July 02, 2020

Harris, Brown, Casey, Cortez Masto Introduce Comprehensive Legislation To Support Child Welfare Agencies During COVID-19

Legislation Invests in Health, Safety and Wellbeing of Children, Youth and Families  

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) on Thursday introduced the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act, comprehensive legislation to provide flexible, emergency aid for key child welfare programs working to support young people and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The senators’ legislation will help ensure child welfare agencies and organizations are equipped with resources to continue protecting and supporting families during this public health crisis. In April, Harris sent a letter pushing Senate leadership to protect at-risk children amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, Harris introduced a bill to reauthorize the State Court Improvement Program (CIP) to support child welfare cases.

“As our country continues to address the COVID-19 pandemic, we must prioritize the health and safety of children in foster care,” said Senator Harris. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act– we have a duty to support children, families, and caregivers and ensure they have the resources needed to stay safe.”

“Youth and families in the child welfare system are experiencing unprecedented financial stress, social isolation, and abrupt changes to daily life,” said Senator Brown. “Local child protective services will need additional support to continue meeting the needs of their communities. This legislation will help improve the health, safety, and wellbeing of children, youth, and families by investing in them and the agencies and organizations that support them.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is causing unintended consequences for children and youth in the child welfare system. As states are facing financial shortfalls due to the public health crisis, we need to ensure that the child welfare system is able to meet the needs of families who are also in crisis,” said Senator Casey. “The Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act would provide funding to ensure families have the support services they need. The bill would also ensure teens don’t have to worry about aging out of foster care during a public health pandemic. I urge my colleagues to support this critical bill to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our most vulnerable children and youth.”

“Children in the foster care system and those at risk of entering the system are particularly vulnerable to the twin economic and public health crises brought on by COVID-19,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on state and local budgets across the country, I’m proud to cosponsor legislation that will provide child welfare agencies with the funding and supplies they need to protect investments in vital services for children and their caregivers during this unprecedented time. We have a moral obligation to support children and help keep families together during this crisis.”

Specifically, the legislation will invest in the health, safety, and wellbeing of children, youth, and families by:

  • Investing $2 billion to support state and tribal child welfare agencies in providing families, kinship caregivers, and young people with a broad range of support services, including assistance for transportation, housing, and utility payments. Child welfare agencies could also use this funding to expand adoption promotion and support services, or to hire, train and support caseworkers to conduct safe in-person home and remote visits, including the purchase of personal protective equipment and technology.
  • Providing $30 million for kinship navigator programs to ensure kinship caregivers have access to information and resources, including food, safety supplies, technology, and COVID-19 testing.
  • Dedicating $50 million to help states implement health oversight and coordination plans to ensure children in foster care are up-to-date on vaccinations and have access to needed care and telehealth services.
  • Investing $15 million to states and tribes for training on trauma-informed de-escalation strategies for child welfare partners, congregate care facilities, and families.
  • Requiring states to develop and implement de-escalation strategies to limit unnecessary involvement with law enforcement, and ensure any contact with law enforcement is non-coercive.
  • Expediting eligibility for children living with a relative in foster care for federal support, and allow 100% federal support for kinship caregiver payments through the Title IV-E Guardianship Assistance Program and kinship-related Title IV-E adoption assistance payments.
  • Providing $500 million for the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program to ensure young people have access to supports, such as housing, food, and cash assistance, and allow more of these funds to cover housing costs for foster youth. Funds could also be used for education and training vouchers, which help young people cover the cost of education.
  • Establishing a moratorium on “aging out” of foster care to ensure no young person is cut off from critical housing and support services during the public health emergency.

The legislation will also increase support for services to prevent foster care and the ability of courts to serve families by:

  • Increasing federal support to provide Title IV-E prevention services, such as parent training, family counseling, and substance use disorder treatment.
  • Providing $30 million for the Court Improvement Program to ensure dependency courts have resources to facilitate the transition to remote hearings, train judges, volunteers, and court personnel on the use of technology, and support innovative programs to help families continue to address case plan requirements.
  • Reauthorizing the Court Improvement Program for five years to ensure reliable funding for state courts so they can improve outcomes for children and families.

A number of organizations are supporting the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act, including the Child Welfare League of America, Children’s Defense Fund, American Academy of Pediatrics, Generations United, National Center for Housing & Child Welfare, ACTION Ohio, OHIO Youth Advisory Board, Ohio Grandparent Kinship Coalition, and the Ohio Federation for Health Equity and Social Justice and FosterClub.

A one pager on the bill can be found HERE.

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