Complete Guide to Pending Foster Care, Adoption and Juvenile Bills In Congress Right Now

There is a whole lot of youth-related legislation in the ole’ congressional hopper these days. And with Congress revved up for bipartisan compromise, it’s almost certain to move!

Alright, half that statement is true. Youth Services Insider has noticed a rising tide of bills pertaining to child welfare and juvenile justice, and while the prospects are dim for movement in the short term, it’s important to note the ideas being bandied about.

So here is a handy-dandy guide to some of the youth-related legislation introduced this year…

Child Welfare Finance

 S. 1964

Issue: Child welfare finance reform. Definitely the priciest youth bill out there, this would overhaul the multi-billion dollar Title IV-E entitlement to steer more funding to family preservation, crisis intervention and reunification.

A House equivalent is expected to be introduced by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) soon.

Lead Dog: Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

S. ????

Issue: Limits on group homes and congregate care spending within IV-E.

There’s no bill yet, but we’re told by several insiders that one is imminent from the office of Senate Finance Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

It will be interesting to see whether Wyden gets on board with this. He seemed keen on some form of limitation at a summer hearing, and this would kinda, sorta, maybe drive down the price of his aforementioned overhaul bill.

S. 1932

Issue: Like Wyden’s bill, it would create flexibility for some prevention-oriented services under IV-E. Unlike Wyden’s bill, it would eliminate the increasingly ridiculous eligibility criteria for federal IV-E reimbursement. The bill would knock out a rule that states could only seek reimbursement for kids who were removed from parents below a poverty income line from 1996.

Nobody thinks that eligibility link is sane, but some people have voiced to YSI that “de-linking” from it could be pricey and incentivize more removals.

This bill addresses the price problem by simply instructing the federal government to submit a plan to Congress that makes this budget neutral. We have to think that plan would mostly involve lowering the per-child reimbursement rate in a manner proportional to the anticipated increase in covered youths.

Lead Dogs: Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), Mike Crapo (R-Ind.)

S. 429 and H.R. 835

Issue: A simple but potentially impactful bill in the realm of mental health. This would amend Title XIX to include therapeutic foster care as an allowable expense, which would free up Medicaid dollars to provide more intense services to foster youths in crisis.

Lead Dogs: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)

Foster Care

S. 2166

Issue: Introduced last week, the Timely Mental Health for Foster Youth Act would amend Title IV-B to require that states conduct an “initial mental health screening of any child in foster care” by day 30 of his or her time in care. For any child with a mental health issue identified at that screening, a comprehensive assessment must be complete by day 60 in foster care.

Important note: This bill was born of policy recommendations made by Emily Satifka, who participated last year in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Intern Program (FYI) program, and Jennessa Ahline, an FYI from this year.

Lead Dog: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

H.R. 3641 and S.1852

Issue: The Affordable Care Act guarantees Medicaid eligibility for foster youth through age 26, but the Department of Health and Human Services made an interpretation that advocates opposed. HHS has maintained that only the state where a youth aged out of foster care is required to guarantee Medicaid. Other states may do so, but don’t have to.

This bill would clean that up with language that makes all states accountable for guaranteeing Medicaid to someone who aged out of care.

Lead Dogs: Rep. Karen Bass (R-Calif.), Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) 

H.R. 3160 and S. 1439

Issue: These bills would raise the age cap on the John Chafee Foster Care Independence Program for certain states.

The traditional cap for Chafee grants is 21. That was implemented before the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act permitted states to use federal dollars to keep 18- to 21-year-olds in foster care.

This bill would enable states that have taken the feds up on this to lengthen the runway for youth aging out at 21. Those states could provide Chafee grants to former foster youth up to the age of 23.

Lead Dogs: Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)

H.R. 1868

Issue: Amends the IV-E to require that child welfare systems notify identified relatives of a child’s removal to foster care within 30 days of the removal.

Lead Dog: Rep. John Conyers (R-Mich.).

S. 664

Issue: Foster parents who care for a child upwards of six months are entitled to claim a $1,000 Child Tax Credit just like any other parent.

This bill would level the playing field for providers of short-term foster care by creating a “Foster Care Tax Credit.” Same amount, $1,000, available only to foster parents who cared for a child for less than six months.

Lead Dog: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) 

Civil Rights

H.R. 2449 and S. 1382

S. 667 and HR 1299 

Issue: We put these sets of bills together because at heart, they both seek to address discriminatory action related to sexual orientation and marital status in the realm of foster care and adoption.

The first set of bills seeks to impose a two-way ban on discrimination based on “gender, orientation or marital status.” Under this bill, no state could treat a foster or adoptive parent differently based on those criteria; nor could it treat a youth differently.

The second set of bills would protect independent providers from any “adverse action” based on their decision to decline the provision or referral for services that “conflict with the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

Strictly speaking, the laws could co-exist. A state or county system could permit a private religious provider to discriminate against a particular parent or youth as long as it guaranteed comparable assistance from another provider.

But in reality, the two would likely be at odds in, say, a rural area that relied on a single religious provider for foster and adoptive parent recruitment.

Lead Dogs: (Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn.) 

Education

S. 662 and H.R. 1194

Issues: The bills would establish grant awards for “Family Engagement Centers.” The money would travel to nonprofits operating on state levels that could then conduct training and assistance to local education agencies on how to better involve families.

Lead Dogs: Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.)

S. 1177

Starring: H.R. 3087and S. 1639; H.R. 3221 and S. 2169; H.R. 562

Issues: The Senate has passed S. 1177, which would finally leave No Child Left Behind…well, behind.

The bill includes several caveats for at-risk youth that were rolled up into the bill from other proposed legislation. The House hasn’t moved on its version of an education overhaul yet.

Among the derivative legislation included in S. 1177:

From H.R. 3087 and S. 1639, requirement that schools work with child welfare systems to plan and pay for the transportation needs of foster youth who wish to remain in a school of origin, even when they are moved to another school district.

From H.R. 3221 and S. 2169, a mandate that the progress of homeless youth and foster youth be broken out in the annual state report cards.

From H.R. 562, a requirement that school districts guarantee the transfer of credits and partial credits when transferring schools.

Also, we’re not sure where the language comes from, but S. 1177 also has an important juvenile justice caveat. State education agencies would have to establish procedures to “ensure the prompt re-enrollment of each student who has been placed in the juvenile justice system.”

This could involve re-entry to secondary school or a re-entry program, and must include a “transfer of credits that such student earns during placement.”

Not sure exactly how much teeth that requirement carries, but it’s at least a good first step on a corner of the juvenile justice world mostly ignored thus far by the federal government.

Lead Dogs: Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Reps. Danny Davis (D-Ind.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.)

Adoption

H.R. 3428

Issue: Amends Title X of the Public Health Service Act to require that all federally funded family planning programs provide information about adoption centers to “each person who inquires about their services.”

Lead Dog: Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.)

H.R. 2818 and S. 1637

Issue: These bills would establish a National Responsible Father Registry to protect the rights of birth fathers. This would connect state-level registries, which offer men who can prove paternity the right to be notified when an adoption or a termination of parental rights is initiated.

Lead Dogs: James Inhofe (R-Okla)., Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.)

H.R. 2434 and S. 950

Issue: There was a refundable federal adoption tax credit available in fiscals 2010 and 2011. The credit remains available, but it is not refundable, meaning it is only available to the extent that a parent has federal tax liability.

These bills would amend IRS regulations to restore that status.

Lead Dogs: Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.)

S. 1254

Issue: The Families for Foster Youth Stamp Act would simply establish a federally issued stamp with a portion of proceeds directed to the Adoption Opportunities Program, which includes federal support for incentivizing adoption, provision of post-adoption services and research on adoption outcomes.

Lead Dog: Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)

H.R. 2068 and S. 369

Issue: The main focus of the federally subsidized Internet Crimes Against Children task forces is to go after online sex traffickers and other scumbags trading in child exploitation over the Internet.

This would expand their scope to include a new hot topic: re-homing. ICACs would be empowered to track down attempts to illegally transfer custody of children over the web, and pursue the re-homers.

Lead Dog: Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

Juvenile Justice 

H.R. 2728 and S. 1169
S. 1770 and H.R. 2197

Issue: That first set of bills would reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which has gone without a reauthorization for more than a decade now.

They are mostly similar, with one key difference: the House version includes a scaled-down version of the Youth PROMISE Act, which would fund planning and implementation for violence prevention strategies in communities that need it. The Senate’s version does not.

That second set of bills represents the standalone versions of the PROMISE Act.

The bottom line on all of this is: What does House Education and The Workforce Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) want to do on juvenile justice?

He recently convened a hearing on the subject, but has remained mum on whether he even believes in a reauthorization of JJPDA.

The lead minority on his committee, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), is the author of both the House reauthorization bill and the architect of the PROMISE Act.

On the Senate side, JJDPA reauthorization has moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits a vote by the full Senate. This would be the last opportunity for the PROMISE Act to be tacked onto the Senate version.

Lead Dogs: Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.)

S. 2123
Issue: This high profile, bipartisan effort on federal sentencing reform focuses mostly on adult offenders, but provides a few protections for juveniles convicted as adults and committed to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

First and foremost, it would afford an opportunity for parole after 20 years to those convicted of a crime committed before their 18th birthday.

This law relates to the federal courts and prisons, which house a pretty small number of inmates convicted as juveniles (mostly Native American teens and teens from the District of Columbia). But it would be a solid precedent to set as state-level juvenile justice reforms continue to brew.

In particular, there have been erratic reactions to the Supreme Court’s instruction to replace juvenile life without parole sentences with a meaningful chance at parole.

This would amount to the federal government weighing in and saying essentially, “We think meaningful is 20 years into a sentence.”

Lead Dogs: Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)

H.R. 1672 and S. 675

Issue: These two bills are entitled the REDEEM Act, and focus on expunging juvenile records and limiting youth exposure to solitary confinement. They call for expungement of records for nonviolent offenses on the condition that terms of probation are met, and ban the use of room confinement for “discipline, punishment, retaliation, or any reason” other than as a “temporary response” to behavior that places juveniles at risk.

S. 2123 blended REDEEM’s language in for the purposes of federal criminal procedure.

Lead Dogs: Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Social Impact/Pay for Success

1089 and H.R. 1336

Issue: This would establish a 10-year $300 million pot of federal money available to support social impact partnerships. The source: Title XX of the Social Security Act.

This could have major implications for both child welfare and juvenile justice. Thus far, Congress and the federal government have expressed lots of verbal interest in social financing, but have not backed it up with much cash.

Lead Dogs: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Todd Young (R-Ind.)

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.