Capitol View on Kids: Foster Care Education Reform Moving Forward

Supporters of the “A Plus Act” including the Children’s Defense Fund and Juvenile Law Center, are making an effort to increase support for the foster care /education bill by increasing support among both organizations and ultimately members of congress.

More formally known in the House version as the Access to Papers Leads to Uninterrupted Scholars Act (H.R. 5871), the bill is pending in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The legislation amends the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to enable child welfare agencies that are charged with the placement and care of children in foster care to access the educational records of those children to help improve their educational success.

FERPA, originally created to protect the confidentiality of education records, creates barriers to child welfare agencies obtaining records they need, even when educational agencies are willing to collaborate in the exchange of information. The FERPA amendments in the A Plus Act are drawn narrowly to allow child welfare agencies to secure educational records to address the educational needs of individual children in foster care and to also obtain data with which to conduct research studies on groups of children in foster care, often in collaboration with education agencies and others, to identify their educational needs and how best to address them.

The legislation is relatively new, having been introduced earlier this year, but it has bipartisan support with U.S. Rep Karen Bass (D-Calif.) as the sponsor in the House and additional sponsors including Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) joining her. A companion bill in the Senate, simply titled the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, has been sponsored by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Al Franken (D-Minn.).

Some supporters hope action could take place in a post-election session but that would likely take strong support from members of the key education committees: Education and the Workforce (http://edworkforce.house.gov/committee/subcommitteesjurisdictions.htm ) in the House and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions/HELP (http://www.help.senate.gov) in the Senate.

Organizations interested in obtaining a copy of the sign-on letter or interested in signing onto the letter can contact Stefanie Sprow at the Children’s Defense Fund (ssprow@childrensdefense.org)or Mary Lee Allen at the Children’s Defense Fund (mallen@childrensdefense.org) or Jessica Feierman at the Juvenile Law Center (jfeierman@jlc.org).  The letter will go to the original co-sponsors of both the Senate and House versions of the legislation.  Organizations that have policies that prohibit endorsing legislation and individuals are asked to contact their own Senators and Representatives to show their support.

Some States Look to Mandatory Child Sex Abuse Training

On Tuesday, October 9, former football coach Jerry Sandusky received a sentence of 30 to 60 years as a result of his earlier conviction for child sexual abuse of ten children. As a result of the attention created by last year’s indictment of Sandusky, some states started to examine ways to increase awareness of child sexual abuse.

Florida has implemented a statewide child sexual abuse prevention curriculum for their elementary schools.  Pennsylvania is also set to implement a similar effort. Nationally, there were several bills introduced in congress mainly to expand the number of people who are mandatory reporters of child abuse and there have been a few hearings on the subject. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts held a hearing earlier this year on potential legislation on increased training of mandatory reporters and to improved investigative skills for those charged with investigating abuse cases.

At least six other bills were introduced last year immediately following the indictments.  Of the bills the most severe is Senator Robert Menendez’s (D-N.J.) bill, S. 1879, would take away a state’s Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) funds if the state failed to enact a law that made it a felony for failure to report child abuse or neglect.

Most of the bills amend the Child Abuse Prevention Treatment Act (CAPTA), and would make state funding contingent on states changing their current child abuse laws. States started requiring certain professionals as mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect in the 1960s and since the 1970s all fifty states listing certain professionals such as physicians and teachers as ”mandatory reporters.” If you are a member of this profession and you are aware of child abuse or neglect you must report the suspicion.

According to a recent study by the Children’s Bureau, 18 states require everyone to be mandatory reporters, but in 16 of those 18 states there is still a designation of specific professions also as reporters. There is limited information on just how much training of these mandatory reporters is conducted by states.  In at least some states, information may be voluntarily available, but not necessarily provided to all reporters.

Most of the legislation introduced failed to provide greater funding to expand reporter train although one, S. 1877 by Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.) did include an authorization of $5 million in the first year and $10 million in later years targeted to training.  Funding would be contingent annually on the actions of the appropriations process.

CAPTA was originally enacted in 1974 as a way to provide some federal leadership on the issue.  It established some very limited funds to assist states in reporting and tracking child abuse.  The great challenge for CAPTA is that although it sets out several requirements for states to carry out in terms of dealing with child abuse and neglect, its funding has never been very high.  Currently allocations range from a high of $1.8 million (California) to a low of $74,000 (Wyoming).  The $26.5 million this year compares to $22 million in 1992.  Funding peaked at $27.3 million in 2005 in response to the Bush Administration’s budget request. The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) provides more than $200 million a year for state child protective services but has been targeted by the House of Representatives for elimination.

This Week’s Fiscal Cliff Notes

Different messages seemed to come from several directions last week, one of inaction and one of forced compromise.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) indicated that he did not foresee a “grand bargain” or major agreement on the budget and deficit in a lame duck congress. He indicated that it would be both difficult to reach and it may not be appropriate.  At the same time, eight senators led by Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) continued to hold their internal discussions on a possible bipartisan deal.  While that was taking place, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) addressed a Washington group by saying he was not in support of a tax package that would lower tax levels by eliminating tax deductions.  Instead, he argued that any revenue raised by the closure of various tax breaks and deductions should be used to address the budget deficit and the top tax rate should be restored to what it was under President Bill Clinton in 2000.

Also last week, there was a report in the Washington DC newspaper Politico that a number of Wall Street business leaders were getting ready to head to Washington after the election in support of a major deal that would include tax increases.  The argument is that business is being hindered by the ongoing uncertainty in Washington and the inability to reach agreements in an orderly fashion.  These business leaders might provide political cover for Republican leaders by putting revenue (including tax increases) on the table in exchange for entitlement reforms or cuts.  Under this scenario there would be a temporary fix or extension for the so called fiscal budget and tax cliff set to start at the end of December. These business leaders seem to feel a long term fix would be an economic stimulus in itself.

UPCOMING CAPITOL HILL BRIEFINGS/EVENTS

Kinship Care: Challenges and Opportunities, Wednesday, October 17, 2012, 12-1:30 p.m., 345 Cannon House Office Building,James P. Gleeson, Ph.D. Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois, Sharon McDaniel, MPA, A Second Chance, Pittsburgh, PA, Mary Bissell, J.D.,ChildFocus, Pat Owens, GrandFamilies of America, Becky Shipp, Senate Finance Committee, RSVP in the affirmative only to Women’s Policy, Inc. by calling (202) 554-2323, or e-mailing leah@womenspolicy.org

Children at Risk: Optimizing Health in an Era of Reform, Friday, October 19, 10:00 am to 11:30 am, 2322 Rayburn House Office Building, cosponsored by the National Association of Social Workers, the Society for Research in Child Development, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Foster Care Coalition and National Child Abuse Coalition. RSVP should go to Danielle Spears at: dspears@naswdc.org

From Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) to Success for Young Mother Led Families, Wednesday, October 24, 10:00 am to Noon, Capitol Visitors Center (SVC – 212-10), the National Crittenton Foundation. RSVP to Jessie Salu at: Jessie@NationalCrittenton.org

John Sciamanna is a strategic consultant on child welfare policy and legislation.

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