According to federal data, there are more than 427,000 children in U.S. foster care and nearly 112,000 waiting to be adopted. Those of us committed to ensuring safety and security for these children are anxiously waiting to see what President-elect Donald Trump has to say about child welfare.
Children in care didn’t come up during Mr. Trump’s campaign, as he focused on the economy, security, and immigration. As the country moves toward a government controlled by one party — the party that often promises reduced government funding and services — many in the child welfare community fear severe budget cuts, block granting, and reduced investment in children.
But we at Voice for Adoption (VFA) know that caring for vulnerable children is not a partisan issue. The Trump administration and the leaders of the 115th Congress cannot forget this nation’s waiting children as they tackle their agendas. Investing in the future of children who have been abused and neglected is both a sound fiscal decision and the right thing to do.
Data clearly illustrates the impact of childhood trauma. Children who face adverse experiences, such as abuse or neglect, often grow up to face even greater challenges as adults. They more often need mental health and medical services, and have increased risk of delinquency or employment challenges, all of which have substantial costs to the American government.
The best way to avoid these human and financial costs is to make it possible for children to have a permanent and loving family. We need to invest federal funds in keeping children safely at home or with relatives, ensuring children in care have a family rather than a group placement, and increasing the number of children adopted into families who have the support they need to help their children thrive. Each child adopted from care can decrease government costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
There is a long history of bipartisan support for adoption and child welfare issues. Last year, Republican members of Congress partnered with Democrats to champion legislation aimed at improving the lives of children at risk of entering foster care. The most significant child welfare improvements in the last 20 years — the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, and the Strengthening Families Act of 2014 — were strongly bipartisan efforts. Both Republicans and Democrats have regularly united to support our nation’s most vulnerable children, and must continue to do so now.
As the new administration and Congress take control, VFA encourages them to embrace this bipartisan history and to enhance the federal government’s investment in child welfare, rather than making short-term cuts with long-term consequences. Among the specific issues that the next president and Congress should address:
During discussions about tax reform, they should protect the adoption tax credit, which encourages families to adopt.
During discussions about health care reform, they need to protect youth who aged out of foster care who were able, through the Affordable Care to Act, to remain on Medicaid through age 26.
Congress and the administration must also preserve Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, which funds foster care and adoption assistance, and Title IV-B, which funds support for adoptive families and other families at risk, if there are efforts to block grant these programs. Block grants may provide states with flexibility on how to use funds, but they don’t account for increased demand and inflation and, over time, can enable programs to lose focus and accountability.
The current opioid and heroin crisis has led to increases in the number of children in care and the number waiting to be adopted. If the amount of federal support for foster care remains the same, as might happen with a Title IV-E block grant, states would have fewer resources to meet the needs of more children. When children’s needs aren’t met, costs to the public sector increase as noted above.
As we start the new year, the child welfare community has an opportunity to educate political leaders, especially those new to foster care and adoption, about the value of investing in children. We must remind legislators that, rather than considering a decrease to the current federal spending on children, legislators should spend more now to achieve positive outcomes and save money down the road.
Schylar Baber is the executive director of Voice for Adoption, an organization that develops and advocates for improved adoption policies.