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Improving child welfare programs

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By Geoff Davis

As chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Resources, it is my responsibility to periodically review programs under my jurisdiction to ensure they are an effective use of taxpayer dollars.

Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and I worked together to accomplish that result with legislation that was signed into law last week by President Obama.  The Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act (H.R. 2883) reauthorizes and improves two important child welfare programs to continue serving children and families in need without adding to the deficit.  

H.R. 2883 reauthorizes the Child Welfare Services program and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program.  We reviewed these programs in a number of hearings this year to determine how we could improve upon these proven efforts that help children remain safely with their own families or to be cared for by other relatives or foster parents.  H.R. 2883 includes changes and improvements based on what we learned.

In addition to reauthorizing CWS and PSSF, the law renews authority for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to approve state waivers for innovating in child welfare programs.  Past waivers have allowed states to test new and better ways of helping children who are victims or at risk of abuse and neglect.  However, the waiver authority lapsed in recent years.  Allowing state innovation through waivers to continue will yield information for us to use in improving child welfare programs in the future.

This legislation also directs the Secretary of HHS to work with states to establish data standards so that all state child welfare systems are speaking the same language.  We have often heard in subcommittee hearings that states, and programs within states, have difficulty coordinating services because of a variety of barriers to sharing data, and that this lack of coordination increases costs and decreases effectiveness.  This provision is a first step toward improving collaboration between social services programs.

Many states underreport child deaths due to maltreatment and that makes it harder to prevent these tragic deaths in the future.  As a result of this law, states will be required to describe data sources used to report child maltreatment deaths and how they will incorporate missing sources of data.  Better information can help us better protect children from abuse and neglect, which is our ultimate goal.

Child identity theft is another issue we have talked about in the subcommittee this year.  To protect children in foster care from becoming victims of identity theft, H.R. 2883 requires child welfare agencies to provide older foster youth with a copy of their credit report (if one exists), and assisting them in resolving any inaccuracies.  This simple check early on can help to prevent an unwelcome surprise of bad credit due to identity theft, which could prevent a teen from obtaining credit or getting student loans for college after exiting the child welfare system.

The bill does not add to the deficit, and is an example of how we can improve programs in a bipartisan way, while still living within our means.  I am grateful to President Obama for signing the bill, and to Ways and Means committee chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Human Resources subcommittee ranking member Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), as well as Senate Finance committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), for their many important contributions to this legislation.  Together, we were able to work together to pass this initiative that will help children and families struggling through difficult times.