Immigration Reform Will Include Child Welfare Component
On Tuesday, January 29, the President released his set of principles and goals for immigration reform. It followed the announcement by eight U.S. senators that they had reached agreement on a set of principles for reform. The eight are: Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Michael Bennett (D-Colo.). For the most part the biggest areas of debate are around security, employment, entry levels and quotas, and how to address the approximate ten to eleven million adults and children not legally present.
While it is not front and center, at some point there will be discussion and debate on immigration’s impact on the nation’s child welfare system. It is estimated that there are 4.5 million children in the United States with at least one undocumented parent. A study last year estimated that there are over 5,000 children residing in the child welfare system due to a parent’s deportation or detention. One of the ongoing challenges that will have to be addressed is how to deal with families where a child is placed into care after a raid, and how to assure protections so that a parent does not have their parental rights terminated simply because they have been deported.
There are an additional estimated 12,000 undocumented foster youth who may age out of foster care. These young people may be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), but if a caseworker or child welfare agency does not apply for this status or if they are unaware of the young person’s status, a youth could age out of foster care without legal standing on top of the challenges a youth aging out of care faces.
Beyond issues of raids and undocumented youth, there are long time challenges for many child welfare agencies, especially in those states bordering other countries. Those challenges include notification of relatives of a child victim of abuse and neglect when relatives may live in another country.
While the President and some senators have outlined principles, and there are bipartisan discussions in the House of Representatives, this debate is far from over. Immigration fights in decades past have focused on which countries and which relatives should be allowed greater access as new immigrants. That may be one of the least contentious issues in this debate. The most contentious issue will be how to deal with the estimated ten to eleven million undocumented immigrants; some are adamantly opposed to allowing them a path toward citizenship while others will argue it is the only practical option and it is the most humane.
GAO Finds Gaps in Child Welfare Prevention and Intervention Services/Funding
On Jan. 30, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that examined the use of Title IV-B Part 1, Child Welfare Services (CWS) and Part 2, Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF).
The report found services lacking and suggested possible harm due to the inability to provide the services needed for vulnerable families involved with the child welfare and child protective services systems. The two funding block grants generally provide prevention and intervention services aimed at reducing reliance on foster care and foster homes.
The GAO said: “Local child welfare officials in four selected states reported service gaps in multiple areas. Service gaps may harm child wellbeing and make it more difficult to preserve or reunite families. For example, officials from one locality noted 2- to 3-month wait times for substance abuse services. Due to the chronic nature of the disease, delays in receiving services may make it more difficult to reunify families within mandated deadlines. Officials cited factors contributing to service gaps that included provider shortages and lack of transportation. Additionally, officials noted difficulty securing services from partner agencies, such as housing authorities.”
The report also noted that states tap into other sources of funding, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) funds, to supplement IV-B funding and services. The $1.7 billion in SSBG funding has been targeted for complete elimination by House leadership. The GAO indicated that 31 states reported spending TANF funds, and in fiscal year 2010, 44 states reported spending SSBG funds on these purposes.
The GAO study is a result of a congressional directive included in the 2010 Child and Families Services Improvement and Innovation Act (PL 112-34). The report titled, States Use Flexible Federal Funds, But Struggle to Meet Service Needs can be read at http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/651667.pdf
ACA Rule Comments Deadline Delayed By Week
On January 30 the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) extended the comment period for a proposed rule implementing some key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The deadline for comment was extended from February 13 to February 21.
The rule includes a provision that provides Medicaid coverage up to age 26 for young people who were in foster care. The rule can be found at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-01-22/pdf/2013-00659.pdf. It covers Medicaid, State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP), and Exchanges. HHS is seeking comments on their interpretation of the law.
If a youth was in foster care (whether IV-E eligible or not); enrolled in Medicaid; and either turned age 18 or aged out of care (with some states extending care to age 21) but if that same young person moves to another state where they had not been in foster care, states would have an option to not extend this Medicaid coverage.
The National Foster Care Coalition is submitting comments. The deadline for such comments is now February 21, 2013 by 5:00 pm eastern standard time.
Senate Starts On VAWA Reauthorization
Today the Senate takes up a new version of a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Senate is bypassing the committee process, since it is largely the same as last year’s bill. Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced that he had already secured at least 60 votes, so that it cannot be filibustered.
The one main difference between this Senate bill and last year’s bill is that this version does not include a revenue-raising fee related to the immigration visas. House leadership had argued that such a provision violated the Constitution since all revenue-raising actions must originate in the House. The provision was taken out in an effort to remove one argument against the legislation. Removal of a technical roadblock may not be enough to move the bill through the House.
John Sciamanna is a strategic consultant on child welfare policy and legislation