On June 24, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) on Strengthening the Child Welfare System for America’s Children. The order aims to provide stability for children and support for families involved in the child welfare system through federal state and local partnerships with community and faith-based organizations, additional guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and a more rigorous approach to data collection of child welfare agencies.
In nine states, county governments have the responsibility and authority for administering the child welfare system: California, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In Nevada and Wisconsin, child welfare administration follows a “hybrid” model with counties sharing jurisdiction with the state government. Counties in these states are involved in child welfare funding, policymaking, licensing, training for workers and serve as important partners with federal and state governments in efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect and reduce the number of children entering the foster care system.
According to HHS, 428,000 U.S. children are currently in foster care and of those, more than 112,000 children are waiting for adoption. More than 50 percent of the children waiting for adoption have been in foster care for 2 years or more. In addition, older youth and teens ages 15–18 have lower adoption rates than younger children and wait longer to be adopted, often aging out of the system without a stable place to call home. Older youth and teens who age out of the foster care system are likely to experience significant life challenges such as homelessness (40 percent), unemployment at age 24 (50 percent) and experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (25 percent).
In an effort to match more adoption-eligible children with permanent, stable homes, HHS has launched an “ALL-IN Foster Adoption Challenge” emphasizing partnerships between state and local governments, nonprofits, businesses, faith partners and more. The June 24 executive order builds on these efforts by encouraging cooperation with community partners with an emphasis on faith-based groups, better data collection and greater resources for children in kinship care and for older youth and increased accountability for prevention efforts.
The Order instructs federal and state officials to look for new opportunities to work community organizations, including those run by people of faith. In addition, it asks government leaders to issue new guidelines on public-private partnerships and affirm that religious agencies cannot be excluded because of their beliefs.
Additionally, HHS will have two years to build a more rigorous and systematic approach to collecting administrative data for Child and Family Service Reviews (CFSR) (the agency’s periodic reviews of state child welfare agencies.) The order also tasks HHS with aggregating standards used by states to conduct risk and safety assessments and using this data to issue guidance around best practices: To combat the issue of older teens aging out of the system, the order requires HHS to develop a plan to “address barriers to accessing existing Federal assistance and benefits for eligible individuals” for both kin and youth aging out. It also directs HHS to urge more states to consider taking federal funds for kinship guardianship agreements, which enable relatives to assume permanent custody with financial support without taking the full step of adoption.
The order also seeks a stronger federal role in holding states accountable to requirements that they make reasonable efforts in prevention – that is, keeping children from being removed from the home – and, for those children who have been removed, making necessary efforts to secure a permanent home through reunification, guardianship or adoption. HHS is instructed to add an assessment of reasonable efforts to CFSR’s and to make more frequent use of its authority to penalize states that are failing to live up to these standards.
Counties applaud the Administration for recognizing the challenges facing the child welfare system and the need for increased resources to prevent child abuse and neglect and promote permanency for children interacting with the child welfare system. We look forward to ongoing collaboration with our federal partners to ensure that county governments receive the resources and flexibility we need to meet the needs of children and families in our communities. For more information on county policy priorities related to child welfare, visit the NACo Human Services and Education County Platform.
NACo will continue to monitor child welfare legislation that impacts counties.