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The Children's Defense Fund
MAY 18, 2004
11:41 AM
CONTACT:  The Children's Defense Fund
John Norton (202) 662-3609
Children's Defense Fund Urges Federal Child Welfare Reforms

WASHINGTON - May 18 - The Children's Defense Fund (CDF), at the release of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care's report, Fostering the Future: Safety, Permanence, and Well-Being for Children in Foster Care, echoed the call for major reforms in child welfare financing and the courts responsible for protecting children and overseeing them in safe, permanent homes. The Commission's report is being released in May, which is National Foster Care Month—an important time to get more people involved on behalf of children in foster care.

CDF views the Pew Commission's report as an important opportunity to generate momentum for long overdue reforms at the federal level on behalf of abused and neglected children. It helps move the national discussion beyond the tragic stories of children abused in their homes and in foster care to steps the federal government can take to help improve children's lives. The report makes clear that no single solution to the problems these children and families face is sufficient—instead, change is needed in multiple areas and at the federal, state, and local levels. Those changes must come in the form of increased investments, increased flexibility, and in new ways of doing business that build on the good work already going on in selected states and communities around the country.

Twenty-five years ago CDF published Children Without Homes: An Examination of Public Responsibility to Children in Out-of-Home Care, another major report on child welfare. At that time, Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of CDF, described what CDF reported as a national disgrace: "a pattern of institutional abuse and neglect of our most vulnerable children that cannot wait one more day for correction. The daily plight of these children, who are often left family-less, makes a mockery of our professed belief in family, our concern for our young, and for the cost-effective use of taxpayers' money."

In commenting on the Pew Commission's report released today, Edelman said, "The same urgency continues today. While there have been important reforms since CDF issued its report in 1979, the intervening 25 years have produced many stark, new challenges. However, today there is also greater appreciation of what the federal role must be if we are to truly commit to keeping children safe and in permanent families. There are leaders from both parties who have championed child welfare reforms. Hopefully, the Pew Commission report ignites the next critical round of legislative action. The time for action is now, before we lose yet another generation of children."

A growing consensus exists around areas where federal reforms are needed:

Increased capacity in prevention to allow children and families to get the help they need well before they end up in out-of-home care. Agencies have found new ways to engage families and communities early and to partner with them to keep children safe.

Increased capacity for specialized treatment to address the problems of substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence that too often bring families to the door of the child welfare system. Forty to 80 percent of the children who come to child protection agencies are from families with substance abuse problems, many of whom could benefit from comprehensive family treatment. Others are in need of mental health treatment or are from families where there is both child abuse and domestic violence.

Expanded permanency options for children, including federal support for children placed permanently with relatives who are their legal guardians, and increased support for post-permanency services for children who leave foster care and return home, are adopted, or live permanently with kin

Improvements in the quality of the workforce—those who work with and care for abused and neglected children—to ensure that they have better training, supervision, and more appropriate workloads that allow for attention to the individual needs of children and families. Foster and adoptive parents and kinship caregivers also need increased support and training.

Enhanced accountability for the well-being of children that builds on the federal reviews just completed in all the states. This means providing increased resources to assist states as they implement the program improvement plans they have developed to address barriers to getting children the help they need. It also means requiring states to give special attention to the children who remain in care the longest; to give a voice to the concerns of children in the child welfare system and those caring for them; and to examine the over-representation of African American and American Indian children in foster care and strategies to address it.

The recommendations of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care address many of these goals. The comprehensive Act to Leave No Child Behind, the Child Protective Services Improvement Act, the Loan Forgiveness for Child Welfare Workers Act and other bills pending in Congress make additional policy changes, and more will be forthcoming. "Let's commit now during National Foster Care Month to seriously examine all of these critical recommendations and combine the best choices among them to create a comprehensive approach for children that will help us to truly Leave No Child Behind®," said Edelman.

At the same time, CDF urged President Bush to take steps this year to secure increased investments in prevention and other family supports for abused and neglected children. Four years ago, when running for office, the President promised to seek guaranteed increased investments in the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program of $200 million a year. Yet, nearly four years later after repeated calls for increased funding, only half of the funds have been approved.

"There is still time for the President to make good on his promise, and show what compassionate government is all about," said Edelman. "His rhetoric needs to be matched by the reality of his actions, otherwise, vulnerable children will continue to go unserved. The time is now! Let's act so children will not continue to wait."


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