CHN: Congress Continues Funding for Child Welfare Services

In a now rare demonstration of bipartisanship, Congress enacted the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act (S.1542/H.R. 2883) in time to continue funding uninterrupted for various child welfare services.  The final vote in the House was 395-25, on September 21.  President Obama signed the bill into law (PL 112-34) on September 30, the day before funding would have expired.
The legislation continues the operation of Promoting Safe and Stable Families, which provides services to protect children and help families remain intact if possible; it provides for foster care and permanency services if it is not in the child’s interest to keep the family together.  Also renewed is the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services program, which provides grants to states to carry out similar services.

The legislation authorizes $345 million a year for the next five years for the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program.  This is mandatory funding, which means that now that the legislation has been enacted, spending at the approved level can continue from 2012 through 2016 without having to be appropriated every year.  In addition, more spending was authorized that does need annual appropriations:  the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services program is authorized to receive $325 million a year for five years, and Safe and Stable Families is approved for another $200 million a year.  When appropriations are finalized each year, Congress may choose to provide less than the maximum allowed funding.

The legislation generally continues previous funding levels, including $20 million for substance abuse partnership grants and $30 million for court improvements.  There is a new allocation of $1 million for tribal courts out of the existing funds.  In addition, there are new requirements that state plans outline steps states are taking to meet the developmental needs of babies and toddlers within their child welfare systems, better monitor the use of psychotropic prescription drugs, and stronger language about the right to education for children in foster care.  For more information about these and other improvements in the new law, see an analysis by the American Humane Association.
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