CHN: Negotiated Version of Foster Care Youth Bill Introduced
On June 26, legislation focusing on the needs of older foster care youth, and increased protections against sex trafficking of foster youth, was introduced in the House and referred to the Committee on Ways and Means and the Committee on the Budget. Although a version of the bill passed the House in May (see May 27 Human Needs Report), the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980) has resolved differences in a number of previous bills in the House and Senate and is fully paid for. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) collaborated with members of the House Ways and Means Committee on this measure.
Addressing a previous point of contention, the bill will require states to provide youth aging out of the foster care system with essential documents including a birth certificate, Social Security card, health records and accompanying insurance information, as well as a driver’s license or recognized state ID. Currently, many youth leaving foster care receive little support or guidance towards employment or further education. Too often, they find themselves in low-wage jobs, victimized, incarcerated, or needing public assistance. Ensuring that they have essential documents will at least help youth aging out of foster care pursue a successful adult life. Other provisions promoting empowerment and independence include funding to enable foster care youth to participate in extracurricular activities with their peers and feel a sense of normalcy. While the system currently emphasizes the needs of younger children, this allocation would open opportunities for the growing number of older youth in the system to move towards responsible independence. It also increases adoption incentives for states, especially for older youth.
H.R. 4980 also calls for improvements in tracking, screening, and reporting of foster youth that have gone missing and might have been the victims of sexual trafficking during that time. Advocates highlight that the state has vowed to protect these youth, and including protection from becoming victims of sex trafficking while within the system. Thus, the bill outlines the creation of a National Advisory Committee to provide research and recommendations for best practices to prevent sexual trafficking among foster youth. Normalcy funding outlined in the bill could help decrease the risk of trafficking, as youth have reported leaving their foster placement out of boredom. The inclusion of youth in casework planning beginning at age 14 can also help lower the risk by making them feel involved, empowered, and independent while still within the system.
As the bill has bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, and is fully paid for with savings of $1 million over five years, advocates hope to see the bill on President Obama’s desk soon. However, amidst the current climate on Capitol Hill, the timing of movement on the bill is uncertain.