Health care, human trafficking, and immigration are pressing child welfare issues and the focus of bills introduced into Congress at the end of 2017. Leading into the new year, many of these bills have caused controversy across the country, and some contributed to the recent government shutdown.
Decisions on some bills are being used as bargaining chips for legislative advantage. In today’s tumultuous political climate, it’s important to track the status and outcomes of the bills, as they could affect the lives of hundreds of thousands children. Here are some of the bills CWN will be following this session.
Sponsor: Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
Goal: Improve the oversight of state child welfare programs funded by the Social Security Act.
Summary: The Child Welfare League of America says the bill’s intent is to encourage placement under kinship guardianship and support payment rate equity for placements. It also seeks to strengthen national data regarding child fatalities caused by maltreatment or due to other reasons.
According to The Ripon Advance, Sen. Hatch introduced the bill following a two-year investigation of privatized foster care services that revealed a lack of data collection and oversight. As a result, the bill seeks to motivate greater transparency and accountability. Efforts include enhanced training for caseworker employees, and the bill will create penalties for states that do not comply with the requirements. It will also lead to more information on child fatalities. Around 1,600 children die from abuse or neglect in the United State each year.
Sponsor: Rep. Stevan Pearce, R-N.M.
Goal: To provide conditional protected status for particular individuals who came to the country as children and to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.
Summary: The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that Pearce introduced this bill to allow immigrants qualified through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to continue living and working in the country. The bill would give the so-called Dreamers new “conditional protected status.”
As of Jan. 13, 2018, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services resumed accepting requests to renew grants of deferred action under DACA. Due to a federal court order the policy will continue to operate under the same terms in place before it was canceled in September of last year.
Goal: The bill was introduced to prioritize the fight against human trafficking in the U.S. it was passed on Sept. 11, 2017, in the Senate with an amendment by unanimous consent. In the House, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.
Summary: The bill addresses the lack of reliable data available on the prevalence of human trafficking. Cases have been reported in all 50 states, the District of Colombia, and the U.S. territories. The purpose of the bill is to ensure more accurate and comprehensive data so that human trafficking offenses can be promptly reported to the FBI. As part of effort, the bill also requires the Department of Homeland Security to submit an annual assessment. According to the bill, each year tens of thousands of children either run away, are abducted, or are removed from the control of parents without their consent and thereby placed in grave danger.
According to paulsen.house.gov, Rep. Moore stated, “For far too long, America’s criminal justice system has failed to protect those who have fallen victim to human trafficking. In order to substantively combat this pervasive and complex issue, local and federal law enforcement officials must have the tools and training necessary to identify and respond to human trafficking in all of its forms.”
Advocacy groups such as the Polaris Project and Human Rights First are fighting against human trafficking and are supporting its victims.
Sponsor: Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Goal: To amend the Social Security Act to ensure mental health services for children under the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Summary: The bill would provide assistance to low-income children or pregnant women, covering mental health services necessary to treat, prevent, or diagnose mental health symptoms and disorders. The bill stipulates that services be delivered in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.