A Look Back at 2017: The Year in Youth Services

A Look Back at 2017: The Year in Youth Services

It used to be easier to think back and recap a year. Now, between the tweets and the protests and the investigations and the bitmojis, one’s brain is so cloudy by late December it’s hard to make sense of it all. It feels like the news volume of a 365-day news cycle in 1997 is about equivalent to a week of 2017.

Below is Youth Services Insider’s attempt to tease out the most interesting themes in youth services from the information overload that was 2017.

Kids in Limbo

One important lesson about the political climate from 2107: House Ways and Means Republicans will support bipartisan child and family programs, but not without reciprocal cuts and/or containment. To wit:

There was widespread certainty over the summer that both parties would want to reauthorize Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV), a federal program that fuels state support for attempts to help young or expecting moms. But House Republicans wanted states to start matching the MIECHV money by 2022, which some states already do and other states almost certainly would not do.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a reauthorization bill for the massively popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which insures about nine million low-income children each year. But the bill pays for a portion of that extension with cuts to other healthcare protections and was lashed to a well-below-need aid package for Puerto Rico.

And when negotiations were in full tilt to salvage an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Republicans in both chambers were willing to nix (or at least weaken) the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) protections in reforms of Medicaid. EPSDT, which is already underutilized in many states, is the best guarantee of physical and mental health services for youth in foster care, all of whom are automatically eligible for Medicaid.

MIECHV and CHIP remain in flux. The Senate Finance Committee wants clean reauthorizations of both, the House does not. Advocates for both programs remain certain that both will be extended early in 2018. Meanwhile, state agencies and home visiting programs have begun to prepare for the worst.

Also left in limbo, without any fiscal reason why: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program rendered by the executive branch under President Obama and rescinded effective in March by President Trump.

Leadership in both parties swear up and down that DACA will become law by the March deadline. But what 2017 taught us is that when bigger-ticket items get in the way, like ACA repeal or taxes, youth services programs get put on the back burner. And with looming action on funding the government, North Korea and the Russia investigation, it’s hard for YSI to swallow that CHIP, MIECHV or DACA are truly done deals.

Foster Youth Increase, Foster Home Crisis

As was expected and even projected in the Trump budget, the number of youth in foster care continues to increase. The annual report from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), shows the foster care total up 2.3 percent since 2015, and up 10.2 percent since 2012.

This year, The Chronicle decided to see what we could find about how the supply of homes for foster youth had trended during the past five years. What we found is that the majority of states have either lost foster homes, or the gains they have made are far outpaced by the increase in kids. In some states, this has been balanced out by increased reliance on relatives to take care of children who are removed.

Click here to read our foster care capacity report.

No system is reeling more right now than the Indiana Department of Child Services. Indiana is the 15th most populous state but currently has one of the five highest foster care populations. The state’s entries into care went up 14 percent in the last year alone, and up 67 percent since 2012.

Things got worse this month when Mary Beth Bonaventura, who in 2013 was appointed to lead the Department of Child Services by then-Governor and now Vice President Mike Pence, gave notice on December 12 that she would step down. Bonaventura resigned in protest over spending cuts and management decisions made by Gov. Eric Holcomb (R).

“Sixteen” On the Way Out

For decades, North Carolina and New York have been the lone standouts when it comes to the age of jurisdiction. A handful of states still consider 17-year-olds to be adults in the eyes of the law, but only those two states considered 16-year-olds to be adults. Consequently, a healthy chunk of the teens placed into adult facilities came from New York and North Carolina’s urban areas.

2017 saw the beginning of the end for this era. Both states passed and signed legislation that would take the age of jurisdiction up to 18 by the year 2019, giving them two years to right-size state and county juvenile justice systems to accommodate the shift.

This caps a three-year period in which more than one-third of states have taken significant legislative action, executive action or both to limit the number of juvenile offenders who are exposed to adult court or adult incarceration facilities. This was well-documented in the 2017 report “Raising the Bar,” by the Campaign for Youth Justice.

JJDPA: One Step Closer, But Same Stop Sign

Another year with no reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the program that provides states with formula grants in exchange for compliance with four basic juvenile justice standards.

The process moved one step further this year. For the first time since 2002, both chambers of Congress have a passed bill at the same time. But the reason JJDPA hasn’t gone to conference is the same as it has been for years now: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). He is opposed to a key provision in the House version, and is holding up a move to work out the differences in the bills.

For years, the only state that did not participate in JJDPA has been Wyoming. But they were joined this year by Nebraska, and we hear there are other states on the fence about whether to keep complying with a bill that Congress can’t update, and continues to appropriate very modest funds for.

Faith-Based Groups Using Protection

Texas faith-based providers that recruit and train foster and adoptive parents were already permitted by state policy to exclude unmarried or gay couples. This year, the legislature made it official with a bill that both permits them to be discriminate in selecting families, and binds the state from ever taking action to cut their contract for being selective.

Texas is the biggest child welfare system to adopt such a policy, but it is not the first. Seven other states have passed similar bills since same-sex marriage became the law of the land: Alabama, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia, Mississippi and Michigan. Another two, Oklahoma and Georgia, have legislation pending.

There is also a bill to make these protections for faith-based providers federal. The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017 would empower the Department of Health and Human Services to dock 15 percent of either the Title IV-B or IV-E allocation of a state that takes “adverse action” against “a child welfare service provider on the basis that the provider has declined or will decline to provide, facilitate, or refer for a child welfare service that conflicts with, or under circumstances that conflict with, the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

Broken, Subsidized Promises

YSI’s first awareness of issues over adoption subsidies going to parents that didn’t deserve them came in 2014. We had written a column theorizing on how to effectively track failed adoptions using the termination of subsidies, a blend of federal and state money that goes to most parents who adopt from foster care. A child welfare advocate and lawyer name Dawn Post emailed to alert us to a fly in the ointment on such a plan: in New York City, where she worked on behalf of foster youths, the subsidies kept going long after adoptions had fallen apart.

In August of 2016, when a young New York City native named Demetrius Johnson, one of that summer’s Foster Youth Internship Program participants in Washington, D.C., wrote a policy recommendation about better regulating that payments. Johnson’s adoptive mother sent him back into foster care, but later he would discover she continued to collect thousands of dollars in subsidy payments.

Johnson and Post’s home state could be the first to start taking a closer look, especially when youth end up back in care or on the street. A bill has been introduced in both legislative bodies that would require subsidy recipients certify to a county agency that it is living up to “obligations pursuant to any adoption subsidy agreement entered into … including their obligation to provide support for the child.”

If an adoptive parent fails to do this, or does not acknowledge the request, the social service agency is then able to investigate to determine what the situation is.

Iowa’s new child welfare director, Jerry Foxhoven, has also voiced interest in monitoring through the subsidy.

Turbulence in Private Adoption

Both the domestic and international private adoption communities experienced some serious disruption this year as well. Just a month into 2017, Independent Adoption Center (IAC), one of the nation’s largest placement agencies, abruptly went under, leaving some 300 families in the lurch.

IAC was already under investigation when it announced bankruptcy, and its central problem was a simple supply/demand one. It had far more adoptive clients than it had mothers willing to give a baby to a family.

The supply side of the international adoption world is also shifting downward in the United States, with Ethiopia closing its borders this year to American adoptive families. Intercountry adoptions have declined from 17,449 in 2008 to just 5,370 in 2016.

But the looming crisis coming out of 2017 is of a regulatory nature. The Council on Accreditation (COA), which was the lone entity doing accreditation of international adoption agencies for the State Department, has cut ties with State over disagreements about new rules. Recently, the State Department has instructed COA to require agencies to have other partners, such as a state-run orphanage, enter a supervisory agreement as well.

State, which has new leadership in its adoption office, has moved COA’s old work over to the newly-formed Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME), a nonprofit that will be operated by the Partnership for Strong Families, which is a lead child welfare services provider for two regions in of Florida.

The departure of COA, and fear that the new rules will prove overly burdensome, have some adoption observers worried that the U.S. will soon be effectively closed off to international adoptions.

CORRECTION: The article has been updated to note that the House Energy and Commerce Committee, not Ways and Means, has jurisdiction over CHIP funding. 

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1211 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jkelly@chronicleofsocialchange.org.

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