Social workers were among the child welfare specialists invited to testify at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing in February on ways to improve America's child welfare system.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, called the hearing to review legislative proposals. "We have no greater responsibility than ensuring the well-being of America's most vulnerable children," McDermott said in a statement. He recently introduced the Invest in Kids Act (H.R. 5466). The proposed legislation would:
- Create a new federal-state partnership to provide services aimed at reducing the need for foster care.
- Ensure federal foster care assistance for every child in need of care.
- Support a qualified child welfare workforce.
- Connect foster children to support, family, health care and school through such policies as allowing federal foster care coverage to continue until age 21, providing federal guardianship payments for relatives caring for children removed from their homes and requiring improved oversight of the health care and education needs of foster children.
Among the social workers who submitted testimony at the hearing were Terry Cross, director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association; Ken Deibert, deputy director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security's Children, Youth and Family Services; MaryLee Allen, director of child welfare and mental health at the Children's Defense Fund; and Khatib Waheed, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Social Policy.
A highlight of the bill is its link to NASW's Social Work Reinvestment Initiative and the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr., Social Work Reinvestment Act [see related story]. In the Invest in Kids Act, there are provisions supporting quality front-line workers and in particular calling for child welfare service quality-improvement grants to states to increase the quality and capacity of their child welfare workforces.
NASW national office intern Eric Gordon attended the hearing. He said another important aspect of the Invest in Kids Act is that it includes the Kinship Caregiver Support Act (H.R. 2188). This bill would amend Part E (Federal Payments for Foster Care and Adoption Assistance) of Title IV of the Social Security Act to authorize all states to opt to enter agreements to provide kinship guardianship assistance payments on behalf of children to grandparents and other relatives who have assumed legal guardianship of children for whom they have cared as foster parents and have committed to care for on a permanent basis.
Gordon said there was also strong support to extend the subsidized guardianship and foster care age to 21. Allen from the Children's Defense Fund stated the provision would allow states to receive continuing federal support when they extend foster care until age 21 for youth who would otherwise "age out" of the system at 18. "Research by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago has documented the increased benefits to young people who stay in care longer and reinforced the importance of helping states to extend care for these youth," Allen said.
At press time, H.R. 5466 remained in committee. NASW Senior Government Relations Associate Nancy McFall Jean said NASW will monitor its progress.