As child-protection agencies across the country struggle with multiple challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump signed an executive order focused on strengthening child-welfare programs nationwide. We at Hawley and Associates were enthusiastic to read the underlying goals of this order, which include decreasing child maltreatment, empowering adoption programs and increasing support for at-risk families, with the goal that fewer children need to be separated from their home and placed in foster care.
The order also aims to enhance federal oversight of child-welfare requirements by having Health and Human Services (HHS) advise states on the use of federal funds to support legal representation for parents and kids. It also directs HHS Secretary Alex Azar to assist care-givers by increasing the availability of trauma-informed trainings, expanding education options, and addressing barriers to accessing federal funding.
The global pandemic has left child-protection agencies with a slew of issues. Some family proceedings have been disrupted, which at times has caused delay in the child’s exit from foster care to return home. Many biological parents have been denied normally routine in-person visits with children placed in foster care. All while some agencies are saying it’s become harder than ever to recruit new foster parents.
This executive order has come when our child-welfare systems have needed it most. It envisions three basic areas of reform:
- Creating “robust partnerships” between state agencies and public, private, faith-based, and community organizations. The goals would include development for community-based, abuse-prevention and family support services and holding states accountable for recruiting an adequate number of foster and adoptive families.
- Improving resources provided to caregivers and those in care. The order says HHS will increase the availability of trauma-informed training, support guardianship through funding and grants, and enhance support for kinship care for the roughly 20,000 young people who age out of foster care each year.
- Improving federal oversight over key statutory child-welfare requirements. Among other steps, this proposal directs HHS to advise sates on the possible use of federal funds to support high-quality legal representation for parents and children.
Martin Guggenheim, a law professor at New York University who focuses on children’s rights and family law, said he was heartened by the mention of legal representation.
“Rigorous research proves that improving parent representation is one of the best ways to promote the safety, permanency and well-being of children,” he said via email. “It significantly reduces the amount of time children must endure the trauma of foster care.”
Hawley and Associates commends this corrective legislative action to provide much needed aid to those serving our child-welfare systems and most importantly, the children who depend on them for their support and services. We are eager to see this order come into fruition and will be monitoring its progress closely.