INTRODUCTION OF THE CHILD SAFE ACT OF 2004 -- (Extensions of Remarks - July 19, 2004)
HON. WALLY HERGER
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
MONDAY, JULY 19, 2004
Mr. HERGER. Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Child Safety, Adoption, and Family Enhancement Act (Child SAFE) of 2004. This legislation would reform the Nation's child protection programs to ensure that children are safe and families are strengthened.
Like the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program before the historic 1996 welfare reforms, the Nation's child protection programs are broken. More than 500,000 children are in foster care today. Foster care should be a temporary, short-term placement for children until they can be reunited with their parents or placed with a safe, adoptive family. However, on average, children remain in foster care for almost three years. Unfortunately, too many of these children also will experience further abuse and physical and emotional scars that will haunt them for decades.
Every State's child protection program failed recent Federal reviews. Since November 2003, the Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee I chair has heard from more than 40 witnesses who have testified that the current child protection programs are ill-equipped to prevent abuse and keep children safe. In May 2004, after a year of study, the nonpartisan Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care proposed major changes to current financing rules for child protection programs. Many of the Pew Commission's recommendations are included in the Child SAFE Act. It is time to respond to the growing body of evidence demanding change and better accountability from our Nation's child protection programs.
The Child SAFE Act would focus on outcomes, rather than process, to better protect children by (1) providing more resources, (2) promoting better outcomes, (3) increasing accountability for results, and (4) increasing State flexibility.
The legislation would increase overall child protection program funding over the next 10 years by $2 billion. Federal funding for every child protection activity-foster care, adoption, family services, and caseworker oversight-would rise over the next 10 years.
Current child protection programs provide limited funding for services to assist families and keep them safely together. At the same time, the system provides open ended funding if kids are removed from their families, leading many to conclude that the system encourages an over-reliance on foster care. The result is that countless children are abused and too many families broken up.
The Child SAFE Act would provide Federal foster care aid for every child regardless of income, addressing a longstanding concern among families, advocates and program officials. It also would guarantee rising foster care funding to States regardless of the number of children in care. That means that States that promote more up-front services to either keep kids out of foster care or move them more quickly through foster care will have even more dollars to invest in additional services. This will remove any financial incentive for a State to needlessly remove a child from their family or let that child languish in foster care for years.
The Child SAFE Act also would promote adoption of children from the public child welfare system. Federal adoption assistance will be available for these children regardless of income. Since 1995, the number of children adopted from the public child welfare system has more than doubled. However, more than 129,000 children in foster care await adoptive families. We must encourage States to do more to find safe, loving homes for these children.
The legislation would increase Federal aid for family services and caseworkers. Federal aid would be (1) merged, (2) guaranteed, and (3) increased by a total of $2 billion over 10 years. States would have more funds, more flexibility, and greater incentives to serve families and prevent children's removal to foster care.
The Child SAFE Act also provides increased funding to Indian tribes for child protection programs. It expands funding and services for children placed with relatives. The legislation requires an assessment of children entering foster care-many of whom have deep physical and emotional scars-to determine what services they might need. States that excel in protecting children would receive a share of $400 million in new performance funds. And the legislation is fully offset by provisions previously passed in the House welfare reform bill (H.R. 4).
I thank my colleagues, Mrs. Johnson, Mr. DeLay, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Camp, and Mr. Cantor for joining me in introducing this important legislation. This legislation will improve our Nation's child protection programs so that children are safe and in loving families. I invite all Members to support it.