault of their own. They had no place to go. So my wife went out to the police station and said, ''Don't ever do that. Bring them to our home.'' So we housed a lot of young ladies for a number of years because of something at their own home, or some other problems they were having.
One of the great, beautiful experiences that I have now, I have a granddaughter from that adopted daughter, and she is part Native American and full of love and life. I might say my adopted daughter is going to become a very professional lady with a college degree. I just think if we could get more of these children into homes where they could maybe see a different way of life, how important it would be.
We had difficulty getting through the legal system. One of the things we ran into, and we are not affluent people, but one of the things was that the DHS officials were wanting to put the girls in a similar economic atmosphere, and so forth. That was something I disagreed with. I think we need to encourage families that have had some type of success to adopt less fortunate children.
We are making real inroads by trying to pass this and other legislation through, with your backing and support. I wanted you to know that I personally appreciate this effort and all you are doing. I can go home and tell my daughter there will be a lot more daughters being helped like her.
Chairman SHAW. Senator DeWine, you made the points as to the length of time 2 years can be. Of course, running in 2-year segments here, we know to us it seems to be very swift. Now that you are off to 6 years
Senator DEWINE. It is all relative.
Chairman SHAW. But it does, when you start thinking about, and all of us can think back to our childhood, how long 1 hour was, particularly if you were sent to your room or something of that nature, and how long 2 years was. It just seemed to go on forever.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The strongest statement I have ever heard in any Committee meeting I have been in since I have been in Washington was made in four words by a witness before this Subcommittee just a few weeks ago, and she was quoting a child who was meeting her mother and father for the first time, adoptive mother and father. And those words were, ''Where have you been?''
When you think about that, it almost makes you shiver, when you think that these kids want to be loved. They want to be brought into a family, they want a family environment so badly, and they are kicked from foster home to foster home just in the hopes that parents can be rehabilitated. There is a time when you have to give up on the natural parent. Obviously, all of us want to do everything we can to keep the natural parents' bond alive, but in some instances the system is just out of whack.
I think, as Barbara correctly pointed out a few minutes ago, a lot of the problems arein response to Sandy's questioning, a lot of the problems we have are made by us here in Washington in the way the good intended legislation was interpreted and has been an impediment to adoption. Hopefully, this will correct a lot of that, and we will have fewer kids saying, ''Where have you been,'' and we can bring them together in the family environment.
I would like to invite all the witnesses, who have time to stay to sit with us at this hearing, if you care to, and I think, David, you are required, but the other two are merely invited to participate as their time would allow. I would like to thank all three of you for being here today.
The next witness is no stranger to this Subcommittee, Dr. Olivia Golden, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Golden, welcome back to the Subcommittee. We look forward to your testimony.
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STATEMENT OF HON. OLIVIA A. GOLDEN, PH.D., ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY, CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Ms. GOLDEN. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, you have my long testimony for the record.
Chairman SHAW. It will be made a part of the record. Feel free to summarize as you see fit.
Ms. GOLDEN. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am delighted to appear before you today to discuss the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997. This legislation would further our efforts to ensure the safety, permanency, and well-being of children in the child welfare system, and it closely mirrors the goals set forth in our Adoption 2002 proposal. On behalf of the administration, I would like to commend the Members of this Subcommittee and the bill's chief sponsors, Representatives Camp and Kennelly, and also, of course, Senator DeWine, for your interest in and dedication to improving child welfare services.
President Clinton is committed to giving the children waiting in our Nation's foster care system what every child in America deserves, loving parents and a healthy, stable home. In his December directive on adoption to Federal agencies, the President directed HHS to conduct wide consultations and report to him with specific recommendations. In response to the directive, the Department developed the report Adoption 2002.
The report outlines an agenda to help overcome barriers and accelerate the path to permanency for all waiting children in the public child welfare system. The guiding principles of the report include that every child deserves a safe, permanent family; that the child's health and safety should be the paramount consideration in all placement decisions; and that foster care is a temporary situation. It is not a place for children to grow up.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The report presents strategies to establish, track, and meet State-by-State annual, numerical targets for adoptions and other permanent placements, targets that will bring us to a national doubling of adoptions and permanent placements in the year 2002. Perhaps most important, the report also addresses the need to clarify the reasonable efforts provision to make it clear that in determining whether and when to remove a child from the family and whether and when to reunify the family, Federal law requires the child's health and safety shall be the paramount concern.
We are extremely pleased that H.R. 867, the Adoption Promotion Act, proposes many of these same critical actions, including clarifying reasonable efforts, earlier dispositional hearings, performance targets, technical assistance, and adoption bonuses.
The Adoption Promotion Act would unequivocally establish that the child's health and safety be of paramount concern in making placement and permanency decisions. We strongly support the legislation's goal of providing greater clarity about what is meant by ''reasonable efforts.''
We also strongly support two other provisions of H.R. 867 recommended in the Adoption 2002 report that would help children who cannot go home move quickly to permanent homes. First, we support the inclusion of statutory language requiring States to make reasonable efforts to secure a permanent home for children in foster care when adoption or another permanent placement, rather than reunification, is the goal. Second, we support language that will clarify that States may concurrently work toward reunification and develop another permanency plan in the event the child cannot safely be returned home. We would be interested in working with the Subcommittee to refine the legislative language used to achieve these objectives.
We applaud and endorse provisions recommended in the Adoption 2002 report that would change the timing and name of the initial dispositional hearing. Renaming the hearing a permanency hearing will send a clear signal that the purpose of these judicial reviews is to establish a definitive plan for permanency for children, and requiring that these hearings be held within 12 months of a child's placement in foster care, rather than the current 18 months, will help to ensure more timely decisionmaking.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As reflected in Adoption 2002, the administration believes that providing effective technical assistance to the States in a range of areas, including those mentioned in section 10 of the bill, is critical to ensuring the success of our efforts. The President's budget for fiscal year 1998 requests $10 million for technical assistance directed toward the goals of the adoption initiative. We appreciate the sponsors' support of this request.
The centerpiece of the President's adoption initiative is a proposal to provide States with a financial bonus when they succeed in increasing the number of children who are adopted each year. We believe this is an example of commonsense government as it not only provides an incentive to States for increasing the number of adoptions, but pays for itself, because the cost of the bonuses is offset by savings in foster care. We are very pleased that H.R. 867 includes provisions similar to the administration's proposal.
Finally, I would like to turn to two provisions in H.R. 867 which raise concerns. The first in section 5 establishes certain circumstances under which State agencies would be required to seek the termination of parental rights of a child in foster care. We support the goal of ensuring that timely permanency decisions are made for children who cannot return home. However, if a goal other than adoption has been set for a child, then requiring termination of parental rights might not be in the best interests of the child. So we would like to explore with you an alternative proposal that would require States to move expeditiously to terminate parental rights once a judicial determination has been made that adoption is the goal for the child.
Finally, our other concern is with the provision requiring foster parents be given notification and an opportunity to be heard in reviews and hearings. Foster parents play a key role in providing for the safety, permanency, and well-being of children. However, the provision could place foster parents in a position that is uncomfortable in the context of their role as temporary care givers of children and result in the creation of unnecessary adversarial relationships. So the Department proposes to address through policy guidance, rather than legislation, the importance of assuring input from foster parents in case planning, administrative reviews, and judicial hearings.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In closing, I want to express our enthusiasm about the opportunity to enact bipartisan child welfare legislation during this Congress. We believe we can work with the sponsors and the Subcommittee to achieve our shared goal of permanency and health and safety for the child.
I want to thank you again for your leadership, and I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
[The prepared statement follows:]
Statement of Hon. Olivia A. Golden, Ph.D., Acting Assistant Secretary, Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee,
I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997. This legislation would further our efforts to ensure the safety, permanency and well-being of children in the child welfare system and closely mirrors the goals set forth in our Adoption 2002 proposal. On behalf of the Administration, I would like to commend the members of this Subcommittee and the bill's chief sponsors, Representatives Camp and Kennelly, for your interest in and dedication to improving child welfare services. The bipartisan Congressional attention and support being given to these issues in both the House and the Senate, coupled with the reforms and innovative practices being undertaken around the country, present us with an unprecedented opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of some of America's most vulnerable children.
The President's Adoption Initiative
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC President Clinton is committed to ''giving the children waiting in our Nation's foster care system what every child in America deservesloving parents and a healthy, stable home.'' In his December directive on adoption to federal agencies, the President directed HHS to conduct wide consultations and report to him with specific recommendations on strategies to move children more quickly from foster care to permanent homes and to double the annual number of adoptions and other permanent placements over the next five years.
In response to the directive, the Department developed the report Adoption 2002, which reflects the bipartisan interest in and commitment to promoting adoption and strengthening permanency planning for children in the public child welfare system. To prepare this report, the Department consulted with state and local government officials, child welfare professionals, policy experts, advocates, and foster and adoptive parents at the national, State and local levels.
Through this process of consultation, we heard about many of the barriers to expediting permanency for children in foster care. Delays in making timely permanency decisions result from high caseloads for judges and caseworkers; incorrect beliefs and outdated assumptions about the adoptability of children; the limited pool of permanent families for children with special needs; and the varied interpretation of the ''reasonable efforts'' requirement to reunify a child in foster care with his or her birth family before another goal, such as adoption, can be pursued for the child.
Our report outlines an agenda to help overcome these barriers and to accelerate the path to permanency for all waiting children in the public child welfare system. First, the report articulates a guiding set of principles centered on the needs of the child in order to give direction to the overall agenda. These principles include: that every child deserves a safe, permanent family; that the child's health and safety should be the paramount considerations in all placement and permanency planning decisions; and that foster care is a temporary situationit is not an appropriate place for children to grow up. It establishes unequivocally that the Federal goals for children in the child welfare system are safety, permanency, and well-being.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Our proposed agenda is multifaceted in order to address the broad range of barriers and challenges that exist in the child welfare system. The report presents strategies to establish, track, and meet State-by-State annual, numerical targets for adoptions and other permanent placementstargets that will bring us to a national doubling of adoptions and permanent placements in the year 2002. To help States reach their targets, the Department commits to providing expanded technical assistance, rewarding States for incremental increases in adoption levels with per-child financial bonuses, and otherwise recognizing successful performance.
Perhaps most important, the report also addresses the need to clarify the ''reasonable efforts'' provision to make it clear that in determining whether and when to remove a child from his or her family and whether and when to reunify the family, Federal law requires that the child's health and safety shall be the paramount concern. It also calls for providing guidance to the States to emphasize that child health and safety must also be of primary concern when making decisions to terminate parental rights. Furthermore, the Adoption 2002 report supports the passage of legislation that shortens the time before a child's first dispositional hearingthe hearing in which a permanency decision is first madefrom 18 months to 12 months, and changes its name to ''permanency planning hearing'' to emphasize that the purpose of the hearing is to establish a definitive plan for permanent placement.
Provisions in H.R. 867
We are extremely pleased that H.R. 867, the Adoption Promotion Act, proposes many of these critical actions, including clarifying reasonable efforts, earlier dispositional hearings, performance targets, technical assistance and adoption bonuses.
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Current Federal statute language requires that ''reasonable efforts'' be made both: (1) to prevent the unnecessary removal of children from their families; and (2) to reunify children, when possible, who have been placed in foster care with their families. The goal of the reasonable efforts provision is to prevent children from languishing unnecessarily in foster care and to avoid the unnecessary disruption of families.
The Adoption Promotion Act would unequivocally establish that the child's health and safety be of paramount concern in making placement and permanency decisions. We strongly support the legislation's goal of providing greater clarity about what is meant by ''reasonable efforts.'' This change is critical because it has become clear that there is wide variation in how the current ''reasonable efforts'' law is interpreted by caseworkers, agencies, and judges around the country. We also believe it is necessary to provide illustrations of the circumstances in which concerns about a child's health and safety take precedence over family preservation or reunification.
We also strongly support two other provisions of H.R. 867, recommended in the Adoption 2002 report, that would help children who cannot go home move more quickly towards permanent homes. First, we support the inclusion of statutory language requiring States to make ''reasonable efforts'' to secure a permanent home for children in foster care when adoption or another permanent placement, rather than reunification, is established as a goal. Likewise, we support language that will clarify that States may concurrently work toward reunification and develop an alternative permanency plan, in the event that the child cannot safely be returned home.
We would, however, be interested in working with the Subcommittee to refine the legislative language used to achieve these objectives. In particular, we want to ensure that any list of circumstances be adequately described or defined and be considered illustrative, rather than all inclusive. We want to ensure that States retain the ability to make individualized case-by-case determinations. We also would want to ensure that the language provides the flexibility for states to protect the rights of non-offending parents in those cases where only one parent has harmed a child.
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Earlier Dispositional Hearings
We applaud and endorse provisions that would change the timing and name of the initial dispositional hearings. We believe that renaming the hearings ''permanency'' hearings will send a signal that the purpose of these judicial reviews is to establish a definitive plan for permanency for children in foster care. Requiring that these hearings be held within 12 months of the placement of a child in foster care, rather than the current 18 months, will help to ensure more timely decision-making for all children in foster care. Implicit in this move to more timely decision-making, however, is the expectation that services be provided from the moment that the child enters care.
Section 8 of the bill reflects an interest in moving forward with the development of outcome measures and the broad dissemination of State-level data on key indicators. This interest in outcomes supports implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) and builds on work we have already undertaken in this area.
Consistent with the President's Executive Memorandum, the Department has committed to issue an annual State-by-State report, beginning in the Spring of 1999, on the Nation's progress in meeting the adoption goals. The annual report will provide State-by-State figures on key measures of success including not only the number of children in foster care who are adopted or placed in guardianship, but measures that reflect the experience of children in the child welfare system, such as the length of time in care and the timeliness of permanency decisions.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, through the revised child and family services monitoring strategy that we have been piloting with States, we are asking States to use data submitted to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting system (AFCARS), as well as to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), to help assess their performance in achieving safety and permanency for children. Our approach is to help States assess their own performance, including strengths as well as deficiencies; to provide technical assistance; and to assist States to make ongoing changes and improvements. We believe that this approach, focusing on continuous improvement and tracking State performance over time, will prove more effective in achieving improved outcomes for children than a State ranking or rating system.
As reflected in Adoption 2002, the Administration believes that providing effective technical assistance to the States in a range of areas, including those mentioned in Section 10 of the bill, is critical to ensuring the success of our efforts to double the number of children who are adopted annually by the year 2002 and to improve the quality and timeliness of decision-making for all children in foster care. The President's budget for fiscal year 1998 requests $10 million for technical assistance directed toward meeting the goals of the Adoption initiative. We appreciate the sponsors' support of this request.
The centerpiece of the President's Adoption Initiative is a proposal to provide States with a financial bonus when they succeed in increasing the number of children who are adopted each year. We believe that this is an example of common-sense government, as it not only provides a concrete incentive to States for increasing the number of adoptions, but also pays for itself, with the cost of the bonuses offset by savings in foster care costs. We are very pleased that H.R. 867 includes provisions similar to the Administration's proposal for this adoption bonus.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC However, we are very concerned about the funding authority for this provision. H.R. 867 would authorize Congress to appropriate funds for paying the bonuses each year. We believe that it is important to assure the States that the funds will be available to them throughout the five years during which the bonuses will be paid, since we are asking them to make long-term commitments to increasing the number of adoptions. We are in agreement with CBO that the bonus program will be cost neutral or will even save funds. We also support providing States with discretion to use the bonus funds in a manner that they determine best supports the needs of children in the child welfare system. We hope to work with you to develop language to assure funding to the States for this key provision to be used for a broad range of purposes.
There are only two provisions in H.R. 867 which raise concerns. We believe that we can work with the sponsors and the Subcommittee to modify these provisions to achieve our shared goal of permanency and health and safety for the child.
Requiring Initiation of Proceedings to Terminate Parental Rights
Section 5 of H.R. 867 establishes certain circumstances under which State agencies would be required to seek the termination of parental rights of a child who is in foster care. The Administration supports the goal of ensuring that timely permanency decisions are made for children who cannot return home. For those children for whom adoption has been established as a goal, filing for termination of parental rights or securing voluntary relinquishment of rights from the parents, is a key step in freeing children for adoption. However, if a goal other than adoption has been set, requiring termination of parental rights might not be in the best interest of the child.
Because it is the permanency goal for a child that should drive the decision to seek termination of parental rights, we would like to explore with you the development of an alternative proposal that would require States to move expeditiously to terminate parental rights once a judicial (permanency planning) determination has been made that adoption is the goal for a child. The Administration believes that this framework will serve children better than one that ties states' decisions to terminate parental rights to Federal standards regarding either the age of the child or the length of time that the child has spent in foster care.
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Notifying Foster Parent of Reviews and Hearings
We also have concerns with the provision in section 4, requiring that foster parents be given notification and an opportunity to be heard in reviews and hearings. We agree that foster parents play a key role in providing for the safety, permanency and well-being of children who have been removed from home. As the primary caregivers of children in out-of-home care, they have valuable firsthand knowledge that can help inform decisions made at administrative reviews and judicial hearings. However, we are concerned that the provision, by providing foster parents legal standing as a party to the case, places these parents in a position incongruent with their role as temporary caregivers of children. This provision could result in the creation of unnecessary adversarial relationships between foster parents and biological parents and/or between foster parents and the State child welfare agency. The Department proposes to address through policy guidance, rather than legislation, the importance of assuring input from foster parents in case planning, administrative reviews and judicial hearings.
Finally, we wanted to share some additional information with the Subcommittee as you consider two other provisions in the bill.
Report and Recommendations on Kinship Care
Section 6 of the bill calls for the establishment of an advisory panel and the collection of additional information on relative or kinship care. As you know, relatives, other than parents, increasingly play a role in caring for children, both in informal caretaking relationships and in kinship foster care arrangements. In 1990, it is estimated that just over 2 percent of U.S. children (about 1.4 million) lived in a relative's household without a parent present. However, only a small fraction of those children were in formal kinship foster care settings.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Congress recognized the important role of relatives when in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 it included a provision requiring the States to consider giving preference to relatives as caretakers for children eligible to receive foster care maintenance payments and adoption assistance subsidies under Title IVE of the Social Security Act. Given the increasing role that relatives are likely to play in caring for children in the future, it is critical that we improve our understanding of the role of kin in providing either a temporary or permanent home for children.
The Department has already begun important work in this area that will address some of your issues and may help guide future policy development. We will soon release the findings of a study that examined several national and State-level data sources to describe the characteristics of both informal kinship care arrangements and kinship foster care. Later this year, we will release the findings of a descriptive study of children placed in foster care with relatives. This study used interviews with State and county staff and reviews of case records in seven States to gather information on children in both kinship foster care and non-kinship foster care.
In addition, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) is now being implemented and has just begun to yield data improving our knowledge of children in foster care. While currently many States are not able to distinguish between relative and non-relative foster parents in their data, we do expect the data to improve over the next several years as States complete development of new automated child welfare information systems.
Finally, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act authorized funding demonstration projects in the area of kinship care. We expect to fund demonstration grants in this area in the future to improve our knowledge of the role of relatives in ensuring children's safety and permanency. Possible areas of exploration include issues around licensing and training kinship care providers.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We hope you find this information useful as you explore ways to address this critical area. We will share with the Subcommittee the findings of these studies just as soon as they are finalized.
Expanding Use of the Federal Parent Locator Service
Section 7 of the bill addresses another proposal discussed in the Adoption 2002 report, expanding the use of the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS). Currently, the FPLS is used by State child support enforcement officials. We propose to work with State child welfare and child support enforcement agencies to facilitate use of the FPLS to identify and locate absent parents of children in foster care. In this way, child welfare agencies may locate parents or other relatives who may be interested in providing a permanent home for a child in foster care. Even if an absent parent is unable to provide a home for the child, ruling out this alternative early in a child's placement will allow the agency and court to move expeditiously towards adoption or another permanent alternative. We believe that a legislative change in this area is not necessary because there is sufficient statutory authority to allow use of FPLS in child welfare cases.
On behalf of the Administration, I want to express our enthusiasm about the opportunity to enact bipartisan child welfare legislation during this Congress. Together we can work to improve significantly the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in our Nation's foster care system. Again, I commend the members of this Subcommittee for your leadership and I would be pleased to answer any questions you might have.
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Mr. CAMP [presiding]. Thank you very much, Dr. Golden.
Mr. MCCRERY. Dr. Golden, I am unclear on your objection, I understand your objection to the provision you mentioned in section 5, but I am unclear as to your alternative for that. It was a little murky. Would you try to enlighten me on that?
Ms. GOLDEN. Surely. You are referring to the provision regarding termination of parental rights. The provision in the bill, as you know, proposes that for children under 10, when they have been in foster care for 18 of the last 24 months, the State would be required to move to termination of parental rights.
We share the goal that States need to be moving fast to termination of parental rights when the goal is adoption. Our alternative proposal is that, as soon as there has been a judicial determination that the goal is adoption, which could have been earlier than 18 months, at that point the State should move on termination of parental rights.
Let me give you a couple of reasons why we prefer that. The first is that where a child's goal isn't adoption, say, it is guardianship, or, say, after 18 months, a child has severe medical or psychological issues, and you need to have services for the child and family, and you aren't quite ready to put the family together again, you wouldn't want to move to terminate parental rights at a point when the child needs the connection to that family. You would be creating legal orphans.
So we want to make sure what we are focused on is the goal of adoption and that we move with termination of parental rights for that goal.
A second thing that is important to us is our perspective that, for children over 10, we also wouldn't want to give up on the goal of adoption. There are many young men and women who, if they could not return home safely, we would want to move to adoption. Our sense is this is an area where we share a goal, and that working toward the best way to accomplish that goal is something we can do together.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MCCRERY. I appreciate that explanation. Maybe I am in error, and I will defer to the author if I am, but it is my understanding that under the provisions of the bill, you must have a determination that this particular child is a candidate for adoption. So your example really doesn't apply to this bill. If the child is not determined to be a candidate for adoption, then this time determination does not kick in.
Ms. GOLDEN. If the statute moved in that direction, I think that would be helpful. I think in the initial drafting it did not have that wording.
Mr. CAMP. If the gentleman would yield, the language now says that if the child is being cared for by a relative, the proceedings to terminate parental rights would not occur, or if the State court has determined that doing so would not be in the best interests of the child. So there is a judicial check there.
So I think you may be working off earlier discussions, because it is very important that there be that determination by the State court regarding the best interests of the child. So it is not as if the timeline is not met and the child immediately is pushed into a process where the parental rights are terminated without any regard for the situation or what is in the best interests of the child. I just wanted to make that clear. It is on page 6 of the bill.
Ms. GOLDEN. The concern we have, and as I say, I think we are close and could work on it, is having the situation be that the State is required to move to termination of parental rights unless the State court makes an alternative decision. That is different from requiring that you only move if the goal is adoption.
I was very struck by the Congressman's comment about the child who went to jail because there was nowhere else for her. We would want to make sure that we don't create children who are in a sense legal orphans; that we terminate the parental rights, but don't have another family there for them. So that is what we would like to work on with you.
Mr. CAMP. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MCCRERY. Surely. I appreciate the gentleman helping me clarify that.
I don't know, frankly, that the difference in opinion can be resolved. It seems to me kind of a chicken and egg situation. In the way the bill is stated now, it would force the State to act. Under your proposal, as I understand it, there would be no mechanism there to force the State to act. So you could have the situation we have now in many cases where you have children not being put in the pipeline that should be because the State simply, for any number of reasonstoo large a workload, laziness, whatever it might bedoes not take the step to get that child into the pipeline. So this legislation forces the State to take that step.
Ms. GOLDEN. I think the struggle, and I know we are both experiencing it, is that it is important to push the State, and it is important also to protect the child. We are both struggling for a way to do both things.
Mr. MCCRERY. It seems to me this legislation tries to strike that balance, by giving the State court the option to determine, once they have been pressed to make that decision, that it is not in the best interest of the child, to put him up for adoption right there at that moment. So I think we have built in that protection in the bill. But I see your concern, and I think it is legitimate. I think it is taken care of in the bill.
Ms. GOLDEN. It may just be an issue that will require some further conversation. Hearing about the particular cases which I am sure States and others will want to put before you may be a helpful way of thinking about the right way to strike that balance.
Mr. MCCRERY. Thank you.
Mr. CAMP. Mr. Levin.
Mr. LEVIN. Thank you very much.
We have been going over the reasonable effort provision, and the bill has a list of when it would be required that the States forgo these efforts. We were just chatting about an idea the States have of requiring the States to spell this out in legislation instead of it being done in this form.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Do you have any thoughts about that?
Ms. GOLDEN. I think our overall view is that spelling out some examples in the legislation is very helpful in clarifying reasonable efforts, that the process needs to be one that makes sure we have protections for children's safety, and also makes sure States are engaging in reasonable efforts in those cases where a family can keep a child safe. So we are not disrupting families lightly.
I think there are probably several ways of getting that balance. One approach I have also heard conversations about is an approach where the State legislature makes a decision about situations where reasonable efforts are not required and then a State court makes a determination that a child, that a particular case, fits into one of those categories. Another approach is an approach where there is secretarial review of State lists of situations where reasonable efforts are not required.
So I think there are a variety of mechanisms. That is the approach in the bill. Our perspective is that there are several mechanisms that would get you to that right balance and make sure the choices were considered choices. The approach you described, the State legislature and State court decision, would be an approach that would work.
Mr. LEVIN. Well, if anybody has any further thoughts in the next days, let's hear them.
Mr. MCCRERY [presiding]. Mr. English.
Mr. ENGLISH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Secretary Golden, I was curious, going over your testimony, you raise concerns about section 4, specifically the notification of foster parents and an opportunity to be heard in previous reviews and hearings. I wonder if you could amplify on those concerns. You are concerned about creating an adversarial relationship. I wonder though if it isn't appropriate to have that notice, because clearly the foster parents are a party here.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. GOLDEN. My sense is that this is also an area where a lot of progress has been made in discussions, because we are all working toward the same goal. Foster parents play an enormously important role for the child, and they often have a great deal of knowledge about the child. At the same time, we would not want to put foster parents in a situation where their role of caring for the child on a temporary basisperhaps while the agency is moving toward a plan of reunification or adoptionwe wouldn't want to put them in a situation where in a legal sense they were in an adversarial role related to parents or to the agency.
There are a variety of ways of ensuring that the knowledge and the wisdom they have can be part of the decisionmaking without putting them in that situation.
Mr. ENGLISH. Can you amplify on how you would envision, as an alternative, that input could be received?
Ms. GOLDEN. I know there has been some work that involved looking at State laws to identify some model wording. I believe there was some State legislation in Rhode Island that was helpful. I don't remember the particulars of that legislation, but it focused on opportunities for them to provide the information rather than on legal standing.
Mr. ENGLISH. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. MCCRERY. Mr. Collins.
Mr. COLLINS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I just want to pick up on what Mr. English was referring to. You say you have been reviewing policies in different States. Is that what I understood you to say?
Ms. GOLDEN. I believe my staff are doing that work in an effort to come up with something that would meet all of our goals.
Mr. COLLINS. But you don't have any particular policy in mind today?
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. GOLDEN. I don't personally have with me now, but we could certainly provide you right away with what the staff have come up with.
Mr. COLLINS. But you do have an objection to section 4?
Ms. GOLDEN. Yes.
Mr. COLLINS. The notification to foster parents?
Ms. GOLDEN. We have a concern, but we think it is one that can be worked out.
Mr. COLLINS. You do understand it is just an opportunity for them to voice their concerns on behalf of the child. It is not a Band-Aid.
Ms. GOLDEN. I think several weeks ago when you held a hearing and heard from a range of people who were doing model programs, I think among those programs were ones that are really working to build teams in the neighborhood, where the foster parents and biological parents are working together. I think we just want to make sure the knowledge that has been gained about how you make sure that that works, that the way foster parents are involved doesn't get in the way of that effectiveness on behalf of the child.
Mr. COLLINS. That is all I have.
Mr. CAMP [presiding]. Thank you.
Dr. Golden, I want to thank you for all of your efforts on getting this bill together. I know if Mrs. Kennelly were here, she would echo the comments as well.
I was out of the room for part of your testimony, I am sorry, but looking at your written testimony, I just wanted to mention that the legislation does not give legal standing to foster parents, but simply allows them to be notified and to be heard. They do not become in any legal way litigants in the case or respondents, whichever term the courts use.
I think this provision has been applauded by many in the child welfare field as a way of ensuring that the child's perspective is brought into these formal hearings. When I was a child advocate in these matters, I would often visit the child in the foster home, and the foster parents were a wealth of information on what was really going on in the child's life. So it is an attempt to have better decisions made by the court.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Senator DeWine mentioned in his testimony, in his written statement, that he felt it was right that these foster parents be heard, and to exclude foster parents from the court proceedings could silence the child's most forceful advocates. That is the purpose of that provision.
I just wanted to clarify that there is no attempt to give them legal standing, but to give them an ability to be heard and to have an understanding. Oftentimes the foster parents would say, What is going on? No one will talk to me. They can't get information. And here they are, the primary care givers of the child, sometimes for years, and yet don't understand, Is this a review hearing? What is going to go on? It is a provision I think is pretty important.
I didn't know if you had any further comment on that. I just wanted to make sure we had that clarified.
Ms. GOLDEN. I was just highlighting for Mr. Collins and Mr. English that we think it is critical the information and knowledge that foster parents have become part of the process. We are looking for a way for that to happen that will not get in the way of the role of foster parents in providing temporary care for the child and supporting reunification when the family can come back together, and it is my understanding that staff have been working on some ideas, looking at some State legislation and some proposals that are out there.
So if it would be useful to you, we would be happy to share what ideas we come up with.
Mr. CAMP. Also that provision applies to any relative caring for the child. So if it is a relative foster parent, they would also get notice of the hearing.
I think everyone has had an opportunity to ask questions. Thank you very much, Dr. Golden, for being here. We appreciate your efforts.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The fourth panel includes Janice Mink, Hear My Voice, from Ann Arbor, Michigan; Jess McDonald, director, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Springfield, Illinois; Robert Guttman, director, Pro Bono Adoption Project, Consortium for Child Welfare, Washington, DC; MaryLee Allen, director, Child Welfare Division, Children's Defense Fund, Washington, DC; Ronald K. Henry, Children's Rights Council, Washington, DC; and William Pierce, president, National Council For Adoption, Washington, DC.
Before we begin, why don't I mention that there is a 5-minute rule. I believe an amber light will go on when you get close to the end of your 5 minutes. If you could conclude your remarks, your written statements can be made part of the record, so we will have your full, complete written testimony.
Why don't we begin with Janice Mink from Hear My Voice. Thank you for being here, Janice.
STATEMENT OF JANICE MINK, HEAR MY VOICE, ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN
Ms. MINK. Thank you for having me. My name is Janice Mink, and I am here as a representative from Hear My Voice, protecting our Nation's children. We are a nationwide, nonprofit, grassroots organization whose mission is to promote the right of all children to have safe, permanent families.
I am here today to urge you to vote in favor of the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997.
As a member of Hear My Voice, I am exposed to truly horrendous situations involving children who do not have safe, permanent families. We have witnessed family preservation working, protecting families while parents make changes in their lives that enable them to reunite with their children successfully. These families deserve help, and Hear My Voice believes all reasonable efforts should be made to preserve and protect them.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have also witnessed children dying at the hands of family members because our current system of laws believes in family preservation at almost any and all costs.
I would like to tell you a story of a little boy named Dustin from my home State of Delaware. There are pictures right here of Dustin.
He was born to Donna and Richie in September 1993. Donna and Richie split up when Dustin was 2 months old. He lived with his biological dad until he was 4 months old. Richie was then incarcerated, and Dustin went into foster care at 4 months of age with the Brainard family, where he still resides more than 3 years later.
To give you some background history on this family, Donna had lost her older son, Joshua, when he was 2 years old in 1993 due to neglect. Donna had and still has a longstanding substance abuse problem. During 1994 and 1995, DFS, the Division of Family Services of Delaware, worked very hard at reunifying Dustin with Donna.
Meanwhile, Dustin was growing and bonding every day with his family, the Brainards. Donna was given numerous chances to comply with case plans, plans that did not seem difficult, especially when you consider that she could have had her baby back had she complied. She did not. As a matter of fact, Donna was found by four different judges and one commissioner of family court to have a ''. . . substantial abuse problem so serious that she has no ability to do or intention of doing what is in the best interest of the child.''
At this point my story should end, Donna's parental rights should have been terminated, and Dustin should have been able to be adopted by his family, the Brainards. Of course, this didn't happen. DFS insisted on reuniting Dustin with Donna and preserving a family that did not exist.
In the summer of 1995, Donna gave birth to her third child John. In December 1995, when Dustin was over 2 years old, DFS attempted to give Donna residential care of Dustin. Remember, she still had not complied with any of the case plans, and she was still active in her drug and alcohol abuse.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Only because Dustin's maternal aunt and the foster parents brought DFS' plan to the attention of family court was the presiding judge able to say no. He ordered supervised visits between Donna and Dustin, ordered Dustin to remain with the Brainards, and he had baby John removed from Donna's care.
In the summer of 1996, when Dustin was almost 3 years old, Richie was released from prison, and he decided he wanted custody of Dustin. DFS agreed and ordered extended overnight, unsupervised visits. Shortly after this began, Dustin began having erratic behavior. His knowledge of sexual acts greatly increased as his visits with Richie increased. DFS sent two different social workers to speak with Dustin. Of course, Dustin hid behind his mom, he wouldn't talk. DFS stamped the allegations as inconclusive, and unsupervised visits are still continuing.
Dustin is now 3 1/2 years old. He has spent 90 percent of his life in foster care. The older he grows, the higher that percentage grows.
There have been numerous unreasonable efforts made time and time again to reunite Dustin with a family that never existed in the first place. Dustin already has a family. If the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997 were in place when Dustin was born, chances are he would be permanently safe with his family, the Brainards.
Under section 3, a permanency hearing would have taken place when Dustin was 16 months old. Chances are it would have been clear that neither Donna nor Richie could care for this baby. Under section 5, DFS would have been initiating adoption proceedings when Dustin was 2 years old, because he had spent the last 18 out of 24 months in foster care. But even this seems too long for the child to have to wait for permanency.
If Dustin wasn't protected under section 3 or 5, then section 10 would have surely saved him, because family preservation and adoption proceedings can be pursued simultaneously.
It is not Dustin's fault that his biological mother is a drug addict and currently in prison, nor is it his fault that his father was incarcerated for the first 3 years of his life. Yet he is paying for these crimes dearly. Legally, he belongs to a family that does not exist. Emotionally, he belongs to a family that legally he cannot belong to.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There are thousands upon thousands of children in situations just like Dustin's. These children deserve a chance at life. We must focus on the best interests of the children instead of putting our focus on families that do not exist.
Hear My Voice urges you to support H.R. 867, the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997. Dustin depends on it, along with countless others.
[The prepared statement follows:]
Statement of Janice Mink, Hear My Voice, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Hello. My name is Janice Mink and I am here as a representative from Hear My Voice, Protecting Our Nation's Children. We are a nationwide, non-profit, grassroots organization whose mission is to promote the right of all children to have safe, permanent families. I am so happy to have the opportunity to share our views with you.
I am here today to urge you to vote in favor of the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997, H.R. 867.
As a member of HMV, I am exposed to truly horrendous situations involving children who do not have safe, permanent families. We have witnessed Family Preservation working, protecting families that need support while parents make changes in their lives that enable them to reunite with their children successfully. These families deserve help. HMV believes all reasonable efforts should be made to preserve and protect them.
We have also witnessed children dying at the hands of family members because our current system of laws believes in family preservation at almost any and all costs.
I would like to tell you a story of a little boy named Dustin who lives in my home state of Delaware.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Dustin was born to Donna and Richie in September, 1993. Donna and Richie split up and Dustin lived with Richie from age 2 months. In January 1994, when Dustin was 4 months old, Richie went to prison and Dustin went to live in foster care with the Brainard family, where he still resides more than three years later.
To give you some background history on this family, Donna lost custody of her first son, Josh (Dustin's half-brother) in March 1993 when he was 2 years old, due to neglect. Donna had, and still has, a long standing substance abuse problem.
During 1994 and 1995, the Division of Family Services of Delaware worked very hard at reunifying Dustin with Donna. Meanwhile, Dustin was growing and bonding every day with his family, the Brainards. Donna was given numerous chances to comply with case plans ordered by a Commissioner of Family Court and the Division of Family Services, outlining what she needed to do in order to be reunified with Dustin. The plan did not seem difficult. Donna had to, among other things, undergo psychiatric and psychological evaluations and comply with recommendations made as a result of the evaluation; attend AA meetings and cooperate with random drug screens. This plan did not seem difficult when you consider the positive outcome that would have occurred if Donna had completed the plan. She did not. As a matter of fact, Donna was found by four different Judges and one Commissioner of Family Court to have a ''...substance abuse problem so serious that she has no ability to do or intention of doing what is in the best interest of the child.''
At this point, my story should end, Donna's parental rights should be terminated and Dustin should be able to be adopted by his family, the Brainards. This, however, did not happen. The Division of Family Services insisted on reuniting Dustin with Donna and preserving a family that did not exist to begin with. In the summer of 1995, Donna gave birth to her third child, John. At this time, the Division of Family Services was still attempting to reunify Dustin with Donna.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC At a hearing in December, 1995 when Dustin was over 2 years old, the Division of Family Services attempted to give Donna residential care of Dustin. (Remember that Donna still had not complied with any of the case plans ordered by judges or case workers and still had a long standing active drug and alcohol addiction.) The presiding judge refused DFS's recommendation. He ordered Dustin to remain with the Brainards and have supervised visits with Donna. He also advised DFS to remove Baby John from Donna's care.
Flash forward to the summer of 1996. Dustin is now almost 3 years old. Richie is released from prison and decides he wants custody of Dustin. The Division of Family Services agrees and orders Dustin into extended, unsupervised, overnight visitations with Richie. Shortly after these visits began, Dustin made allegations in a 3 year old manner, that he had suffered sexual abuse in Richie's home. I am told that Dustin's behavior is erratic and that his knowledge of sexual acts has greatly increased as his visits with Richie have increased.
These allegations of sexual abuse were reported to the Division of Family Services who sent Dustin to speak with two different social workers. Dustin refused to talk with these strangers while he clung to his foster mom. (Is it any wonder? How many people in this room would be willing to share a sexual secret with a stranger?) DFS stamped the allegations as inconclusive and unsupervised visits are continuing.
Dustin is now 3 1/2 years old and has spent 90% of his life in foster care. The older he grows, the higher that percentage grows. There have been numerous UNREASONABLE EFFORTS made time and time again to reunite Dustin with a family that never existed in the first place. Dustin already has a family. He has lived with them for the last 38 months of his life. He is now a confused, scared little boy, not knowing when he will be forced to leave his mom and dad for long visits away. If these sexual allegations are true, the message Dustin is getting is that it is okay for him to be hurt. What do you think this will do to this little boy's soul? What kind of man will he grow up to be?
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997 were in place when Dustin was born, chances are that he would be permanently safe with his family, the Brainards. Under Section 3, a permanency hearing would have taken place when Dustin was 16 months old. Chances are that it would have been clear that neither Donna nor Richie were able to care for Dustin. Under Section 5, DFS would have been initiating adoption proceedings when Dustin was 2 years old because he would have spent the last 18 months out of 24 months in foster care. Even this seems too long for a child to have to wait for permanency. If Dustin wasn't protected under sections 3 or 5, then Section 10 would have surely saved him because family preservation and adoption proceedings can be pursued simultaneously. It was clear early on in this case that Donna was in no position to care for her children.
It was not, and is not, Dustin's fault that his biological mother is a drug addict and is currently in prison, or that his biological father was incarcerated for the first couple of years of Dustin's life. Yet Dustin is paying for the crimes dearly. Legally he belongs to a family that does not exist. Emotionally, he belongs to a family that legally he cannot belong to.
It is hard being a child in today's world, but being a child today that doesn't really belong to any one family must be torturous. There are thousands upon thousands of children in situations just like Dustin s. These children deserve a chance at life. We must focus on the best interest of the child instead of putting our focus on families that do not exist. Family preservation has a place in our society and that is to give short term help to the functional families that can truly benefit from help. Family preservation is not for preserving biological families like Dustin's.
Hear My Voice urges you to support H.R. 867, the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997. Dustin depends on it, along with countless others. Thank you.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. CAMP. Thank you very much for your testimony.
Jess McDonald, director, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Springfield, Illinois.
STATEMENT OF JESS McDONALD, DIRECTOR, ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS; ON BEHALF OF AMERICAN PUBLIC WELFARE ASSOCIATION
Mr. MCDONALD. Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am the director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. I am here today on behalf of APWA, the American Public Welfare Association. It is a bipartisan organization representing Cabinet-level officials in 50 States responsible for child welfare and human services programs.
We want to commend the sponsors of this legislation and the Subcommittee for advancing the issues of safety and permanency for children in the child welfare system.
We also want to thank the Majority and Minority staff for their efforts working with people in the field and with APWA. This legislation sends a clear message that child safety should be the paramount consideration in all placement and permanency decisions. We strongly support these principles and the overall goal of the legislation of safety and permanency. This is the primary mission of child welfare. Every State knows that, every county knows that, it is getting the work done. That is the problem.
While we support many, if not most of the provisions in the legislation, we do have some recommendations for changes and they are included in our written testimony. I wanted to highlight five things about the bill we like, one being clear that reasonable, reasonable efforts is what is intended. Not unreasonable reasonable efforts, and that concurrent planning can proceed. This is a major breakthrough. Concurrent planning is absolutely critical for local jurisdictions, for courts and States attorneys and workers to understand that you can begin the work of backup planning if, in fact, a family will not address their problems. It is critical and it is a significant improvement.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We think on the issues of moving to 12 months, that most States are moving in this direction. We are at 16 months in Illinois, considering moving to 12 months. We think you should be aware of, on the other hand, that many of the court systems are not going to be prepared for this kind of work and the Subcommittee should look carefully at the courts around the country and consider the availability of IVE to help courts get prepared for this kind of effort and change. Right now it is not available to them and it is not just the courts, it is States attorneys, public defenders' offices, and others that need the help if you are going to respond. Child welfare is part of this picture and only part.
Consider alternatives to including subsidized guardianship, not just adoption, for kinship care. We have a lot of families in the system that are really private guardianship opportunities, and you could unclog the courts in many of your States by offering subsidized guardianships.
Considering timely termination of parental rights, absolutely critical. I just wanted to suggest that the 18-month clock makes sense, but you may want to consider giving the States the option to have the State make an administrative decision about whether or not they should proceed with terminating parental rights and have the court justify that decision in court rather than requiring a separate hearing. You may want to look at the timing of court hearings. It may be an issue.
If you are familiar with the Keystone case, the 19 children that were found in Chicago 3 years ago, we have 6 mothers, 21 fathers, 23 children. We have terminated rights on 14. We have seven scheduled for termination of parental rights coming up soon, and we have two more in an adoption pipeline. There were more lawyers involved than anything else. There were continuances all over the place.
We are 3 years into this, and this was a fast track, high-profile case. So understand, it will never move as fast as you want it to move, and everyone wants to make it move. But talk to your States and find out what is realistic, but the notion of early termination is critical.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC A fourth point: Waivers. This is a system, the child welfare system that needs innovation. This is a system that you know is not working well. You might say it is broken. If that is the case, take innovation everywhere in this country. Don't hold back. If it is cost neutral, who is to lose? The issue here is get innovation out in the field, and innovation that supports the principles in this legislation would be vital at making changes.
On the adoption bonuses, makes sense, but understand right now adoption is a priority for all States. Every adoption we get, and we have more than tripled our adoptions in Illinois over the last 3 years, it saves everybody money and it saves a life. Do not assume that States are opposed to adoption and courts are opposed to adoption and will not move quickly. There is no silver bullet on this one, and consider looking at the incentives for the court system.
Last, we would urge you to support the funding of reunification services for 1 year. It is in the Senate bill, Chafee-Rockefeller bill. It helps courts make a quick decision about whether or not to terminate parental rights. Every court is going to be reluctant to move quickly unless you can demonstrate a good faith effort. Demonstrate the effort, tie it to quick terminations, and you will start to see some movement.
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement follows:]
Statement of Jess McDonald, Director, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Springfield, Illinois; on Behalf of American Public Welfare Association
Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to testify before you today. I am Jess McDonald, Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. I am here on behalf of the American Public Welfare Association (APWA) where I serve as Chair of the Children and Family Services Committee of APWA's National Council of State Human Service Administrators. APWA is a bipartisan organization that represents the cabinet-level officials in 50 states responsible for administering publicly-funded human service programs, including child welfare, foster care, adoption assistance and independent living.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are pleased to have the opportunity to comment on H.R. 867, the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997. I commend the Subcommittee and the sponsors of the legislationRepresentatives Camp, Kennelly, and Chairman Shawfor their commitment to moving bipartisan legislation to promote safety and permanency for children in the child welfare system. I also want to thank both the majority and minority staff for giving APWA members the opportunity to meet with them as the legislation was being to developed.
As you know, APWA has a long standing interest in working with Congress to improve outcomes for children that come to the attention of the child welfare system. Public human service agencies are working diligently to ensure that every child has a safe, permanent family. We recognize that more needs to be done to improve and strengthen the child welfare system and that state agencies cannot do it alone.
In Illinois, we have just ended a decade of unparalleled growth in the number of children under the care and custody of the Department of Children and Family Services. Between June of 1986 and June of 1995, the size of the substitute care population in Illinois expanded at an average annual rate of 15 percentfrom 13,734 children to 47,862 children. Since July of 1995, through a variety of legislative and administrative changes, we have been able to hold annual caseload growth to below 5 percent.
Even though the era of uncontrolled service and budgetary growth in child welfare has come to an end in Illinois, stabilization is not enough. Prior patterns have resulted in a substitute care system that Illinois believes should be 30 percent smaller than its current size. Illinois is embarking on a series of reforms in adoption redesign, subsidized guardianship, and performance contracting that are intended to end the ''permanency crisis'' that has elevated Illinois' substitute care rates to among the highest in the nation.
H.R. 867 will help us in our efforts. The legislation sends a clear message that child safety should be the paramount consideration in all placement and permanency decisions. Many children are waiting too long for permanent homes, and foster homes were never intended as a permanent place for children to grow up. We strongly support these principles and the overall goal of the legislation of safety and permanency for children in the child welfare system. We look forward to working with this subcommittee and the Congress to ensure that the legislation is crafted in a way that ensures that the states have the appropriate resources and flexibility to carry out the objectives of the legislation in a manner consistent with best practices for protecting children and serving children and families safely and effectively.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC While we support many of the provisions of the legislation, we do have a few recommendations for changes and additions to other provisions. We have carefully reviewed the bill and would like to share our thoughts with you on a number of provisions.
Child Safety is Paramount and Reasonable Efforts Should Not Compromise Safety
In 1980, Congress required states to make reasonable efforts to prevent the need for placement of a child in foster care and to make it possible for the child to return home. Although states never intended that this provision be interpreted as requiring unreasonable efforts, or returning children to unsafe homes or impeding permanency, Congress has heard in previous hearings that in practice, such action is, on occasion, an unintended consequence of an erroneous interpretation of the law.
States strongly support congressional efforts to make explicit in the law what is already implicitthat in making reasonable efforts, child safety is paramount.
Demonstrating reasonable efforts, when appropriate, helps to assure early decisions on permanency. However, states recognize that there are certain egregious circumstances where reasonable efforts are not necessary.
We support congressional intent to allow states to identify specific instances where they would not be required to make such efforts. Many states have already moved or are moving toward enacting such laws or policies.
We appreciate that Congress has provided states the flexibility to determine the appropriate circumstances where reasonable efforts are not necessary and to allow agencies to determine the appropriate plan for each child on a case-by-case basis. However, the bill requires the Secretary to approve state laws and policies identifying the circumstances where reasonable efforts are not necessary.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Given the Secretary's existing authority to approve the state plan, we believe that it is sufficient for states to enact state legislation without the requirement for the Secretary's approval of specific state statutes.
The bill also requires that reasonable efforts be made to place a child for adoption.
States fully support the notion that when reunification is not appropriate, the same level of effort provided to reunify the families should be given to achieving adoption or another planned, permanent living arrangement for the child.
Furthermore, we support clarifying in the law that planning concurrently for adoption or another permanent arrangement while making reasonable efforts for reunification is not a violation of the reasonable efforts requirement.
Earlier Permanency Hearings are Important Safeguards but Require Child Welfare and Juvenile Court Systems Improvements
We fully support changing the federal law to require a permanency hearing at 12 months rather than at 18 months. This requirement places a reasonable, albeit challenging, expectation on the system and charges us to be more expeditious in moving children to permanency. The Subcommittee should be aware that this requirement is going to be especially difficult for many urban systems where the courts are backlogged and reportedly are unable to devote no more than five minutes to each case.
Many states have, on their own, moved toward a more timely permanency hearing for children. In Illinois, we have lowered the permanency hearing requirement to 16 months. But we have found that changing statutory timelines alone is not sufficient to guarantee permanency for children.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Congress must recognize the critical role that juvenile and family courts play in making such decisions and should consider ways of deploying IVE funds to support better coordination of activities between the courts and child welfare agencies.
Congress should also consider encouraging other permanency arrangements such as subsidized guardianship which, where appropriate, would provide permanency for children without requiring additional court processes.
Timely Termination of Parental Rights Is an Important Permanency Decision
While we support the intent of the provision to require initiating termination of parental rights (TPR) proceedings for children under the age of ten, we have concerns about the provision as currently drafted.
We fully support the idea that timely decisions regarding TPR should occur when reasonable efforts have been made and a court determines that reunification is not in the best interests of the child.
We appreciate the concern that after 18 months in foster care, a strong case should be made as to why a child is still without a permanent home. We also appreciate that the legislation recognizes that TPR is not always appropriate for children who are in placements with relatives.
However, we are concerned about requiring the initiation of TPR proceedings in all other cases, particularly when the agency does not believe that TPR is the appropriate plan for the child.
For example, the child has stated a strong desire to retain ties to its biological family or has serious disabilities requiring ongoing residential care, or safe reunification of the family is imminent.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Furthermore, we have concerns that this is an overly prescriptive mandate and that the adherence to such a specific time frame does not allow states the flexibility to decide on a case by case basis what is in the best interests of a child.
Because the language suggests that a state would have to first be granted approval to move ahead with TPR or forego such a proceeding, we believe that this provision would require an additional process that does not currently exist and would further strain the already overburdened juvenile and family court system. In addition, questions were raised concerning how such a requirement would affect sibling groups where one of the siblings was not under age ten. This could, in effect, separate sibling groups when it is in their best interest to remain together.
As an alternative, we would recommend that the public agency have greater discretion concerning when it is appropriate to initiate TPR proceedings. When 18 months of foster care has transpired and the agency believes that TPR is not appropriate for a child, the agency should document why it is not in the best interest of the child to proceed, and the court should make its ruling at the subsequent hearing.
We would like the opportunity to work with the sponsors and the Subcommittee to refine this provision to remedy what we believe may lead to unintended consequences.
Kinship Care Raises Unique Issues in Foster Care Policy and Permanency Decisions
We appreciate that the legislation recognizes the special circumstances of kinship care by calling for an advisory panel to examine issues concerning kinship care and make recommendations. We cannot expect to fully address issues related to permanency without recognizing the role that kinship care plays within the child welfare system. In my own state of Illinois, more than half of the foster children are cared for by relatives. However, the Title IVE federal foster care program was not developed with relative caregivers in mind. Foster care programs were designed to license and fund temporary, out of home care for children by persons who were not known to them. And yet, in order to qualify kinship placements for Title IVE funds, states must incorporate kinship homes into the formal foster care system. As a consequence, federal child welfare policy has grown more rigid and less responsive to the variety of children's needs in kinship care. For example, licensure may preclude placement with kin whose attachment to the child may outweigh stricter certification standards imposed on non-relative foster parents.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thousands of children have been supported with AFDC grants in the homes of relatives. Bringing children who are being cared for by their relatives into the formal foster care system is not always appropriate or responsive to the needs of these children. The question that needs to be asked is whether the growing expansion of formal state control over the long-standing tradition of kinship care is beneficial and truly in the best interests of children. We must also be mindful of the supports needed by these families to assure the well-being of the children in their care and how welfare reform might impact these issues.
Illinois has been approved for a child welfare demonstration waiver and is seeking to address the issues of kinship care through a program of subsidized guardianship. Illinois has identified over 16,000 children who have been in state custody for longer than two years and living in the home of a relative for more than one year. In a survey of this population that we conducted in 1994, fully 85 percent of relatives said that the best plan for these children was to remain with them until they were fully grown. The problem is that the special character and dynamics of kinship foster care make it difficult to move large numbers of children into permanent homes through the established channel of adoption. While our research shows that many more relatives are willing to consider adoption than previously supposed, significant proportions still are uncomfortable with this approach. Families fear becoming embroiled in an adversarial process that pits parents against sons and daughters, siblings against sisters and brothers. Many relatives, especially grandparents, find formal adoption to be an unnecessary bureaucratic imposition. They feel that their relationship to the children is already permanently sealed by virtue of their blood ties. Many relatives find subsidized guardianship an attractive permanency option that would add legal permanence to existing family relationships which is less disruptive of customary kinship norms than adoption. We expect that as many as 4,000 families will avail themselves of this option under our waiver demonstration over the next five years. Together with improved adoption rates, subsidized guardianship will help bring permanency to the lives of more than 8,000 children who otherwise would have spent their childhood in long-term foster care.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC An APWA work group of public child welfare administrators is in the process of developing a discussion paper to submit to Congress regarding recommendations for reform of federal policy on formal kinship care.
Our ideas include the authorization of federal participation in the funding of private guardianship or other legal permanency arrangements with kin for children who otherwise would have remained in long-term foster care, and the delegation to states of the flexibility to establish certification standards and payment rates for kinship homes which are separate and distinct from the licensing standards and payment rates for foster family homes.
We look forward to working with the Subcommittee on this matter.
Waivers are a Critical Tool to Support Child Welfare System Improvements
Section 1130 of the Social Security Act currently provides 10 states with the authority to conduct child welfare waiver demonstration projects and H.R. 867 expands the number of waivers to 15 states. As I mentioned before, Illinois is the recipient of one of these waivers and it has been critical to our ability to address the unique needs of our child welfare population around issues of kinship care.
States feel strongly that the waivers should not be limited to 10 or even 15 states. Given the requirement that each project be cost neutral, appropriately evaluated and ensure the current law protections for all children, states feel strongly that such waivers should be available to any state that meets the criteria. Such waivers give states the needed flexibility to make the kinds of improvements to their child welfare systems that this legislation clearly seeks to accomplish.
Furthermore, we believe that the current law on waivers should be modified to enable states to continue successful demonstrations beyond the allowable five years. Children and families may be significantly harmed if successful services are terminated at the end of a demonstration. States should also be allowed the opportunity to replicate successful demonstrations operating in other states. In addition, the current statutory language around application and evaluation should be amended to allow more flexibility so as not to preclude demonstrations that address systems changes.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We would like the opportunity to work with the Subcommittee to address these changes.
Adoption Bonuses Must be Constructed as a Fair and Equitable Incentive System
We are supportive of the provision in the bill that was also proposed by the Administration to reward states for increasing the number of children adopted from the foster care system.
However, if these incentives are to accomplish their intended goal, we would recommend that the subcommittee examine the base year and formula for determining the bonus to ensure that bonuses to states are fair and equitable.
As written, it is possible that some states that have performed exceeding well at eliminating their backlog of waiting children and have substantially increased the number of adoptions will never be able to match their past performance and may never receive a bonus. Other states that may not have achieved similar increases may reap larger and more frequent bonuses.
We would like to see the bonuses crafted to appropriately reward states who do a good job, while encouraging others who could improve, without disadvantaging states or enabling states to take advantage of the system. Perhaps the Secretary, in consultation with the states, could be charged with constructing a fair and equitable incentive system.
Furthermore, we feel strongly that funding for bonuses must be guaranteed and should not be subject to annual appropriations. Ensuring funding for incentives for adoption is critical to achieving the outcomes desired by this legislation. We would also like to see that the legislation provide states with greater flexibility in the scope of services under Title IVB and IVE for which they may use bonus funding; bonus funding should be available for prevention and early intervention services, not only for services for children who are currently in foster care or adoptive homes.
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Other Incentives for Permanency are Necessary to Realize the Outcomes Called for in the Legislation
The legislation appropriately asks states to do a better job at protecting child safety and providing permanency for children in the child welfare system. It proposes a number of procedural changes to overcome some of the barriers to protecting children and providing for permanency.
We caution you not to expect that procedural changes alone will accomplish these goals. States are making administrative and policy changes, but these alone will not achieve the desired outcomes. Congress must recognize the need for resources to accomplish these goals.
State agencies alone do not make permanency decisions for children. The legal system is a partner in permanency. Congress must recognize the critical role that juvenile and family courts play in making such decisions. Parental rights are among the most sacred of rights in our country, and judges are often reluctant to terminate parental rights unless they believe that there have been efforts made and services provided to keep a family together.
We strongly support the use of Title IVE dollars for reunification services, where safe and appropriate, for one year, in order to promote prompt permanency decisions.
These resources are critical to accomplishing the objectives of the bill to assure that states can achieve permanent and safe outcomes for children, and particularly to meet any requirements for termination of parental rights. Such efforts and resources require a level of funding that currently is not adequately supported by the federal government. States provide the bulk of such funding with their own state dollars, but such funding is not enough. Such funding should not come at the expense of other programs for vulnerable children. These proposals, in the long run, will reduce costs in the foster care system because they will result in a moving children out of foster care, whether it be back safely with their families or in adoptive or other permanent placements. However, if such proposals initially result in increased expenditures for Title IVE, funding should be in addition to current Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections for growth in the Title IVE entitlement program.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, we recommend expanding the federal adoption assistance program by delinking Title IVE Adoption Assistance from AFDC and SSI to encourage the adoption of children in the foster care system with special needs. Furthermore, to accomplish the goals of the legislation, Title IVE training should be expanded to enable cross-agency training and elimination of the cost allocation requirement for federal reimbursement. A highly trained staff is essential to supporting the goals of safety and permanence.
The provisions mentioned in the preceding paragraph are included in Senate bill S. 511, introduced by Senators Chafee, DeWine, Rockefeller, and others. We would urge you to consider incorporating them into the final legislation as a complement to the House bill. We recognize that balancing the budget is a top priority for Congress and the nation and that financing these proposals will require difficult decisions in prioritizing limited resources. However, we believe that the committee fully intends that the objectives of safety and permanency contained in this bill not just send a message but that they become a reality for vulnerable and waiting children. Thus, there must be adequate resources provided by both the states and the federal government to accomplish these goals of protecting the safety of children and providing timely permanency.
In closing, I want to reiterate that public human service administrators wholeheartedly support the principles embodied in H.R. 867 that too many children are waiting too long for a safe and permanent home. Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me to comment on this promising legislation. We hope you will consider our recommendations and we look forward to working with you as the legislation moves ahead. I would be happy to answer any questions.
Mr. CAMP. Robert Guttman, Esq., director, Pro Bono Adoption Project, Consortium for Child Welfare, Washington, DC.
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STATEMENT OF ROBERT M. GUTTMAN, ESQ., DIRECTOR, PRO BONO ADOPTION PROJECT, CONSORTIUM FOR CHILD WELFARE
Mr. GUTTMAN. Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, it is an honor to be invited to testify here. I just hope my remarks will give you some help in dealing with the difficult problems that face the Nation's abused, abandoned, and neglected children.
You have my prepared statement for the record. In the 5 minutes I have, I would like to first tell you about the perspective from which I come to the child welfare system, and then emphasize three points.
The first point, and it is critical, is that the law, as written, bears little relationship to what actually happens in the child welfare system. Second, to change what actually happens, we need to change the dynamics of the system by focusing on what we want the States to accomplish rather than by telling them how to do it. Third, performance indicators that measure whether the States are accomplishing the Federal purpose can be devised. There is certainly some great difficulty in doing so.
Let me tell you first, I am not a child welfare professional. I have no background in social work, and I have never administered a child welfare program. I am just a volunteer who received my education in the system in the last 3 years by running the Consortium for Child Welfare's Pro Bono Adoption Program. That means I recruit pro bono lawyers for foster parents who want to adopt the abandoned and neglected children in their care. I have learned about the child welfare system child by child from the bottom up, not from the top down.
The first lesson I learned is that what actually happens in the child welfare system bears little relationship to the child welfare law. In fact, if the law reflected reality, my project would not exist. It wouldn't need to exist.
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Let me read you an extract from my 1996 report talking about a particular case, which graphically illustrates why we need this pro bono adoption project.
This 20-month-old child has already had three different social workers in the 19 months he has been in the care of the District of Columbia. Efforts to place him with a relative were unsuccessful, and the current location of both his mother and father are unknown.
He has a foster parent who wants to adopt, but the city has not undertaken to terminate parental rights, and the guardian ad litem is not willing to do so. The only way this child is going to get a stable family is by the foster mother filing an at-risk adoption petition, and the only way that can actually happen is by her getting a pro bono lawyer.
This case also illustrates why we should not need the project. If the city or GAL, guardian ad litem, did their jobs, the foster parents would have a legally free child and could file her petition without needing a lawyer. I look forward to the day when the city and the guardians ad litem do their jobs and we can dispense with the project, and I will be out of a job, which pays very well in satisfaction.
Unfortunately, I will not be able to terminate the project until we change the dynamics of the existing system. This system is encrusted with delay and lacks motivation to bring cases to a close. In my project, motivation is provided by the foster parents who want to adopt and the attorneys we supply force the system to move. We need to bring that dynamic to the whole system.
The current Federal law tells the States how to administer the child welfare system. It does not specify what the system is supposed to achieve. Only by emphasizing performance rather than process can we change the dynamics of the system. I appreciate that section 8 of the bill calling for the development of outcome measures points us in the right direction.
The object of the child welfare system is to ensure that abandoned, abused, and neglected children are placed in a stable and caring family situation, whether that is achieved by placement in a new adoptive family or by being returned to their own families under conditions that ensure their well-being. The Federal Government should ensure the child welfare systems be measured by their achievement of this goal and rewarded by incentives if they make progress in meeting it, and subject to corrective action if they do not.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I believe it is possible to devise performance indicators to measure the operation of the child welfare system and some examples of those measures are given in my prepared testimony.
The examples are illustrative, but I am convinced we are more likely to improve the child welfare system if we reward superior performance and take action to correct inferior performance than if we make more detailed regulations specifying how to do it. Congress should specify what it wants to achieve rather than the method for achieving it.
Under current law, when a State improves its performance, its grant is reduced. This anomaly permits us to use part of the grant reduction resulting from program improvement to reward improved performance, while still lowering the overall cost of the program. As you have heard, the CBO makes the same estimate for the adoption bonus.
I realize there are many difficulties in moving to a performance-based system, some of which are spelled out in my full statement. Without underemphasizing the problems, I think a performance-based approach to reforming the child welfare system has great potential. Sections 8 and 11 providing for a bonus for increased adoptions are significant steps in moving toward a performance-based system. The Subcommittee, however, should consider taking additional steps in that direction.
As Members on Ways and Means, you are in the real sense the parentes patriae of the half a million children in foster care. I hope and trust you have the will and wisdom to give them a better chance for a safe and stable family life.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify.
[The prepared statement follows:]
Statement of Robert M. Guttman, Esq., Director, Pro Bono Adoption Project, Consortium for Child Welfare
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Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee; My name is Bob Guttman and I run the Consortium for Child Welfare's Pro Bono Adoption Project which supplies pro bono attorneys to foster parents who want to adopt the abused and neglected children who have been placed in their care. This testimony is given on my own behalf and my vita is attached. Pursuant to Clause 2(g)(4) of Rule XI, I declare that neither the project nor I receive any Federal funds; in fact, I receive no funds from any governmental or private source for any of my child-welfare related activities.
In the three and a half years that I have been involved with this adoption project, I have learned a lot about the child welfare system, or rather about the children who have the misfortune to enter it and have a hard time getting out of it. Each child's case shows in one way or another the frustrations, delays and iniquities of the system. If one looks at the Federal laws which establish the framework for the state (and D.C.) systems, it is hard to find ground for complaint. But the system does not work the way it is supposed to. In fact, if the system worked as it ought to work, the adoption project I run would not be necessary. In my 1996 year end report to the Consortium, I quoted from one of my transmittal letters to a law firm:
''As I look at this case, it graphically illustrates why we need this pro bono adoption project. This 20 month old child has already had three different social workers in the 19 months he has been in the care of the District of Columbia. Efforts to place him with a relative were unsuccessful and the current location of both the mother and the father are unknown.
''He has a foster parent who wants to adopt but the city has not undertaken to terminate parental rights and the Guardian ad litem is not willing to do so. The only way this child is going to get a stable family is by the foster mother filing an at-risk adoption petitionand the only way that can actually happen is by her getting a pro bono attorney. That is why we have this project and that is why your help is so much appreciated.''
I added the following comment: ''As you will realize, the case also illustrates why we should not need the project. If the city and/or the GAL did their jobs, the foster parent would have a legally-free child and could file her petition without needing a lawyer. I look forward to the day when the city and the GAL's do their jobs and we can dispense with the Project.''
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As you all know well, the statutes provide for an administrative and judicial mechanism to establish and implement a permanency goal; it has a time period for bringing termination of parental rights (TPR) proceedings, and, after they have been concluded, an adoptive parent can easily bring a pro se adoption proceeding or, in the case of a special needs child (and most of our cases are special needs), receive an adoption subsidy payment for legal expenses.
Let me assure you, the real world bears little relation to the ideal world painted in the statutory colors. Permanency decisions are not timely made, TPRs are not brought and the adoption subsidy (which in D.C. is capped at $1,000 for an uncontested and $2,000 for a contested case) does not cover legal expenses. The system lacks motivation to bring cases to a conclusion. There is an institutional drag which means that children remain in a foster care limbo. The essence of the Adoption Project is that it puts power in the hands of the people who have a personal interest in making the system movethe adoptive parents. By supplying them with an attorney, they can make the system move because they care. That supplies the incentive that is missing in the system.
As I became familiar with the child welfare system, I realized it needed change and I devised plan after plan for its reform. I drafted a new adoption law for DC and devised a whole series of ingenious amendments to statutes that would, I hoped, fix the process. But, after a while, I realized that the problem was not in the detailsit was in the incentives built into the system.
I am a lawyer and I believe there is no truer statement than Sir Henry Maine's dictum that ''the substance of liberty is secreted in the interstices of procedure.'' But in child welfare we have let that dictum run amok; Federal law is an overwhelming catalogue of process and procedural requirements that the States must meet but Federal law says almost nothing about the outcome that State programs should achieve.
Let me give just one stark example of the lack of attention to outcomes. Take an abandoned baby. In one State, the baby is placed in an adoptive home and adoption proceedings are concluded in six months. In another, that baby moves from one temporary placement to another and still has no permanent home after three years. Unfortunately the first example is hypothetical; the second all too real. And which State gets the larger grant? NOT the one that gets the job done but rather the one that lets the child languish without a permanent home.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As I said, the Federal law consists of a mass of detailed requirements, of which a number have had a perverse effect. I applaud the authors of H.R. 867 for seeking to undo some of those perverse effects in sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the bill. But in the last analysis, I do not think that detailed prescriptions and then further refinements to correct adverse impacts of those prescriptions are the best way to improve the system.
Our current child welfare system is ensnarled in such detailed legislative and procedural requirements that compliance, all too often a pro forma compliance, with these requirements has a tendency to distract the system's attention away from its primary purposethe well-being of children. I have great doubts that additional regulation is the answer to the system's problemsdoubts that a new regulatory provision even if it is a ''good'' one, will make the difference in a system that already has all too many good, but ineffective, regulations.
So what should be done instead of building additional requirements into the current system. Section 8 of the bill points us in the right direction. It provides that the Secretary shall develop outcome measures. With such measures, we can concentrate on performance, rather than on process. Let us work on encouraging good outcomes, rather than defining in ever greater detail the process by which we hope to get there.
Let me illustrate the difference between what I call the ''process'' and the ''performance'' models with examples from the President's Executive Memorandum on Adoption dated December 14, 1996. To increase the number of adoptions, the President does not propose new processes for meeting that goal; instead he provides ''per child financial incentives for increases in the number of adoptions from the public welfare system.'' If the State's performance improves, the rewards are there regardless of the method by which the State meets the goal. This sensible approach is section 11 of H.R. 867. On the other hand, when the President calls for action ''to move more children more rapidly from foster care to permanent homes,'' he proposes new processes to achieve that aim but provides for no reward for success.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I urge the Committee to expand the performance approach beyond the number of adoptions finalized to the whole child welfare system. Specifically, the object of the child welfare system is to ensure that abandoned, abused and neglected children are placed in a stable and caring family situation; whether that is achieved by placement in a new adoptive family or by being returned to their own family under conditions that ensure their well-being.
Child welfare systems should be measured by their achievement of this goal and rewarded by incentives if they make progress in meeting it and subject to corrective action if they do not.
I believe it is possible to devise performance indicators to measure the operation of the child welfare system. The kind of indicators I have in mind are:
(1) reduction of average length of time in foster care
(2) reduction in time elapsed from administrative determination that goal is adoption to (a) placement in adoptive home (b) adoption decree
(3) reduction of number of children returned to home who are removed again because of additional instance of abuse or neglect
(4) reduction of time elapsed from abandonment to placement in adoptive home and
(5) reduction in incidence of child abuse and neglect, with appropriate safeguards to ensure that reduction is not due to diminished enforcement.
These indicators are illustrative but I am convinced that we are more likely to improve the child welfare system if we reward superior performance and take action to correct inferior performance than if we make ever more detailed regulations specifying ''how to do it.'' Congress should specify what it wants to achieve rather than the method for achieving it.
Under current law, when a State improves its performance under the indicators listed above, its grant is reduced. This anomaly permits us to use a part of the grant reduction resulting from program improvement to reward improved performance while still lowering the over-all cost of the program.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I realize that there are many difficulties in moving to a performance-based system. Let me mention just two. First is the problem of the base line; should systems be measured against an absolute criterion such as the national average or against their own past performance? I recommend the latter.
Second, state average performance data are rather meaningless as they tend to obscure the problems of large metropolitan areas. Recognizing the federalism problem, I would nonetheless recommend applying the performance criteria on a local jurisdiction basis; in fact, I would limit it to large local jurisdictions with a minimum of 1000 children in foster care. That is where the real problems are.
Without underemphasizing the problems, I think a performance-based approach to reforming the child welfare system has great potential. Section 8 and section 11 providing for a bonus for increased adoptions are significant steps in moving towards a performance-based system. The committee should, however, consider doing even more. If you find this approach at all persuasive, I would be happy to work with you or your staff in any way you choose to turn this broad concept into a specific proposal that can be considered and evaluated.
The Committee on Ways and Means has awesome responsibilities; you are responsible for tax and trade, for social security and medicare but you have no responsibility that is higher than the welfare of our children. You are in a real sense the parentes patriae for one half million children in foster care and I hope and trust that you have the will and the wisdom to give them a better chance for a safe and stable family life.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify. I would be pleased to answer any questions.
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CAMP. Thank you very much.
MaryLee Allen, director, Child Welfare and Mental Health Division, Children's Defense Fund, Washington, DC.
STATEMENT OF MARYLEE ALLEN, DIRECTOR, CHILD WELFARE AND MENTAL HEALTH DIVISION, CHILDREN'S DEFENSE FUND
Ms. ALLEN. Thank you. I want to thank you on behalf of CDF, the Children's Defense Fund, for the invitation to testify today about the Adoption Promotion Act. CDF is here because of our intense concern and interest in the safety and well-being of all America's children.
Certainly, there are no more important decisions for a child than those you face in the Adoption Promotion Act. The decision to remove a child from the child's familiar surroundings and the decision to permanently sever a child's parental ties, especially when there is no assurance that a new family will follow, are extremely critical. We thank you for your efforts to pursue safety and permanence for children in H.R. 867.
You have heard a lot this afternoon about the specifics of the bill, and I have included additional information in my written statement. What I would like to do in my brief time today is highlight several important balances that the Children's Defense Fund believes must be maintained as you continue your efforts to amend current law.
The first is the need to balance a child's right to be free from danger with a child's right to family. In making a decision whether to remove a child from her home or to permanently sever relationships, the danger to the child must be balanced against the advantage to the child of a parent-child relationship.
I am talking here about a balance between two crucial factors for the child. I am not talking about parents' rights versus children's rights. I am talking about a balance as seen through the eyes of a child. It is not an issue of a parent's ownership or a parent's rights to a child, but it is the value to the child of a continuing relationship to someone in a permanent parenting role.
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As we look at the provisions in the bill around reasonable efforts and around termination of parental rights, it is particularly important to continually remember the importance of safety, but also the importance of family to children.
CDF supports efforts to clarify the intent of the original reasonable efforts provision in the bill. The intent of that provision was to ensure that preventive and reunification services were provided to families unless there were dangerous circumstances that services could not address. Reasonable efforts do not require that efforts be made at all costs. Nor do they require that workers leave children in dangerous situations. There are circumstances where no efforts to prevent placement or to reunify are required because no efforts would be reasonable given the circumstances. There are also situations where efforts to reunify must stop and efforts must be made to turn toward adoption. H.R. 867 clarifies many of those particular situations.
However, in clarifying, it is important to be cautious in order that you do not set off a new chain of unintended consequences by using additional sets of vague terms that will cause difficulty later on. Therefore, CDF recommends that the circumstances in which reasonable efforts are not required be determined by a juvenile or family court or in some instances a criminal court, and States specify them in legislation so that they can be applied consistently throughout the State and with input from all interested parties.
The same balance, the balance between the danger to the child and the importance of family, should be kept in mind when decisions are being made about termination of parental rights. Along this line, CDF recommends that a termination petition should be filed when the goal for the child is adoption and there is some certainty the child can connect with another permanent familya recommendation similar to those made earlier.
Unless clarified, the termination provision in H.R. 867 seems to indicate that, except in the instances of children placed with relatives, a termination petition would be required in every case. We have talked to staff about this concern, have had good discussions about it, and look forward to continuing discussions.
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There is a second important balance, too, that needs to be kept in mind as you look at changes in current law. That is the need for balance between procedural protections and services, particularly as Congress attempts to accelerate permanence for children. H.R. 867 includes many procedural changes designed to help achieve permanence for children, many of which we support; others we support with modifications.
H.R. 867 makes clear that reasonable efforts for adoption, as well as reunification, should be required. It moves up to 12 months the permanency planning hearing. It gives caretakers a right to be heard. It requires a termination petition be filed when a child remains in care 18 months, and it offers bonuses to States that increase the number of foster children who are adopted.
However, H.R. 867 does nothing to increase the resources necessary to ensure that permanency services will, in fact, be offered. We are very concerned that accelerating timelines without also intensifying services could be a prescription for disaster in some individual cases, especially given the fact that these accelerated timelines will require additional resources which might end up being taken away from the limited resources that are already there for services.
Permanency planning services should begin the day a child enters care unless, of course, there is danger to the child that precludes such services. Staff then are much more likely to have, by the time of the 12-month hearing, a realistic sense of whether and when the child will be able to go home or whether other permanency options are more appropriate. The lack of services delays permanency planning.
Too often services don't get started until the time of the review hearing. Services will help ensure that children move to adoption when appropriate, but they will also help ensure that children who go home can remain at home. Too many children today who are returned home bounce in and out of care. You have heard discussions of this sort in other hearings. In Nebraska, for example, 35 percent of the children who were placed in out-of-home care in 1995 were children returning to out-of-home care. About one-fifth of the children in California who were returned home between 1989 and 1996 had returned to care again in 3 years.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There is a danger that policies that mandate the speedy resolution of cases without the assurance of services could further increase reentry rates as States struggle to comply with new accelerated timelines.
CDF recommends the Subcommittee amend H.R. 867 to allow funds from the title IVE Foster Care Program to be used for permanency services for 1 year for children in their care and their primary caretakers. These funds should be used for new services to address the problems that bring most of the children to the door of the child protection system: Substance abuse, which we have heard about extensively today; domestic violence; the special challenges facing teen parents; and homelessness and mental health problems.
Resources for training of staff from agencies that are providing these services and helping to move these children toward permanence should also be allowed under title IVE.
In closing, I want to mention just one more set of balancesthe balance between prevention and permanence. We certainly appreciate your attention to permanence, but given that April is child abuse prevention month, I want to say that I also look forward to your continuing work at the front end of the system. As you well know, the focus on permanence and the focus on prevention are very complimentary. Therefore, we look forward to continuing to work with you and your staff on H.R. 867 and also look forward to further attention to prevention at a later time.
[The prepared statement follows:]
Statement of MaryLee Allen, Director, Child Welfare and Mental Health Division, Children's Defense Fund
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. I am MaryLee Allen, Director of the Child Welfare and Mental Health Division at the Children's Defense Fund (CDF). CDF very much appreciates your invitation to testify today on H.R. 867, The Adoption Promotion Act. CDF is a private, nonprofit organization that has never accepted government funds.
Page 83 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Children's Defense Fund exists to provide a strong and effective voice for all the children of America, who cannot vote, lobby, or speak for themselves. Our work is intended to ensure that no child is left behind and that all American children have a Safe Start in life, as well as a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, and a Moral Start.
I have had the opportunity over many years to work with members and staff of this Subcommittee to develop, modify and improve federal policies and programs to enhance the safety and well-being of vulnerable children and families, particularly those who are at risk of abuse or neglect or have already been abused or neglected. I am pleased to be before you once again as you seek to take steps to keep children safe and in permanent families.
The Children's Defense Fund is here today because of our intense concern for the safety and well-being of all children. As a nation we must ensure that children are safe, in nurturing families and communities. Federal, state, local and private efforts must be strengthened to enhance and enforce parental responsibility for children, and to broaden community responsibility, accountability and capacity for protecting children. We must work to have in place in every state the legal framework, the public and private services, the trained staff and the public will necessary to keep children safe by supporting families in their childrearing responsibilities, and when children are not being cared for safely at home, by getting them into safe, protective and nurturing temporary care. When children cannot be cared for safely at home, then we must find adoptive or other permanent families. Services providers and courts must attend to the individual needs of children and families, and to the fact that what happens to children when they are first at risk directly affects their ability later to move to permanent families in a timely fashion.
Your leadership is needed at the federal level. CDF believes that federal laws and programs should emphasize the primacy of the safety of children, and promote state level policies and activities that respond definitively to the serious abuse of children. They also must recognize the need, in the large majority of cases of child maltreatment, for services and supports that will enable families to take responsibility for their children and protect them, with help from their communities. At the same time, the federal government must expand its commitment to prevention at the front end and to permanent homes for children who now wait too long for loving families.
Page 84 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Today, we are turning our attention to safety and permanence, both of which are addressed in H.R. 867, and leaving for another time the complementary discussion of increased efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect and support families to protect their children.
Certainly there are no issues more complex or heart-wrenching than those you face as you prepare to mark up the Adoption Promotion Act, H.R. 867. There are no more important decisions for a child than the decision to remove a child from the child's familiar surroundings or the decision to permanently sever a child's parental ties, especially when there is no assurance that a new family will follow.
As a framework for my comments today about specific provisions in H.R. 867, I believe it is important to keep in mind the balances that must be maintained if children are to be protected as current law is amended. First, there is the need for balance between the right of a child to be free from danger and the right of a child to a safe, loving family. Second, there is the need for balance between procedural protections to enhance permanence for a child and the intensity of the services and supports necessary to achieve permanence. Third, there is the need for balance between a focus on the individual needs of a child and family and the establishment of basic protections that can be applied to all children. And fourth, there is the need for balance between the steps on behalf of a child taken even before a child enters the system and the steps taken at the back end of the system to ensure every child a permanent family.
I. Balancing a Child's Right to be Free from Danger With a Child's Right to Family
Congress must be perfectly clear in the laws it enacts that a child's safety is paramount in all decisions made about the care of the child and that a safe, loving and stable family is essential to a child's well-being. In making a decision as to whether to remove a child from his or her home or to permanently sever a relationship, the damage to a child must be balanced against the advantage to the child of the parent-child relationship that has been established. A child's well-being requires both legal protection from danger and the assurance of family ties. I am not talking here about a balance between children's rights and parents' rights, but rather the balance between two crucial factors for the child, as seen through the eyes of the child. It is not an issue of parent ''ownership'' of or ''rights'' to the child, but rather the value to the child of a continuing relationship to someone in a permanent parenting role.
Page 85 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In 1980, the reasonable efforts provision was added to federal law because of a concern by Congress that this balance was not being maintained; many children were being placed in foster care unnecessarily, without efforts first being made to prevent placement, and then were lingering in foster care for long periods without efforts being made to reunite them with their families or otherwise move them to new permanent homes. The reasonable efforts provision was one of several individual protections added at the time. The others were: a specification in a child's case plan of the services provided to the child and the family; periodic reviews at least every six months; a dispositional hearing within 18 months of placement to determine the future status of the child; and a state plan requirement in the Child Welfare Services Program that assures that the state is operating service programs to help children remain with their families and to help children who are placed in foster care to return, when appropriate, to their families or to be placed for adoption, legal guardianship or in some other planned permanent living arrangement.
Protecting Children from Danger at Home: Clarifying Reasonable Efforts
The supporters of the 1980 reforms were clear that these provisions were intended to protect, not endanger children, and they recognized as well the importance of family to a child. In describing the new requirements for reasonable efforts, Senator Alan Cranston, one of the chief sponsors of the reforms, said, ''Of course, state child protective agencies will continue to have authority to remove children immediately from dangerous situations, but where removal can be prevented through the provision of home-based services, these agencies will be required to provide such services before removing the child and turning to foster care.'' (126 Cong. Rec. S6942 (daily ed. June 13, 1980). This same need to protect children from danger had been described earlier on the House side in the Ways and Means Committee's Report on the 1980 law: ''The Committee recognizes that the preventive services requirement would be inappropriate in specific circumstances. This would be the case where the home situation presents a substantial and immediate danger to a child which would not be mitigated by the provision of preventive services. In this case, the [reasonable efforts] amendments would allow placement without prior provision or offering of preventive services.'' (H.R. Rep. No. 136, 96th Cong., 1st Sess. 47(1979)).
Page 86 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To strike this balance, states have had significant flexibility in defining reasonable efforts and helping those with responsibility for the care of individual children and families to understand their obligations not to leave children in, or return children to, dangerous circumstances, and to provide services when appropriate. Although proposed detailed regulations on reasonable efforts and other parts of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act were published in December 1980 by the Carter Administration, they were never published in final form. Instead, the Reagan Administration in 1983 issued regulations but they only cross-referenced the statutory language on reasonable efforts and required documentation of preventive and reunification services in a child's case plan. (48 Fed. Reg. 23115, May 23, 1983). In January 1984, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a Policy Announcement that clarified that the reasonable efforts requirement could be met by not taking steps to prevent removal in situations where services could not have prevented removalin other words, where such efforts would have been unreasonable. This was clearly in accord with the intent of Congress in passing the reasonable efforts requirements.
Throughout these 17 years there also has been help from national organizations and foundations to clarify the meaning of reasonable efforts. For example, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Permanency Planning for Children Project published a Protocol for Making Reasonable Efforts to Preserve Families in Drug-Related Dependency Cases in 1992 after judges saw a startling increase in substance abuse among women of child-bearing age who were coming before them in abuse and neglect cases. It addressed the importance of determining whether a child could be safely maintained at home with services.
Some state agencies, sometimes together with representatives of the judiciary, took steps to define reasonable efforts and to specify situations when reasonable efforts to prevent placement or to reunify children with their families were not required. California, for example, specifies multiple circumstances where a court can find that efforts to reunify are not required. In other states, such as Oklahoma and Oregon, laws provide for expedited termination of parental rights without the provision of services in certain circumstances.
Page 87 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In other states, however, little clarification was provided, and misperceptions as to what was required by the reasonable efforts provision grew over the years, sometimes fed by media coverage that over-simplified the law. Some staff, especially staff who did not have the benefit of adequate supervision or policy guidance, have stated that they believed they were required to make every possible effort to reunify a child regardless of the circumstances of the home from which the child was removed. This is plainly a misunderstanding. Some court staff too reported an erroneous understanding of the reasonable efforts requirement.
Congress held a series of public hearings on reasonable efforts and related issues in 1993, after which Congress requested HHS to examine the reasonable efforts requirements and offer recommendations for changes. An Advisory Panel on Reasonable Efforts, on which I participated, was convened. Among other things, the panel recommended federal guidance ''to clarify for states, first that efforts to prevent removal are not required when they compromise the safety of the child and second, that reunification efforts are unnecessary when the chances of reunification are remote.''
Consistent with this recommendation, the Children's Defense Fund supports efforts in both the House and the Senate to clarify the intent of the original reasonable efforts provision and to eliminate the perception that federal law requires efforts to be made in every case, regardless of the impact of the efforts in addressing the danger facing the child. Any language amending the reasonable efforts provision should make clear that:
1) The reasonable efforts requirement does not require that efforts must be made to keep a child and family together or to get a family back together in all cases or at all costs or regardless of the particular circumstances of a household;
2) There are circumstances in which no efforts to prevent placement or to reunify are required because such efforts would be unreasonable given that services could not remove the danger to the child in the home;
Page 88 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC 3) The reasonable efforts provisions do not require that workers leave children in or return children to living arrangements that are a danger to their safety; and
4) There is clearly a point in an individual case where efforts to reunify stop and the goal becomes finding another permanent home for the child. In such cases reasonable efforts to adopt or to find another permanent home for the child should be pursued.
CDF believes that in clarifying the reasonable efforts provision Congress must proceed cautiously so as to not create new problems by using terms that are subject to numerous interpretations (such as ''aggravated circumstances'') or widening the arc of pendulum swings in an area of policy that is already too volatile for children's well-being. What you are responding to are unintentional omissions in the 1980 law and what you believe to be a misreading of the law. Therefore, it is important not to overstate what it is you want to happen and possibly set off a new chain of unintended consequencessuch as over-zealous removals of children from parents' homes when their safety is not endangered. To exercise appropriate caution, CDF recommends that the language in H.R. 867 on reasonable efforts be amended to:
Specify that circumstances in which reasonable efforts are not required be established in legislation so that the circumstances may be defined consistently within the state and with input from a broad range of interested parties.
Clarify that any circumstances in which reasonable efforts are not required be determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, which may include a juvenile or family court, as well as a criminal court.
Elaborate upon the meaning of the requirement that the child's health and safety shall be of paramount concern by specifying that reasonable efforts will be made when the child can be cared for at home or returned home without endangering the child's health and safety. Given that there are few if any cases that come to the attention of child protection workers where the health or safety of a child is not a concern, the challenge for the worker in interpreting the reasonable efforts provision is to decide when services or other efforts can reasonably prevent these health and safety concerns from endangering the child.
Page 89 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC CDF would be pleased to work with the Subcommittee staff on these and other language changes in Section 2 of the bill.
Protecting Children from Danger When Living in Out-of-Home Care
Given your concerns about safety, it also is important to note that a child's right to be free from danger must be translated not only into an assurance of safety in his or her birth family, as you have done with the reasonable efforts changes, but also into an assurance that the child will be free from harm when placed in a foster family home, group care setting or with an adoptive parent or in another permanent setting. Perhaps the only betrayal for a child equal to being harmed by a parent is to be harmed by a caretaker who the child has been told will protect the child from an abusive family member.
Therefore, in addition to clarifying the reasonable efforts requirement in current law, CDF urges the Subcommittee to review and amend the current law requirements for case plans and case reviews in Title IVE of the Social Security Act to ensure that safety also gets primary consideration in decisions to place a child in foster care, in an adoptive home or in another permanent setting. We also encourage you to explore other ways to prevent harm to these already vulnerable children, including a federal requirement for criminal record checks and child abuse registry checks on foster parents, adoptive parents, and group care staff, before they are finally approved to care for children, and the establishment in states of multi-disciplinary and multi-agency child death review committees. While many states have begun implementing such protections on their own, even these states still fall short of reaching all children in care. The SAFE Act, S. 511, introduced by Senators Chafee, Rockefeller, Jeffords, DeWine and others, outlines proposals for expanding these protections for children. We urge you to include similar provisions in the Subcommittee bill.
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II. Striking a Balance Between Procedural Protections and Services in Attempts to Accelerate Permanence for Children
As we look back over the almost two decades during which the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act has been implemented, at least two lessons have been learned. First, the system has not always operated in a manner that has been supportive or respectful of either children or their parents, and as a result children have too often lingered in care with no permanent families. And second, when there are procedural requirements or timetables without appropriate services, in some respects the conditions of children may worsen. It is important that Congress heed these lessons in the preparation of the Adoption Promotion Act and not lose the balance between procedure and services in the attempt to accelerate permanency for children.
Expanded Services are Key to Prompt Permanency Decisions
As introduced, H.R. 867 illustrates situations in which reasonable efforts are not required, moves up the time frame for the first permanency hearing to 12 months, enables foster parents and relative caretakers to be heard at case review and permanency planning hearings, and requires that a termination petition be filed for any child under the age of 10 who has been in care for 18 months out of a 24 month period. In addition, it establishes new fiscal incentives for states that increase the number of children in foster care who are adopted over a base year, with an additional bonus for some children with special needs. While CDF supports the 12-month permanency planning hearings and the involvement of caretakers at the review hearings, and, with language modifications discussed elsewhere in this testimony, the reasonable efforts changes, the requirement that a termination petition be filed, and the adoption bonus, we are extremely concerned that without an assurance that services will be available to meet the needs of the children and their parents who come to the attention of the child welfare system that the interests of children will be jeopardized. To intensify the time lines for permanence, without also intensifying services, seems a prescription for disaster, especially given that the resources required to do the various components of the first could deplete even the limited staff resources currently available for the second. Increased funds for reunification or other permanency services for children in care and their primary caretakers should be added to H.R. 867.
Page 91 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is essential that resources be increased so that services for the child and the child's parent or primary caretaker will begin the day a child enters care, unless there is a danger to the child in the home that precludes the provision of such services. When services are provided right away, the worker is much more likely to have, by the time of the child's first permanency hearing, a realistic sense of when the child will be able to return home, if he or she has not already, or whether other permanency options are appropriate. Adoption 2002, the February 14, 1997, report to President Clinton from the Department of Health and Human Services, affirmed that the ability of child welfare agencies to make timely determinations about permanency is ''dependent upon the quality, availability and accessibility of services.''
Permanency planning should begin the day a child enters care, and should address a range of options that vary with the circumstances of the individual case. The provision of services can help ensure permanence for children who are returned home, but now too often re-enter care. The December 1995 Report of the Nebraska Foster Care Review Board reported that 35 percent of the children placed with the Department of Social Services in out-of-home care that year were children returning to care, a proportion that has been increasing. Data in ''Selected Finding from Performance Indicators for Child Welfare Services in California: 1995'' prepared by the Center for Social Services Research in Berkeley, CA, indicate that about one-fifth of children state-wide who were discharged from foster care to parents or guardians between 1989 and 1992 came back into care within three years. Without the assurance of services, policies that mandate speedy resolution of cases could further increase such re-entry rates. The provision of services for at least one year when a child enters care will help ensure that the correct plans for permanency are made. It also will help address problems that might otherwise plague children and make it difficult to find new permanent families for them if the problems are not addressed promptly.
H.R. 867 should be amended to allow that federal foster care funds that now generally reimburse states only for room and board payments may be used for one year, beginning when a child enters care, for a range of services for the child and parent that address the problems of substance abuse, emotional disturbance, domestic violence, homelessness, and the challenges of teen parenting which most often bring families to the door of the child protection system. The SAFE Act pending in the Senate allows federal foster care funds to be used for most of these services in order to promote prompt permanency decisions for children (Sec. 304). The potential cost offset from such a provision should also be noted. The receipt of such services which facilitate permanence should shorten the time children need to stay in foster care and thus the cost of such care.
Page 92 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The provision of services can help children be returned safely to their families, or in many cases move more quickly toward adoption. Now, it is the absence of services that often delays final permanency decisions. The recent report in the March 24, 1997, issue of Newsweek on the outcomes for the ''28 Keystone Kids,'' 19 of whom were found by police in a raid on a ''crack house'' in Chicago in 1994, demonstrates the importance of having services to offer parents and how having services to offer can facilitate permanence. In many of these cases the parents of the children who were endangered chose not to make good use of the services that were offered. Now many of the ''Keystone Kids'' are moving to adoption.
A related provision in the Senate's SAFE Act that should be added to H.R. 867 authorizes foster care funds to be used for the care of a child with the child's parent in a residential treatment program or other service program for victims of substance abuse, domestic violence or homelessness, or for teen parents, when the plan for the child is reunification and the child's safety can be assured. Such programs must attend to the child's safety and address not only the treatment needs of both the parent and child, but also the parent's ability to parent the child. They strengthen parenting in ways most traditional programs do not. Too frequently now children are returned home to parents who have gotten little help with their own problems, much less targeted help with parenting. CDF is just completing a survey of such family care programs funded by The Hite Foundation and we have been impressed by their attention to parent-child interaction and parenting skills. In some cases, especially where parents are struggling to recover from substance abuse, parents are also helped to decide that they can no longer parent their child.
It is important to remember that for 17 years states have had the option to hold permanency hearings at 12 months (the new time frame in H.R. 867) and according to the U.S. General Accounting Office, at least 18 states now do so; some states also require that termination petitions be filed at particular times if children are still in care, yet there are still almost 100,000 children in care awaiting permanent families. Services must be added to H.R. 867 along with the procedural changes already in the bill in order to benefit children.
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Resources for Cross-Agency Training
A review of the children entering the care of child welfare agencies reinforces the realization that the responsibility for protecting children cannot fall to child welfare agencies alone. Problems facing parents and children necessitate communication, cooperation and collaboration among staff from the courts, substance abuse treatment agencies, mental health service agencies, domestic violence programs, and homeless programs. Yet staff from these agencies often have little knowledge of the special needs of child welfare agency families; and, similarly, child protection staff know little about the resources available from the other agencies and in some cases have little ability to assess their clients for the various problems that they may bring with them to the agency.
Enhanced funds for training to facilitate such interaction across agencies will help improve the quality of care for children and should be added to H.R. 867 along with additional funds for services. Federal funding currently available under Title IVE of the Social Security Act for the training of child welfare agency staff and foster parents and adoptive parents also should be available to staff from these collateral service agencies who are working with child welfare staff to keep children safe and in permanent families. Language allowing the use of Title IVE training funds for cross-agency staff training in limited circumstances and with appropriate safeguards to prevent abuses is included in Section 204 of the SAFE Act. CDF urges the Subcommittee to include similar language in its bill.
Additional Attention to the Substance Abuse Treatment Needs of Families
The lack of capacity within child welfare agencies to address the substance abuse treatment needs of children and their families is a major barrier to permanence for many children. Estimates vary dramatically, but suggest that anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of the children who come to the attention of the child protection system, particularly in large urban areas, are from families with alcohol or other drug problems that range from use, to abuse, to chemical dependency and may or may not involve the child's primary caretaker.
Page 94 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Although in some states, like Illinois, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and in counties, like Sacramento County, California, initiatives have been undertaken to enhance collaboration between child welfare and substance abuse treatment agencies to better meet the needs of parents reported for abuse and neglect, these are not typical. As previously recommended, Congress should take steps to increase substance abuse treatment resources and training for staff. CDF also recommends that the Subcommittee require state child welfare and substance abuse agencies together to assess the collaboration currently under way in their states and what is known about the barriers to treatment and successful treatment approaches for children and families who have been referred to treatment by child welfare agencies. This need not be a burdensome data collection requirement and the task should not fall to the child welfare agency alone but rather should be done jointly by the child welfare and substance abuse treatment agencies in a state. It should be a status report on what is currently known so that steps can then be taken to enhance collaboration and effective treatment approaches for child welfare families in the future.
Other Approaches for Addressing Barriers to Permanence
CDF applauds the fact that H.R. 867 includes a number of provisions to address barriers to permanence in addition to its procedural changes.
The incorporation of the President's Adoption Bonus plan (Sec. 11) will help to meet the goal of doubling the number of adoptions of foster children by the year 2002. The challenge will be to ensure that the provision is drafted in a way that rewards states not only for moving a backlog of waiting children into adoptive homes, but for eliminating the systemic barriers that resulted in such backlogs. The ongoing training of agency staff and court personnel, enhanced recruitment activities and expedited court procedures will all help to addressed barriers to adoption.
Page 95 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The required HHS/Advisory Panel report and recommendations on kinship care policies in the states (Sec. 6) will help us all better understand how relative placements are treated in different states and when such a placement should be considered a permanent placement for a child. The number of children living in households headed by a grandparent with no parent present increased by two-thirds between 1989 and 1995, and while many of these relatives do not receive foster care payments, the proportion varies by state and depends in part on state policies. Delaware and Illinois currently have federal demonstration grants to establish subsidized guardianship programs for children in foster care with relatives who do not want to adopt. Further exploration of this issue will help find the best ways to ensure that relative placements are stable permanent placements for children when neither return home or adoption are appropriate.
The authorization of the use of the Federal Parent Locator Service to locate absent parents of children in foster care and for whom termination of parental rights may be being considered (Sec. 7) also helps to address a major barrier to permanence. Permanency efforts too often are put on hold because of delays in notifying uninvolved fathers about plans to terminate their parental rights and the lack of appropriate attention to the need for the voluntary or involuntary relinquishment of that parent's rights. The use of the Federal Parent Locator Service also reinforces the importance of child support payments for a child even if the child is in foster care and should result in reduced federal costs where federal foster care funds are being used for the care of the child involved.
In marking up H.R. 867, CDF recommends that the Subcommittee consider adding two provisions to address other barriers to permanence for children. The first is a requirement for attention to the special problems that arise when attempts are made to place children for adoption across state lines and sometimes even across county lines within a state. The Secretary of HHS should be required to convene an advisory panel to recommend how to improve policies and procedures to facilitate adoptions across jurisdictions. The panel should review the implementation of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, as well as the comity and full faith and credit applied to adoption decrees and termination of parental rights orders from other states.
Page 96 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The second provision would ensure federal adoption assistance payments for all children with special needs who are adopted, including those now only eligible for state or locally funded adoption subsidies. Adoption assistance payments help to ensure that children who have disabilities, are members of sibling groups, are older or have other special needs and are considered hard to place for adoption find adoptive families. Generally children ineligible for the federal program are not eligible because the birth families from which they were removed when they first entered foster care were not AFDC-eligible familiesa link to their past that makes little sense in determining their present and their future, especially given the fact that their tie to those parents was severed prior to adoption. The cumbersome and costly eligibility process to establish that the child's former family's income at the point of removal made the child eligible for another program, as a gateway to eligibility for adoption with a different family in a different time, should be eliminated in the Subcommittee's bill. Children with special needs could then be moved into adoptive families more promptly.
III. Maintaining a Balance Between Individual Children's Needs and Arbitrary Time Lines and Incentives
One of the major challenges facing the child welfare system is the need for the capacity to train individual caseworkers to understand and respect the developmental needs of the children and to craft services and solutions to address the unique needs of children and families who end up at the door of the child welfare system. There should be very few, if any, children and families with identical case plans because even though a presenting problem may be the same, the existing parent-child relationship, capacity of the parent, and supports beyond the family should all affect the plans and outcomes for the individual case.
The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act recognized the need for individualized attention to the needs of children. It required service efforts in each case that were reasonable given the home situation, required periodic case reviews within certain time frames recognizing that there would be circumstances where more frequent reviews would be appropriate, and also required placement of children in the least restrictive setting, but a setting that was appropriate and consistent with the individual child's special needs. This is an important principle that must be preserved as the Subcommittee seeks ways to move children to permanence promptly. We are pleased that annual reports on performance of states in protecting children are required by H.R. 867. They will help to assess outcomes achieved for children.
Page 97 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC CDF urges the Subcommittee to allow for individual attention to children's needs, within broader parameters as it marks up the Adoption Promotion Act. For example, the requirement in Section 5 of H.R. 867 that states file a termination of parental rights petition in the case of any child under the age of 10 who has been in foster care for 18 months, ignores the fact that there may be cases where there are no grounds for termination because both the child and parent are responding to services and the plan for the child is to return home, or where termination would otherwise not be in the child's best interest. Consider a situation, for example, where a parent has successfully completed substance abuse treatment, has begun weekend visits with the children, had one child returned and will have the other two children returned within the next two months. In fact this is not dissimilar from the Ohio mother who testified before the Subcommittee last June. In that case, the mother had been in substance abuse treatment for more than a year, but was now in recovery, employed and had all her children returned and they were all doing well both at home and in school. Or consider another case where a child has been living with a foster parent in the same neighborhood where the child attends school and the foster parent is assisting the birth parent to resume parenting for the child. Weekend visits are just beginning as a way to start the reunification process. Certainly in such a case a termination petition is not appropriate. In a third example, a child has been living with a foster parent since birth, but because of the foster parent's advanced age she does not feel comfortable adopting. The foster parent has helped the child maintain contact with a maternal aunt and uncle who will assume the care of the child if anything should happen to the foster mother. Again, to pursue termination in this case, when adoption is not the plan, would be inappropriate.
CDF recommends that the termination of parental rights provision in H.R. 867 be accompanied by an assurance of services for the child and family when the child first enters care, unless there are dangerous circumstances in the home that make services inappropriate. The termination of the parental rights provision also should be modified to only require that the petition be filed if the plan for child is adoption. The state agency also should be given authority not to file if it documents that to do so would be contrary to the child's best interest. Of course, it also is important to reiterate that the court has the final obligation to determine whether termination of parental rights is in the child's best interest.
Page 98 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC An amendment to the new requirement in H.R. 867 for reasonable efforts to move children to adoption or another planned permanent living arrangement (Sec. 2) also would help to acknowledge the need for individual planning in individual cases. CDF recommends that Section 2 of H.R. 867 also modify the case plan requirement in Title IVE of the Social Security Act to require documentation of the steps taken to find an adoptive family or other permanent living arrangement for the child, place the child, and finalize the adoption or legal guardianship. Without such a requirement there is no way to judge the appropriateness of a state's actions relative to the specific circumstances of a case.
Finally, it is important that the adoption bonus in Section 11 of H.R. 867 be crafted so that it does not encourage states to move children toward adoption without sufficient attention being given to whether adoption was the appropriate plan in a particular case, or on the other hand to allow children to linger in care until it is in the state's financial interest to move them into adoption and get the highest bonus possible. This is obviously less of a concern when a state has a backlog of cases of children with the plan of adoption who have not yet been legally freed, or children already placed for adoption whose cases have not yet been finalized. It could be a problem, however, if no way is found to reward states who already have made progress in placing children for adoption and some of these financially strapped states now seek ways to benefit from the fiscal incentive program.
IV. Balancing Front End and Back End Activities: A Look At the Whole System
As I close, I want to call your attention to one more set of balances that is essential to ensuring that all children are safe and in permanent familiesthe balance between prevention and permanence.
It is extremely important that Congress take time, as you have been doing over these past two years, to review the crisis in child welfare in states across the country and to assess the best role for the federal government in helping to ensure that children are in safe and permanent families. Local horror stories have occurred in too many communities. Steps must be taken to prevent them in the future. Efforts to break down the barriers to permanence for children also are needed. Many of the provisions in H.R. 867 move in those directions, and CDF has recommended a number of others today that we hope you will seriously consider for the children's sake.
Page 99 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is also important that increased attention soon be given to early family support services for families to help prevent child abuse and neglect from occurring and to crisis services for families that can help prevent problems from intensifying. By working with families at the very front end and preventing many from needing to turn to the child welfare system for help, we can preserve foster care for children who truly cannot be maintained safely at home and move them to adoption or other permanent settings in a more timely fashion.
The Children's Defense Fund appreciates the attention the Subcommittee already has given to keeping children safe and in permanent families and looks forward to continuing to work with you to ensure that as a nation we can give every child a safe start and leave no child behind. Thank you.
Chairman SHAW [presiding]. Mr. Henry.
STATEMENT OF RONALD K. HENRY, ESQ., CHILDREN'S RIGHTS COUNCIL
Mr. HENRY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is a privilege to be here. I have submitted written testimony for the record. I am privileged to see all of you again. I had the honor to work with the Subcommittee last year during the welfare reform effort and particularly had the pleasure to be involved in the provisions relating to two-parent family formation and family maintenance programs under the block grants which are now available for use to help children strengthen their families rather than go on to welfare.
Like Mr. Guttman, I am a volunteer attorney here in town working on behalf of children's organizations, including the Children's Rights Council and others.
Page 100 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would like to say we are in substantial agreement here. I have listened to all the witnesses. I find myself in agreement with all of them in terms of the need for reform of the foster care system. I am hoping I can build on a few of the points and give you a couple of specific suggestions for amendments that can be put into the bill productively to advance the purposes that we are all pursuing here today.
Every one of us in the room is in agreement that the foster care system needs to be changed. We know the foster care system in the United States is broken. We know the financial incentives to the States are wrong. We know the consequences to the children are wrong. Increasing the number of adoptions is one vehicle for reducing foster care caseloads by moving children through the system and then out the back door.
The purpose of my testimony is to demonstrate to you that the foster care caseload can also be reduced by paying more attention to those children who don't need to go through the front door in the first place, who don't need to go into the foster care system at all.
Let me begin, if I may, with a brief example. Mr. Vernon Rocchi was not told by his former partner that she was pregnant and then was not told she had given birth to his daughter. The next year he was not told by the social services department that the mother had neglected the child and the child had been placed in foster care. That was 1993.
In 1996, when the foster care department moved for termination of parental rights, Mr. Rocchi again was not notified and a default judgment was initially entered against him. The judge didn't believe that the State agency had tried to reach Mr. Rocchi and, in fact, he was quite easily found.
He appeared in court and, despite having had the existence of his child concealed from him, despite having never had the chance to be with his child, he petitioned for custody of his child, standing up and saying, ''This is my child, I want to be a parent to her.''
Page 101 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The court was faced with a real dilemma, created by the foster care system, because throughout all of this child's life, she had been in a foster care setting. The court tried to put some Band-Aids on the situation. It appointed a guardian ad litem and a psychologist and is now implementing a transition plan under which the child is being introduced to her father.
My point, Mr. Chairman, is simply that this child never needed to go into foster care in the first place. This child had a fit, willing, loving, responsible adult parent who was willing to provide for her. In fact, the court made specific findings that Mr. Rocchi was a fit parent, that his home and his new wife were perfectly capable of providing and were willing to provide custody for this child.
Mr. Chairman, the goals of the Federal Government are not specifically to increase any particular form of placement for children. If we look at the goals of the Federal Government, they are to increase the number of children who are in safe, permanent placements, and to reduce long-term dependency on the foster care system. Adoption is one means of achieving those goals.
But a simple change of custody is another means of achieving that same goal. It is too often overlooked because of the skewed economic incentives we have in the current legal structure. We currently use a system whereby the States are driven economically to use foster care first, last, and always as the mechanism of caring for children. If you have a situation where one parent has custody and, perhaps, the other parent is paying child support, it is absolutely wrong for the State officials not to contact that second parent, not to use that second parent as the provider of choice when a placement is necessary because the custodial parent has failed.
Where a child has been placed or is to be placed in foster care, it may be that a transfer of care to another fit and willing relative achieves the same governmental objective as adoption and has additional social benefits to us which are very important. I agree here with Ms. Allen. Where a fit and willing relative can be found, it is not necessary to sever all the child's links to their biological heritage. We can respect the child's need for continuity and relationship with the family.
Page 102 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Many of the groups here are also concerned about abuse of governmental power. We have seen in the newspapers too many stories about situations where children are taken out of the biological home, completely eliminated from links to the biological family over allegations which later prove to be unfounded. If a change of custody or care to a fit and willing relative can be achieved, it is both less intrusive to the child and less intrusive to the family's rights to autonomy than is the case with a termination of parental rights.
Similarly, a change of custody or care is consistent with both the public support for family preservation and the public opposition to excessive efforts to prop up dysfunctional single parents. As a practical matter, a change of custody may also be more efficient than adoption in reducing the number of children in foster care because the standard of proof for change of custody is the best interest of the child, whereas the standard of proof for termination of parental rights is unfitness of that parent. You can achieve your result more readily by simply changing custody.
Simply put, Mr. Chairman, under current practice, the caseworker's mission has been described as maintaining the dysfunctional single parent home and returning the child to that home. Often the most abusive parent's home is the place where we put the child.
We have suggested in our testimony, Mr. Chairman, some specific amendments which are in keeping with the public understanding that family preservation is desirable, but it has been too narrowly focused on subsidies to the one person who may be the most dysfunctional individual in the child's entire family.
Concluding, Mr. Chairman, we can agree that adoption is useful. I urge you to also step up and look at the front end of the system. While we want to move children out through the back door to reduce their duration in foster care, let's look also to see how many children we can avoid putting into foster care in the first place by proper evaluation of the resources that are available through the family context. We can reduce foster care loads and in many cases do it better by eliminating the need for children to enter the front door in the first place.
Page 103 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you.
[The prepared statement and attachment follow:]
Statement of Ronald K. Henry, Esq., Children's Rights Council
Vernon Rocchi was not told about the birth of his daughter by his former partner.
In 1993, the child was taken from the mother and placed in foster care. The Department of Social Services did not attempt to contact Mr. Rocchi, who would have taken custody and avoided the need for foster care entirely.
In 1996, the Department of Social Services sought to arrange an adoption of the child by the foster parents. It appears that the Department of Social Services initially made false claims that it had attempted to contact Mr. Rocchi and that he had defaulted in making an appearance to contest a termination of his parental rights. The court did not accept these claims. Mr. Rocchi was easily found and appeared in court to contest the termination of his parental rights even though he had never seen or even been allowed to know the existence of his daughter.
I have attached excerpts of the opinion by the court in which Mr. Rocchi appeared. The court found that Mr. Rocchi and his wife were fit and suitable for custody of the child. The court then found that the Department of Social Services had created a terrible dilemma. Although the court found that Mr. Rocchi was fit and suitable to have custody, the Department of Social Services had caused the child to spend all of her conscious life in foster care.
The judge put some band-aids on the situation by giving temporary custody to the foster parents and beginning a visitation schedule to introduce the daughter to her father. No sanctions were imposed on the Department of Social Services which remains free to treat other children in the same way and to do it with Federal money.
Page 104 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The foster care system in the United States is broken. The financial incentives are wrong. The consequences for children are wrong.
II. What Can Be Done
Increasing the number of adoptions is one vehicle for reducing foster care caseloads by moving children through the foster care system and then out the back door. The purpose of my testimony is to demonstrate to you that the foster care caseload can also be reduced by paying attention to those children who do not need to go through the front door of entry into the foster care system at all.
The goals of the Federal government are to:
1. Increase the number of children who are in safe, permanent placements; and
2. Reduce long-term dependency on the foster care system.
Adoption is one means of achieving these goals. A simple change of custody is another means of achieving these goals which has been too often overlooked because of the skewed economic incentives present in the current foster care system. Example: Mother has custody and father pays child support. State places child in foster care because of mother's neglect. Father is fit and seeks custody but is resisted by state foster care bureaucracy.
Where a child has been placed or is to be placed in foster care, a transfer of custody to another fit and willing relative achieves the same governmental objectives as adoption and has additional social benefits:
1. Where a fit and willing relative can be found, it is not necessary to sever all of the child's links to the biological heritage.
2. Many groups are concerned about reports of abuse of governmental power in removing children from their families; a change of custody to a fit and willing relative is less intrusive than a termination of parental rights;
Page 105 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC 3. A change of custody is consistent with both (1) public support for ''family preservation'' and (2) public opposition to excessive efforts to prop up dysfunctional single parents.
As a practical matter, a change of custody may also be more efficient than adoption in rescuing children from foster care because the standard of proof for change of custody (best interests of the child) is less difficult than for termination of parental rights (unfitness).
III. Description of Proposed Amendments
Section 2 (14 U.S.C. Section 671 (a)(15)(A)(i)(I)) is amended to make it clear that reasonable efforts to avoid foster care placement through family preservation can include reasonable efforts to transfer custody to another fit and willing relative, not just efforts to reduce the dysfunction of the current custodial home. Under current practice, the caseworker's ''mission'' is seen as limited to maintaining or returning the child to the abusive parent's home. The proposed change is in keeping with the public understanding that family preservation is desirable but has been too narrowly focused on subsidies to the one person who may be the most dysfunctional individual in the child's entire family.
Section 2 (14 U.S.C. Section 671 (a)(15)(A)(ii)(II)) is amended to provide that transfer of custody to another fit and willing relative is available along with adoption and legal guardianship when efforts will not be undertaken to maintain the child in the prior custodial home.
Section 4 (42 U.S.C. Section 675 (5)(E)) is amended to assure that ''both parents'' or ''the parents'' are given an opportunity to participate. Current practice among caseworkers is to consider only the parent from whose home the child was taken and to provide neither notice nor opportunity to be heard for the noncustodial parent. In most cases, the caseworker does not even make inquiry to determine the identity of the noncustodial parent.
Page 106 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Section 5 (42 U.S.C. Section 675 (5)(F)) is amended to eliminate the ''ten years of age'' provision. Children above the age of ten are often more difficult to place in adoption but still have the same need for stability and permanency in their placements.
Section 6. One of the issues that the task force needs to consider is the extent to which foster care is used as an income device. Since foster care payments are higher than welfare payments and since welfare payments are now time-limited, the incentives have grown for strategic behavior on the part of both recipients and caseworkers to place children in kinship foster care.
Section 7 (42 U.S.C. Section 653 (a)) is amended to provide availability of the Parent Locator Service for establishing and modifying orders. The reason for the change is simplethe need to identify and engage both parents is important at the commencement of the foster care placement. Failure to provide for the participation of both parents at the commencement of a foster care placement would lead to the anomalous situation of a noncustodial parent being called to participate in a termination of parental rights proceeding after 18 months of foster care which might have been avoided if the parent had been contacted at the outset.
Section 10 is amended to make technical assistance available for reducing foster care dependency by making clear that ''alternative permanent placements'' include both adoptions and changes in custody.
Section 11 (42 U.S.C. Section 670679) is amended to provide that the bonus is paid for permanent placements reducing foster care dependency through either adoption or changes in custody.
Some advocates will tell you that the child's relatives are an obstacle to removing children from foster care by adoption. I want you to understand that proper identification and evaluation of the child's relatives can also reduce foster care caseloads and, in some cases, can do it better by eliminating the need for children ever to enter the foster care system.
Page 107 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The foster care system demands payment for its services with Federal tax dollars. It is both fiscally prudent and morally essential to thoughtfully determine whether foster care placement needs to be commenced. If a child's other relatives are fit and willing to provide for the child where a custodial parent has failed, there is no rationale for either the expense or the disruption to the child inherent in foster care placement.
INSERT OFFSET FOLIOS 02, AND 23 TO 24 HERE
[The official Committee record contains additional material here.]
Chairman SHAW. Thank you.
STATEMENT OF WILLIAM L. PIERCE, PH.D, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR ADOPTION
Mr. PIERCE. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting the National Council For Adoption to present its views on H.R. 867, the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997. We are pleased to wholeheartedly endorse the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997. NCFA, the National Council For Adoption, is a voluntary, not-for-profit organization, founded in 1980 to work on a variety of issues related to adoption. We do this through research, dissemination of information, services to agencies, organizations, attorneys, and individuals who are involved with adoption and advocacy on behalf of adoption.
Our membership consists of several thousand individuals and in more than 120 member agencies. Our membership, along with adoption-friendly foundations and corporations, provides our financial support.
Page 108 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC At the present time, NCFA receives neither Federal nor State funding.
NCFA is committed to promoting adoption for all children who need this service. Our mission involves both domestic and international adoption, the promotion of better services for those confronting an unplanned pregnancy, and appropriate services for those in the adoption circle once an adoption is legally completed. Our agenda includes topics as varied as AIDS orphans, and work with firms exploring ways to use the Internet to promote adoption. This legislation builds on and is the logical next step after the successes of this Subcommittee and the last Congress in passing the adoption tax credit and improving the law banning racism in adoption. You have a record to be proud of. The present bipartisan spirit of the President's Adoption 2002 Initiative is carried forward in H.R. 867.
Here are some of the reasons we support H.R. 867. First, the bill would clarify reasonable efforts to ensure that the safety of the child is the paramount consideration. This has been a longstanding agenda item for NCFA. Our concerns about child safety were a major reason why we studied the issue for more than 2 years, a project which culminated in the publication of a report that is summarized in an appendix to my statement. This legislation incorporates several of the recommendations contained in that report.
This legislation also reflects much of the intent of the administration's Adoption 2002 Initiative, which also contains recommendations similar to those enumerated in our report. We strongly support this provision.
Second, we support the bill because it would promote adoption over other permanency options. The bill should help in differentiating between adoption and guardianship by focusing on the stability factor in these arrangements. NCFA believes the bill properly recognizes that caution should be used before kinship care and other nonadoption alternatives are recommended. We strongly support the changes in section 3 which would require an earlier review of a child's status.
Page 109 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Third, the bill would empower foster parents to receive notice and to be heard on decisions relating to children in their care. It is a well-known fact that of the children adopted out of foster care, more than half are adopted by their foster parents. We strongly support this provision.
We support the bill's call for a report and recommendation on kinship care. We do have some minor friendly suggestions to offer which we believe would improve section 6. Because there are concerns that kinship care may be improperly used so as to avoid placements based on the best interests of the child and instead focus on ethnic or racial matching, we suggest that section 6(a)(2)(A)(ii) be amended to provide the racial or ethnic characteristics of the kinship care providers and the children who are or may be candidates for kinship care be included.
Fourth, because nonpublic agencies and organizations, especially voluntary agencies, currently play a major role in the delivery of services to children, we suggest that representatives of voluntary agencies, including those with divergent views about kinship care, be added to the categories listed in section 6(b)(1).
NCFA is one of the few organizations that has consistently urged caution in turning to kinship care as one of the preferred ways of addressing the foster care crisis. We strongly support this provision.
Fifth, we think the provision to provide an adoption bonus to the States is a good one and we hope that in Subcommittee deliberations, you will keep in mind that many States are moving toward a managed care concept in child welfare. Simply put, that means some of the Federal funds will flow to and much of the work will be done by the private sector. It is our recommendation that the States be allowed to pass the bonus funds through to contracting agencies and organizations. It is our view that these innovative, private groups will play the major role in helping States achieve the goals of this legislation and that specific language should be added to authorize States to share the bonus funds. We strongly support this provision.
Page 110 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In closing, I know you realize that much of adoption law is on a State-by-State basis and is outside the scope of Congress. However, children in State custody receiving Federal subsidies of any kind should benefit from Federal oversight. In particular, we believe these children will benefit from this landmark legislation.
[The prepared statement and attachment follow:]
Statement of William L. Pierce, Ph.D., President, National Council For Adoption
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting the National Council For Adoption to present its views on H.R. 867, the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997. We are pleased to wholeheartedly endorse the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997.
The National Council For Adoption (NCFA) is a voluntary, not-for-profit organization founded in 1980 to work on a variety of issues related to adoption. We do this through research, dissemination of information, services to agencies, organizations, attorneys and individuals who are involved with adoption and advocacy on behalf of adoption. Our membership consists of several thousand individuals and more than 120 member agencies. Our membership, along with adoption-friendly foundations and corporations, provides our financial support. At the present time, NCFA receives neither federal nor state funding.
NCFA is committed to promoting adoption for all children who need this service. Our mission involves both domestic and international adoption, the promotion of better services for those confronting an unplanned pregnancy and appropriate services for those in the adoption circle once an adoption is legally completed. Our agenda includes topics as varied as AIDS orphans and work with firms that are exploring ways to use the internet to promote adoption.
This legislation builds on and is the logical next step after the successes of the last Congress in passing the adoption tax credit and improving the law banning racism in adoption. You have a record to be proud of. The present bipartisan spirit of the President's ADOPTION 2002 Initiative, is carried forward in H.R. 867.
Page 111 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Here are some of the reasons we support H.R. 867.
1. The bill would clarify reasonable efforts to ensure that the safety of the child is the paramount consideration. This has been a long-standing agenda item for NCFA. Our concerns about child safety were a major reason why we studied the issue for more than two years, a project which culminated in the publication of a report that is summarized in an appendix to my statement. This legislation incorporates several of the recommendations contained in that report. This legislation also reflects much of the intent of the Administration's ADOPTION 2002 Initiative, which also contains recommendations similar to those enumerated in our report. We strongly support this provision.
2. We support the bill because it would promote adoption over other permanency options. The bill should help in differentiating between adoption and guardianship by focusing on the stability factor in these arrangements. NCFA believes that the bill properly recognizes that caution should be used before kinship care and other non-adoption alternatives are recommended. We strongly support Section 3's changes, which would require an earlier review of a child's status. We strongly support this provision.
3. The bill would empower foster parents to receive notice and to be heard on decisions related to children in their care. It is a well-known fact that, of the children adopted out of foster care, more than half are adopted by their foster parents. We strongly support this provision.
4. We support the bill's call for a report and recommendations on kinship care. We do have some minor, friendly suggestions to offer which we believe would improve Sec. 6. Because there are concerns that kinship care may be improperly used so as to avoid placements based on the best interest of the child and instead focus on ethnic or racial matching, we suggest that Sec. 6 (a) (2) (A) (ii) be amended to provide that the racial or ethnic characteristics of the kinship care providers and the children who are or may be candidates for kinship care be included. Secondly, because non-public agencies and organizations, especially voluntary agencies, currently play a major role in the delivery of services to children, we suggest that representatives of voluntary agencies, including those with divergent views about kinship care, be added to the seven categories listed in Sec. 6 (b) (1). NCFA is one of the few organizations that has consistently urged caution in turning to kinship care as one of the preferred ways of addressing the foster care crisis. We strongly support this provision.
Page 112 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC 5. We think the provision to provide an adoption bonus to the states is a good one and we hope that in Subcommittee deliberations, you will keep in mind that many States are moving toward a managed care concept in child welfare. Simply put, that means that some of the Federal funds will flow to and much of the work will be done by the private sector. It is our recommendation that States be allowed to pass the bonus funds through to contracting agencies and organizations. It is our view that these innovative private groups will play the major role in helping States achieve the goals of this legislation and that specific language should be added to authorize States to share the bonus funds. We strongly support this provision.
In closing, I know you realize that much of adoption law is on a state-by-state basis and is outside the scope of Congress. However, children in state custody receiving Federal subsidies of any kind should benefit from Federal oversight. In particular, we believe these children will benefit from this landmark legislation.
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[The official Committee record contains additional material here.]
Chairman SHAW. Thank you.
Mr. CAMP. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ms. Mink, how did Hear My Voice get started?
Mrs. MINK. A group of grassroot child advocates and professionals got together in Michigan in 1993 during the bitter custody battle of Baby Jessica DeBoer. People were tired of seeing children paying for mistakes made by adults.
Mr. CAMP. How many chapters does your organization have and has it expanded to any other States?
Page 113 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. MINK. We have 37 chapters across the country with over 2,000 members. We have members in every State and several foreign countries.
Mr. CAMP. As you know, the legislation H.R. 867 gave the opportunity for foster parents to get notice of hearings and reviews. Can you tell me in the situation, the very compelling testimony you gave, if the Brainards had been invited to participate in any hearings and reviews concerning Dustin, and is it your understanding that the Brainards wanted to adopt Dustin, and is this likely?
Mrs. MINK. The Brainards absolutely want to adopt Dustin. They were approached when Dustin was about 18 months old by DFS saying they were going to TPR, terminate parental rights, Donna's rights, and free him for adoption. Two weeks later they changed their mind, Donna was cured, Dustin was going home with Donna.
The Brainards were never invited to participate in any hearings. As a matter of fact, the Brainards, along with the maternal aunt, brought a dependency neglect petition in family court for Dustin to prevent him from going back to Donna.
This testimony was written last week, but just yesterday there was a court hearing. Mrs. Brainard had been begging DFS to do something about Dustin because his behavior was so erratic. DFS didn't pay attention to her pleas. Mrs. Brainard videotaped Dustin in one of his frenetic rages after coming home from a visit with Richie.
She took the videotape to court. DFS took Dustin and this videotape to a pediatrician and said, We think the child has been sexually abused, please view the tape. The pediatrician came into court and said, Whoever videotaped this should be prosecuted for child pornography. The district attorney and the State of Delaware are considering pressing charges against the foster mother for taping Dustin in one of his rages just to prove to DFS that something was going on with this child.
Mr. CAMP. So why are they so insistent that Dustin should go home and not be freed? Why are they doing this?
Page 114 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. MINK. I believe they are committed to the theory of family preservation. I don't think they are focusing on the child at all. They are married to the philosophy and bureaucracy of family preservation. It is a one-size-fits-all Band-Aid.
Mr. CAMP. Do you think there has been a lack of services in Dustin's case?
Mrs. MINK. Absolutely not. The case plans have been changed to be made easier for Donna constantly. She had to go to a couple of AA meetings, give random drug and urine tests. She wouldn't do any of it.
Mr. CAMP. Well, I think that case you told us about is very compelling, and I think actually represents thousands of children nationwide, unfortunately. I just want to thank you for coming today and sharing that story and also your views regarding the legislation.
Chairman SHAW. Mr. Levin.
Mr. LEVIN. It was only a few years ago that we had testimony on family preservation and the lead witness was from Michigan. I think it is just a warning to us to try to combine some real discipline in this system with some flexibility. There just doesn't seem to be a magic answer that fits every case. Everybody continues to search for this structure that will be easily implemented. It is hard for us to sit and judge this particular case, and probably we should not. But I think it serves as a warning to everybody to avoid sinecures and avoid these patented approaches that claim to resolve every issue.
I think the problem is that these cases are often complex, so States just don't seem to do anything. They get mired in the complexity of human relationships, and your bill is an effort to tell the States to just get moving.
Mr. CAMP. If the gentleman would yield, I agree with that. It is an effort to get the States moving. But I practiced in this area for quite some time, and, Yes, many of the cases are complex. But there are times when a solution screams out, and yet the system doesn't seem to be able to react to it.
Page 115 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LEVIN. Surely. I very much agree. Let me ask a question, because several of you have referred to the use of title IVE. We are going to have to face this at one point or another. You are all in pretty broad agreement, and I think this Subcommittee, under the leadership of the Chairman, wants to move. So let's look ahead a bit to a few of the thorny issues.
One is title IVE. I don't know, Mr. McDonald. Tell us why it is needed, what you do with the funds.
Mr. MCDONALD. Title IVE reimburses us for foster care. You have clearly identified what this does. It creates an incentive to keep kids in care. It does not reimburse for supporting a judicial system that can move swiftly, which is absolutely critical to terminating parental rights. It does not support the kind of reunification services that are critical to helping a judge make that decision about whether or not to terminate parental rights when a family has not been, the parents have not addressed their rehabilitative requirements. You can have the requirements, but pay for what you want. If you want performance out of the system, if you want permanence out of the system, and you do want reunifications when it is appropriate and safe, put the money where that is. You are paying for a system that guarantees you will get long-term foster care.
The States are putting most of the money in this. Our general fund expenditures in Illinois have increased 98 percent in our agency, while the State's general fund expenditures have increased only 28 percent over the last 5 years. So we are paying in the general fund a very high price for a foster care system that is afraid to move. It is afraid to move because of one tragedy or another.
The courts that are jammed, clogged in Cook County, you get 5 minutes on an adjudication. How in the world does a judge make a reasonable decision? They consider juvenile court to be the traffic court for lawyers. No one wants to spend their career in the juvenile court. How do you attract to the juvenile court States attorneys that are prepared and willing to stay and tough it out and judges that are prepared to make difficult decisions? Provide some incentives for the courts using IVE so you can get the performance you want.
Page 116 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LEVIN. You feel deeply about this?
Mr. MCDONALD. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Mr. LEVIN. Then, let me suggest you better help us focus on it, because it is no automatic answer here. There is going to be some controversy over that. So essentially you are telling us in your judgment without that provision, you have doubts about the efficacy of this bill?
Mr. MCDONALD. I have doubts about any proposals that are silver bullets. I think the States are moving in this direction anyway. States are moving to try and speed up the process. But unless you consider every single part of this process, unless you consider the juvenile courts, the States attorneys, the public defenders and the caseworkers that are trying to move the system, you will not see the results you want, and in several years you will be sorely disappointed with what you have done.
Mr. LEVIN. That is a very honest answer. So you had better provide us some further materials.
Mr. MCDONALD. Thank you, we will.
Mr. GUTTMAN. You have got to put performance incentives into the system. Right now I cite a case, abandoned child, 3 years in foster care, in one State. In another State, adopted in 6 months. The first State gets the large grant, the second State gets a small grant. If you gave some incentives for rapid performance, safe performance, a whole series of measurements, that would free up some dollars for the State to enable it to further improve the system.
Right now the worse the State works, the more money it gets. Obviously, the foster care maintenance payments, you have to have, but there are the administrative costs and everything else built around it. The system is process driven. You have got to obey the processes. Actually, most States don't obey the processes. It is not performance driven.
Page 117 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC You raised the question of the relationship of the Federal to State government. The Federal Government should say, What is it we want out of the system? and then pay the systems to do it. Now, we pay the States for what they do, regardless if the outcomes are appropriate or not.
Mr. LEVIN. Thank you.
Mr. GUTTMAN. More than 30 seconds.
Mr. LEVIN. We have a very tolerant Chairman.
Chairman SHAW. You hit me on a tolerant day.
Mr. ENGLISH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McDonald, I was intrigued by your testimony and enjoyed it. I wanted to actually pursue a line of questioning very similar to what Mr. Levin had pursued.
You say in your written testimony that you believe Congress should consider ways of deploying IVE funds to support better coordination of activities between the courts and child welfare agencies. I think Mr. Levin's question touched on this, but can you give me a little more specific sense of what sorts of coordination of activities you think would be appropriate for the Federal Government to subsidize?
Mr. MCDONALD. Well, I am going to speak for Illinois, but we have an attorney general that is very interested in children's issues, and it seems to me if you went to your administrative offices of the courts and the attorney general and you gave them access to IVE to match local court investments and do a number of things: One, have your attorney general, the chief prosecutor in your State, train States attorneys statewide so they know how to deal with these issues. Have the administrative office of the courts help counties that essentially run and control the courts to figure out how to clear their dockets, how to improve in small jurisdictions, in small counties, how to make better use of the time they have and train the court personnel. Significant issue. A lot of judges don't want to waste their time.
Page 118 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ENGLISH. You think the Federal Government should use the IVE funds to get into the business of training court personnel?
Mr. MCDONALD. I believe you give the States the ability to use IVE dollars so they can work with the entire system that is responsible for assuring performance on behalf of children, that includes the courts. It includes the States attorneys. Allow us the flexibility to use their resources as well.
It would be nice in another world, I know, but even to allow for the States attorney or county to match some of their resources with IVE dollars for a period of time to give enhanced salaries so they can attract good judges and States attorneys that will stay.
Mr. ENGLISH. Mr. McDonald, there are some things that I think are appropriately a Federal role, and some things that are appropriately a State and local role. As someone who has had a career in State government and been a local elected official, I know sometimes these things are blurred. I am a little intrigued to hear you suggest that IVE funds should be used to enhance judicial salaries or other salaries.
I am not sure there is enough money available for this program to be able to do that in any sort of reasonable way, even on a very leveraged basis.
But let me shift gears for a moment. You also suggest that Congress should consider encouraging other permanency arrangements such as subsidized guardianship. What do you have in mind specifically for this legislation to focus on subsidized guardianship?
Mr. MCDONALD. Illinois is one of the States receiving a IVE demonstration waiver. It is for essentially subsidized guardianship. We have a very large number of children in our system cared for by relatives, where, in fact, adoption will be ruled out. You have to do an explicit rule-out. The courts will not consider essentially a private guardianship arrangement unless adoption is out of the question. There are safeguards for that.
Page 119 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But it would unclog the system. These are cases that are in the system. In most cases these are children that were living with relatives at the time the child protection system became involved with them, and in many cases they were living there since birth, about one-third of them. They remain in the child welfare system, they are in stable settings, and it is absolutely the preference for how these children should be cared for. They are in family systems and they are in the best system for them.
Now, it is not true of every kid in the system, but you can make these selections. We require us to hire caseworkers, we tie up case review systems and the juvenile courts for very stable family systems in these cases. It would save a tremendous amount of money to offer them a subsidized guardianship so they are out of the child welfare system and essentially, a private guardianship arrangement.
Our judges in Illinois will welcome this. We have to assure them that we rule out adoption and they will make that judgment. We will not make the judgment. The judges will determine whether or not we have done that.
By the way, I just wanted to comment that my Governor, Governor Edgar, should know I did not really mean we should subsidize salaries.
Mr. ENGLISH. I understand that. But it is an interesting point, because we do want to give you greater flexibility.
A final point. In your written testimony on kinship care, I read your general discussion, and I guess my question would be, How would you recommend we change the language in the legislation as it applies to kinship care? You make some general comments on potentially the strengths and weaknesses, and essentially what we have done is proposed here that there be a study. Do you recommend we do anything beyond that?
Mr. MCDONALD. Yes. I think one simple way to handle this would be to open up the waivers available to States and permit them to have the same kind of waiver as we have in Illinois and the other States where they would have to demonstrate cost neutrality and meet the other provisions which are quite significant. I think by opening that up, a State that had an interest in a kinship care alternative, could do that. That would be the simplest, quickest way of dealing with that. The Secretary would have the ability to control for outcomes.
Page 120 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ENGLISH. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman SHAW. I'm glad you clarified Mr. English's thought of subsidizing salaries.
Mr. ENGLISH. Mr. Chairman, it was not my thought, but I thank you.
Chairman SHAW. I am sure it is not.
Mr. WATKINS. No questions, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman SHAW. I have just one that I want to ask Ms. Mink. I have read your testimony and I heard the line of questioning from Mr. Camp, and I am not sure I understood it properly. As I understand it, this youngster, Dustin, I have read your testimony going through the problems that he has had and 90 percent of his life spent in foster care and the father coming out of prison and all of this. And then who videotaped the youngster and wasn't that videotape done for purposes of showing the court that the actions of the youngster shows a good possibility of sexual abuse? Is that the case?
Mrs. MINK. Yes. After he came back from his visits with his father, he became that way.
Chairman SHAW. Did you tell us that the Delaware courts or Delaware prosecutors are thinking of bringing child pornography charges against the person making the videotape for purposes of showing it to the court?
Mrs. MINK. Absolutely. That is what I am telling you. That was discovered yesterday.
Chairman SHAW. That is incredible.
Mrs. MINK. It is incredible. But we have been told that by the attorney that was there in the courtroom when all this took place yesterday. It has become a vengeful thing with DFS. They are trying to get Dustin out of this foster home.
Page 121 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairman SHAW. I hoped that I had misunderstood you.
Mrs. MINK. Unfortunately, you didn't.
Mr. PIERCE. May I make a comment? I think Mr. Levin made an interesting comment and an important one when he said only a few years ago we had testimony on family preservation and the fact that it was alleged to be the silver bullet back then. I would say for the record that when everyone was saying that family preservation was the panacea, the National Council For Adoption was saying, Please move carefully, please move slowly. We, in fact, wrote a letter to all of the Democratic Members who were then in the Majority and all of the Republican Members and said, Please do not rush to pass this legislation because it is over promising too much. We think that it is important to move slowly. That is why we appreciate the study you have in this bill, taking a careful look at kinship care.
We think that before anybody rushes to either move into subsidized guardianships or kinship care or any of these other alternatives, we ought to focus on the word that bipartisan people agree is important and is the title of the administration's initiative, and that is ''Adoption 2002.'' We know it works. It is legally permanent, and it has benefits that far outweigh all of these other alternatives being looked at. So we do commend you, especially for raising the question about the need for caution, and we commend you, Mr. Chairman, for really focusing on the need to move carefully.
Chairman SHAW. Thank you. I think I will accept your compliment to the entire Subcommittee and to our staff on both sides of the aisle, because there has been a great deal of cooperation and working together.
I want to thank all of you on this panel for taking the time to be with us and sharing your experiences with us here this afternoon. Thank you very much.
The Subcommittee is now adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 5:05 p.m., the hearing was adjourned.]
Page 122 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Submissions for the record follow:]
INSERT OFFSET FOLIOS 26 TO 27 HERE
[The official Committee record contains additional material here.]
Statement of National Association of Homes and Services for Children
The National Association of Homes and Services for Children (NAHSC) is pleased to have the opportunity to offer our comments on HR 867, the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997. We appreciate the genuine concern and initiative taken to ensure health, safety, and permanency for children who have been abused or neglected. NAHSC thanks Representatives Camp, Shaw and Kennelly for their efforts on behalf of these children. We are also pleased that 15 members of the House have cosponsored this legislation to date. Clearly, there is recognition of the need for permanency for children in foster care.
NAHSC members include close to 350 charitable nonprofit organizations that provide services in almost 1,000 communities. They serve over a quarter of a million children yearly and provide over $1.3 billion in direct care and services to children and families in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Associate members include state and regional associations of nonprofit child and family serving agencies. NAHSC members provide a full range of direct care services to children and families in crisis. Most of the children cared for are victims of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Other children need help because their family is unable to care for them due to severe health problems, alcohol and substance abuse, or incarceration.
NAHSC believes the Adoption Promotion Act generally moves in a positive direction but could use some strengthening in certain areas. We are eager to work closely with the subcommittee to further improve the legislation and are pleased that the subcommittee is seeking input from child and family serving organizations. Below is a review of HR 867 provisions that NAHSC supports and our suggestions for improvements.
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NAHSC applauds the requirement to clarify that when making reasonable efforts to prevent the removal of a child from his or her family, or to reunify families, that the health and safety of the child is paramount. Also, clarifying certain egregious circumstances when it is not reasonable to make efforts to maintain a family will assist many children to move toward new permanent families in a timely manner. However, NAHSC is concerned that clarification of reasonable efforts must not create new confusion with vague language.
Require states to specify in legislation conditions under which reasonable efforts are not required.
Permanency Planning Hearing
NAHSC also strongly supports the requirement that states amend their state plans to require earlier status reviews and permanency hearings for children in foster care. This provision will help ensure that children in foster care receive more timely reviews of the appropriateness of their placement and emphasize the need for permanent living situations for children. However, we are concerned that current court case back logs will hinder the actual implementation of more timely permanency hearings.
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Allow Title IVE training funds to be used for cross agency training of staff working with abused and neglected children, including court personnel.
Require Termination of Parental Rights for Certain Children
NAHSC is concerned with the provision in HR 867 that requires states to file for termination of parental rights in the case of children under the age of ten who have been in foster care for 18 of the previous 24 months. In our view, this provision is too rigid and does not take into account individual circumstances which may have prevented a child from returning home, such as the lack of reunification services. In many families affected by this timetable, reunification may be appropriate, and the family may be making good progress toward that goal. We are concerned that this provision as currently drafted is not sufficiently flexible to take into account such situations.
While HR 867 provides that termination of parental rights is not required if a state court determines that doing so would not be in the best interests of the child, we recommend that HR 867 be amended to also give the state agency the authority not to file a termination of parental rights petition, if it would not be in the best interests of the child to do so.
Adoption Bonuses for Increases in the Number of Foster Care Children Adopted
Page 125 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC HR 867 provides for bonuses to states of up to $4000 for each child adopted from the foster care system in excess of the ''baseline'' of foster care adoptions for the fiscal year, and $6000 for special needs adoptions exceeding the baseline. The act authorizes appropriations of $108 million between FY 1999 and 2003 for grants to states, and provides for a pro-rata adjustment of the adoption bonus in the event of insufficient appropriations.
NAHSC is pleased that the legislation includes an incentive to encourage the adoption of children in foster care through incentives to the states. However, we are very concerned that since the adoption bonus is dependent on the appropriation of funds, the current fiscal reality makes it highly unlikely that significant resources will be available to states. It is more likely that appropriators will be forced to choose between funding the adoption incentive and funding other programs critical to states' ability to respond to the rising incidence of child abuse and neglect, such as the Title IVB Child Welfare Services and Title XX Social Services Block Grant programs.
In addition to the funding uncertainty, we are very concerned about the implications of increased emphasis and incentives for promoting adoptions without new resources to ensure a full range of adequate, post-adoption services. Unfortunately, too many adoptions become disrupted because of inadequate post-adoption services to the families. Many adoptive families of children with serious emotional problems find themselves unable to care for the child in the absence of services designed to help that child stay with the family. In such cases, the child may be returned to foster care by families unable to secure the necessary services to appropriately care for them. In particular, children with serious emotional problems may need residential treatment for a period of time, and families unable to afford the treatment are forced to give up the child. Legislation providing incentives for adoption must provide for the full range of post-adoption services in order to truly provide permanence for children.
Page 126 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCRecommendation:
Guaranteed funding for adoption incentives and the full range of post-adoption services so that more families will be created through adoption and those families will be able to meet their child's needs within the family.
In conclusion, while we are extremely pleased about the committee's interest in this area and supportive of its goals, we believe that HR 867 could be strengthened. We are mindful that the House and Senate are moving forward together in this area with various approaches to providing permanence for children. We would hope that the committee would consider as possible amendments to HR 867 some of the provisions of'S 511, introduced by Senators Chafee, Rockefeller, Jeffords, DeWine, and others.
Several provisions of'S 511 would provide guaranteed additional resources to promote permanence for children in foster care and take steps to correct some structural weaknesses in the child protection system. These additional resources for services to children and families are a critical corollary to the procedural safeguards and timetables set forth in HR 867. Simply imposing new procedures and timetables without providing additional resources to move children toward permanence is not likely to achieve the laudable goals of HR 867. Among the provisions of'S 511 that we support and hope the committee would consider include:
Federal reimbursement under Title IVE Foster Care for reunification services for one year after removal from the home, when the goal is to reunify the child with the family and the child can live safely at home. Title IVE reimbursement for these services would allow child welfare agencies to determine sooner whether a child may be safely returned home, or whether some other permanent living situation will be required.
Page 127 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Priority in providing substance abuse treatment services to parents who are referred for treatment by child welfare agencies. Substance abuse is among the two most frequently cited problems in families reported for child maltreatment. For children for whom reunification is the goal, this provision would facilitate a more timely return to the family.
Allowing Title IVE funds to be used for cross-training of staff working with abused and neglected children. Many agencies are involved in the futures of children and families who come to the attention of the child welfare system, including courts, and agencies involved in substance abuse treatment, mental health, domestic violence, and homelessness. Yet, since staff from these agencies often have little understanding of the needs of children and families in the child welfare system, services are not maximized toward providing permanence for children. Allowing Title IVE funds to be used for cross-agency training of staff would improve the quality of care and outcomes for children.
Expanding eligibility for Title IVE Adoption Assistance to all children with special needs, not just those eligible for Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Supplemental Security Income. Adoption assistance is a very cost effective way to provide permanent families for children who cannot return to their families of origin. NAHSC strongly supports this provision of S 511.
Allowing Title IVE foster care payments to be made on behalf of a child placed with their parent in a residential program that provides treatment and services for parents and children, when the parent is attempting to overcome substance abuse or certain other problems. These services could shorten the time that children spend in foster care and lead to permanency sooner.
Creating a new, $50 million set-aside within the Title IVE program to provide grants to states to develop innovative strategies to reduce the backlog of children in foster care awaiting permanent placement. This provision would ensure the availability of resources to promote permanence for children because of the entitlement nature of the program.
Page 128 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Development of state benchmarks for quality care. This provision would require the development of state guidelines to ensure safe, quality care for children in out-of-home care, based on nationally recognized accrediting bodies such as the Council on Accreditation of Services for Families and Children and the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations.
It is important to note that with the exception of the expanded eligibility of Title IVE Adoption Assistance to all children with special needs, the cost of the Title IVE expansions above would be substantially offset by reductions in expenditures for Title IVE foster care administrative and maintenance costs.
We thank the committee for this opportunity to provide our comments on HR 867.
Statement of Clarice Dibble Walker, Chair, Board of National Black Child Development Institute, Inc.; and Associate Professor of Social Work, Howard University
I am Clarice Walker, chair of the board of the National Black Child Development Institute, associate professor at the Howard University School of Social Work, and former commissioner of Social Services for the District of Columbia.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to submit testimony on H.R. 867, the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997, on behalf of the National Black Child Development Institute to the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources for the hearing record.
The National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) is a national, non-profit, charitable organization that exists to improve and protect the lives of African American children and youth on the national and local levels. NBCDI and its 44 nation-wide volunteer affiliate chapters focus on the areas of health, child welfare, education, and early care and education.
Page 129 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The National Black Child Development Institute has a 26-year history of dedication to improving the child welfare system on the national and local levels.
Beginning in 1971, when concern was raised regarding the large numbers of African American children languishing in foster care, NBCDI stepped up to the plate and launched the Black Child Advocacy Adoption Project. This national project examined the barriers that prevent African American families from adopting children and went a step further to identify progressive agencies and programs that could be replicated. Conferences were held in 10 cities to recruit families from throughout the United States to adopt African American children.
NBCDI's work extended beyond the United States in 1973 to Vietnam, where the Institute led a group of African Americans to encourage the placement of children fathered by black servicemen with African American families.
The Institute has also served as a resource to agencies through its publication, Guidelines for Adoption Services to Black Families and Children, which provides information to facilitate the inclusion of African American families in the adoption process.
We also have been a leader on the legislative front, participating in hearings on the Opportunities for Adoption Act of 1977 and analyzing proposed regulations for the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (P.L. 96272) in 1980.
In 1983, the Institute brought together administrators from state and private adoption agencies to analyze policies that perpetuate the overrepresentation of African American children in the system. Later that year, NBCDI published the adoption conference's recommendations in A Child Waits.
In 1986, NBCDI mounted a national study on the status of African American children in the foster care system. The Institute published the results in Who Will Care When Parents Can't?, which profiles foster children and their families and offers recommendations for policy change.
Page 130 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Most recently, NBCDI has been active on the local level. Our Seattle, Washington affiliate is currently running the African American Initiative, a program that seeks to eliminate the barriers to permanency placement for black children in foster care by increasing the capacity of the child welfare system to respond to the unique cultural, developmental, and other service needs of this vulnerable population.
The Overrepresentation of African American Children in Foster Care
African American children are dramatically over-represented in the foster care system. Approximately 46 percent of the children in foster care nationwide are black and 36 percent are white (AFCARS, 1996). However, African American children only comprise 15 percent of the child population, while white children make up 66 percent (United States Census Bureau, 1997). Although the number of white children entering foster care is greater than the number of black children, white children tend to leave foster care at a faster rate (Spar, Karen, Adoption, Foster Care, and Child Welfare: Issues for Congress, CRS Report for Congress, Feb. 1997). In 1995, the estimated median length of stay in foster care was 1.5 years (18 months) for white children and 2.5 years (30 months) for black children (AFCARS, HHS, 1995).
NBCDI Analysis of H.R. 867
Report and Recommendations on Kinship Care (Section 6)
It is within the context of the overrepresentation of African American children in foster care that NBCDI fully supports the report and recommendations on kinship care provision of H.R. 867 (Section 6) as a means of determining how this critical resource to children in foster care can be utilized, when appropriate, to increase the placement of children in safe, nurturing and permanent homes. Kinship care is the fastest growing form of care for children in foster care. Particularly in larger states, there are increasing numbers of children entering kinship care (Barth et al., 1994, George, 1990). Research suggests that children in kinship care remain in the child welfare system longer than children in non-relative foster care. (Barth et al., 1994, George, 1990). There is also growing evidence that children in kinship care are reunited with their parents at a slower rate that those placed in non-relative care (Barth et al., 1994). It is also important to note that it is unknown how many children who have not entered the child welfare system are being cared for by relatives.
Page 131 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The term ''informal adoption'' has been applied to the provision of continuity of care within the black kinship network for children whose own biological parents were not presently available to them (Spanier, 1980). Black scholars, in particular, have identified the role of the extended family as an integral part of black family life (Billingsly and Giovannoni, 1972, and Hill, 1971). Jones (1972) stressed the value of this indigenous resource as the essence of the black experiencea broad sense of family, community and kinship, blood related or not, that never stopped the black community from caring for homeless children. Fein (1983) reported that placement with relatives and neighbors, within the community of the biological family, insured continuity and ''human connectedness'' (Walker et al., 1989).
A two-and-a-half year study of black children in foster care mounted by NBCDI in 1986 points to the role of relatives in caring for black children in foster care. Relatives provided assistance for 401 children out of the total study population of 1,003. Relatives were considered by agencies as placement resources for children for 73 percent of the total population. In all five cities, (Detroit, Houston, Miami, New York, and Seattle) at least 50 percent of the study population had relatives that were considered by the agency as potential resources for the children. Where there was some agency consideration of relatives, 57 percent of the relatives offered some kind of assistance, with a high of 80 percent in Detroit. This finding suggests that in Detroit, where there was more flexibility in use of relatives who can receive foster care payments, there were more children who received assistance from relatives (Walker et al., 1989).
Recommendations for Changes and Additions to H.R. 867
NBCDI fully supports the goals of H.R. 867, finding safe and permanent homes for children in foster care by removing the barriers to adoption. We would like to recommend expanding the goals of H.R. 867 to include finding children homes that are nurturing as well. Children need a nurturing environment, as well as safety and constancy, in order to reach their fullest potentials developmentally.
Page 132 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition to this overarching goal, we would like to offer the following specific recommendations for changes and additions to H.R. 867:
Amend Notice of Reviews and Hearings; Opportunities of Parties to be Heard (Section 4) to provide that:
Foster parents are given notice of reviews and hearings and an opportunity to be heard at the discretion of the child welfare agency. Foster parents are temporary caregivers of children and therefore should not be given legal standing with regard to the child. Allowing the child welfare agency to determine in each case whether notification of proceedings and an opportunity to be heard for foster parents would be in the child's best interests, addresses this concern. Foster parents are partners in providing temporary care for children in times of crisis and therefore should be given notice of proceedings concerning the child and an opportunity to be heard, when the child welfare agency deems it appropriate.
Relatives are required to respond within 10 days of notification, after which time whether or not the parties have ''an opportunity to be heard,'' as defined within the scope of this legislation, will rest with the state court. The provision of a defined time limit for response is necessary so that notification does not interfere with court proceedings and the timely permanency placement of the child. We recognize the importance of involving relatives providing care for the child in decisions about the child made at administrative reviews and judicial hearings. However, we maintain the requirement to notify relatives should not interfere with the timeliness of court proceedings regarding the child.
Amend Termination of Parental Rights (Section 5) to provide that initiation of proceedings to terminate parental rights will only occur after reunification services have been provided to the family and a professional decision has been made by the child welfare agency that these efforts have failed and that it would not be in the child's best interests to return home. The reason for this is to ensure that parental rights are not terminated solely because of circumstances related to poverty, such as lack of access to basic needs, rather than lack of capacity of the parent. NBCDI's study of black children in foster care from 19861988 indicated that inadequate housing was reported as one of the remaining barriers to reunification for 34 percent of the children not discharged by the end of the study (Walker et al., 1989). As welfare reform progresses, there is a strong likelihood that more parents will be unable to provide for their children's basic needs. This points to the need for early assessment in determining the needs of children and the potential of parents. Early assessment should identify potential resources available to the child, including extended family; relatives, with particular attention to fathers; and other supports and services. Concurrent planning is also a critical part of early assessment and of the process of placing children in safe, permanent and nurturing homes.
Page 133 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Amend Adoption Bonuses for States (Section 11) to include language that bonuses are intended not only to increase numbers of adoptions, but also to eliminate barriers to expediting adoptions. High caseloads of judges and caseworkers and lack of availability of families to adopt children with special needs contribute to delays in making timely decisions about permanent placement for children. Therefore, as states seek to increase the numbers of adoptions, they should also increase their efforts to streamline court procedures and recruit and train child welfare staff and court personnel. These efforts could be developed through technical assistance to the states provided by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, described in Section 10. The existence of adoption bonuses should encourage states to take not only a quantitative approach, but also a qualitative approach to finding children safe, permanent and nurturing homes.
On this note, we would like to issue a word of caution. Providing adoption bonuses to states is not necessarily a viable means of ensuring the safe, permanent, and nurturing placement of children.
Adoption bonuses have the potential ability to create tension between what is in the financial interests of the state and what is in the best interests of the child. Although H.R. 867 clearly states in Section 2 that ''the child's health and safety shall be of paramount concern'' in meeting all reasonable efforts requirements regarding placement of the child, including adoption, we strongly believe the offering of bonuses could create a dangerous impetus to increase the numbers of adoptions without giving the most careful consideration for what is in the child's best interests.
We recognize that H.R. 867 limits the use of bonus payments ''... to provide to children receiving foster care maintenance payments or adoption assistance payments under this part any service (including post adoption services) ...'' and that bonus payments could not be counted in determining state expenditures for purposes of Federal matching payments (Section 11). However, we maintain that the mere existence of adoption bonuses, regardless of what they were designed to do, would function as an overriding incentive to increase adoptions. When the safety and lives of children are at stake, serving the best interests of the child must stand alone as the sole incentive for placement.
Page 134 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Give states flexibility to use adoption bonuses for a broad range of services to families, including reunification services (counseling, substance abuse treatment services, mental health services, assistance to address domestic violence, and transportation to and from such services). Provision of these services allows child welfare agencies to make prompt, appropriate decisions about whether a child should remain with the family or be placed in some other permanent arrangement.
Provide safe, permanent homes for children by using federal foster care funds for services for vulnerable children and families. NBCDI recommends adopting the following provisions from the Safe Adoptions and Family Environments Act, S. 511:
Allow Title IVE foster care funds to be used for up to one year to pay for timely reunification services when safe and appropriate.
Encourage collaboration between state child welfare and substance abuse prevention and treatment agencies.
Use Title IVE funds for cross-agency staff training.
Many children who enter the foster care system come from families with multi-faceted problems that cannot be addressed by one agency alone. Therefore, the ability of agencies to evaluate and respond to these problems in a timely manner requires collaboration between agencies and funding for cross-agency training. The receipt of such services not only helps prevent children from entering the foster care system in the first place, but also promotes the placement of children who do enter the system into safe, permanent and nurturing homes.
In addition, a greater focus on substance abuse treatment is needed given the contribution of drug abuse to child abuse and neglect. A 1991 NBCDI report, Parental Drug Abuse and African American Children in Foster Care, citing the Institute's study of 1,003 black children in foster care in five cities, indicated that services to address problems, including drug abuse, which contribute to placement in foster care, were either unavailable, or insufficiently brokered or coordinated among agencies (Walker et al., 1991). Provision of these services can help prevent many of the circumstances that lead children into foster care in the first place.
Page 135 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Finally, we point to the need to provide families with the services they need to nurture and care for their children. Problems associated with poverty, such as substance abuse and lack of adequate housing, contribute to the placement of children in foster care. NBCDI's study of black children in foster care indicated that while most of the study population (75 percent) entered foster care because of abuse or neglect, many of these placements were also attributable to environmental stresses caused by chronic poverty. In 25 percent of the study population, poverty itself was a significant factor in placement (Walker et al., 1989). We cannot fully improve the lives of children until we more directly address the issue of poverty through job creation, education and the availability of affordable, low-income housing.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that NBCDI fully supports the principles of H.R. 867 and would welcome the opportunity to work with the Subcommittee to help the legislation achieve its stated goals.