Today, President Trump acted to strengthen America’s child welfare system by signing a historic Executive Order (EO) aimed at improving outcomes for children and families. This EO focuses on three key areas of action: improving partnerships, improving resources, and improving oversight.
“President Trump’s executive order demonstrates how his administration has prioritized placing each of America’s foster kids with the loving, permanent family they deserve,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Since the President took office, we have focused on promoting adoption unlike any previous administration, and we’ve begun to see results. The President’s executive order lays out bold reforms for our work with states, communities, and faith-based partners to build a brighter future for American kids who are in foster care or in crisis.”
“Our number one goal is to help our children and youth by making improvements to our child welfare system, and I’m incredibly grateful to President Trump for taking this monumental action today,” said the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson. “These strong actions support vulnerable children and youth nationwide by advancing measures to reduce child abuse and neglect, encouraging family preservation, and strengthening adoption and other forms of permanency for America’s kids.”
Currently, there are approximately 430,000 children in the foster care system. Of those 430,000 children, there are nearly 124,000 children in foster care who have a plan for adoption, but have not yet achieved the permanency of a forever family. Each year, close to 20,000 youth age out of care without the support of a loving, permanent family. Many of these young men and women will experience higher rates of homelessness, incarceration, and unemployment after they leave foster care. Through three key reforms to the child welfare system outlined in the Executive Order, this Administration is standing up for vulnerable children and families, pursuing child safety, as well as permanency and child and family well-being.
As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), ACF received and distributed $45 million in grants to states, territories, and tribes to support the child welfare needs of families during this crisis, and to help keep families together. In addition, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act is anticipated to add $300 million in federal resources in fiscal year 2020 to support children in foster care, as well as children formerly in foster care now living with adoptive parents or legal guardians.
ACF has worked tirelessly in aiding efforts to reduce the number of children entering the foster care system. Through proactive primary prevention efforts and a focus on providing services to keep children safely at home, ACF—with partners at all levels of government and in the not-for-profit sector—has been able to keep more children safely out of foster care. This progress can be seen in the data. The number of children/youth entering care in recent years has declined, with a preliminary estimate of 250,000 children/youth entering care in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019. This is a five percent decline from FY 2018, and a nine percent decline from FY 2016.
The Executive Order on Strengthening Foster Care for America’s Children
The EO builds upon that success by offering three key reforms that will strengthen the child welfare system and promote permanency for children in the foster care system nationwide.
- The first reform aims at creating robust partnerships between state agencies and public, private, faith-based and community organizations. To accomplish this, the EO empowers HHS to collect and publish localized data that can be used to aid in the development of community-based prevention and family support services and in the recruitment of foster and adoptive families; to hold states accountable for recruiting an adequate number of foster and adoptive families for all children; and to develop guidance for states on best practices for effective partnering with faith-based and community organizations, aimed at improving outcomes for children and families.
- The second reform seeks to improve resources provided to caregivers and those in care. To accomplish this, HHS will increase the availability of trauma-informed training, support guardianship through funding and grants, and enhance support for kinship care and for youth exiting foster care by evaluating barriers to federal assistance.
- The third reform would improve federal oversight over key statutory child welfare requirements. To accomplish this, the EO requires the Title IV-E Reviews and the Child and Family Services Reviews to strengthen the assessments of these critical requirements and directs HHS to provide guidance to states regarding flexibility in the use of federal funds to support and encourage high-quality legal representation for parents and children.
Deliberate reforms of the child welfare system will bring change to the foster care system to improve the lives of many vulnerable children and families. ACF looks forward to implementing these changes to prevent child maltreatment, keep families together whenever safely possible, and achieve timely permanency for the thousands of children waiting in the system.