Hatch Child Welfare Bill Proposes Major Reforms of APPLA Option, Congregate Care, and Chafee Education Grants

A bill introduced yesterday would forbid child welfare systems from setting long-term foster care as an option for foster youths under the age of 16, limit the use of group homes and residential care for children under 13, and extend the age ceiling for foster youth college grants to 26.

The bill, called the Improving Outcomes for Youth At-Risk for Sex Trafficking Act, pushes states to set policies in place to identify youth who are believed to be at risk of being trafficked. But the name belies the far more sweeping changes proposed by its author, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

“Another Planned Permanency Living Arrangement,” or APPLA, is an option allowed under federal law, meaning that states can be reimbursed through through IV-E funds for youth who have that designation. It was created in 1997 as a rare-exception option, meant to replace a no-questions-asked placement called “Long-Term Foster Care.”

Under Hatch’s bill, child welfare systems would no longer be able to set APPLA as a plan for any foster youth under the age of 16, meaning that caseworkers would have to pursue reunification, guardianship or adoption for any youth up to age 15.

APPLA is an acceptable designation only if there is sufficient reason to exclude all possible legal, permanent family goals.

But child welfare data, and experiences shared by former foster youths with Congressional leaders, suggest that at least 10 percent of youths end up with an APPLA designation, and perhaps an equal amount are on that path without systems formally saying so.

“I was worried it would become a default option,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), at a roundtable discussion about APPLA held last year. “We wanted it to be a last resort,” but over time “it has become “an obstacle to reunification or adoption.”

The bill would cut off federal match money after 15 days for children under 13 who are placed in congregate care. And for all foster youths placed in child care institutions or emergency group settings, the system must appear in court to demonstrate that efforts to locate potential homes for the child were made.

Hatch would also raise the ceiling to age 26 for Chafee Educational Training Vouchers (ETV), a program that allots funds to each state to support the financial needs of current and former foster youth attending college.

The legislation would also do the following:

  • Requires states to show that they have policies in place to identify youth who are believed to be at risk of being trafficked
  • Redirects funds from the Social Services Block Grant program to provide states with resources to keep children at home, improve the courts, support adoption and to provide housing to trafficked and other vulnerable youth
  • Increase policies to recruit and train quality foster parents

Hatch said in a statement that the bill’s main objective is to protect children involved with the child welfare system from contact with sex traffickers.

“Some estimates have found hundreds of thousands of children and youth are at risk of domestic sex trafficking,” said Hatch. “Making matters worse: up to 60 percent of sexually-exploited children are recruited out of our nation’s child welfare and foster care systems. We owe these young people better than this.”

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