I come to the floor today to introduce a bill on an issue that is very important to me and many of my colleagues here in the Senate. I have long been a passionate supporter of some of the most vulnerable members of our society, especially the thousands of our nation’s foster youth. Currently, there are over 420,000 children living in foster care. Each one of these foster youth deserves a safe, loving and permanent home. But, each year, these children face a declining number of foster homes, and must also deal with the widespread negative misperceptions attached to the foster care system. Many of them have to cope with parents that struggle with substance abuse problems. Parental substance abuse is one of the leading, if not the primary, reasons forcing children into the foster care system.
According to the Congressional Research Service, in a nationally representative study, caseworkers investigating allegations of abuse or neglect noted active drug abuse by the 37% of the primary caregivers from whom children were removed to out-of-home care. The same report also noted active alcohol abuse among 29% of the primary caregivers from whom children were removed. The percentage of children who remain in care due to issues related to substance abuse is believed to be even larger because, among other reasons, accessing and successfully completing treatment services is often time consuming and children may not be able to safely return to their homes until treatment is successfully completed. An additional troubling statistic comes from a 2005 report by the RAND Corporation, which revealed that more than 300,000 children entered the foster-care system due to methamphetamine abuse.
I’d like to take a moment to share a story about one foster youth who is currently serving as an intern in my Washington, D.C., office, thanks to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Her name is Taatianna and her story is a reminder of the challenges that many foster youth face.
When Taatianna turned three, she opened the front door of her home to a caseworker who removed her and her two siblings from their home. Taatianna was placed in the foster care system at a very young age because of her parent’s substance abuse. She has lived many years with shame and guilt, believing she was responsible for splitting apart her family. However, she now knows that drugs and alcohol were the reasons she was neglected and forced into foster care. Fortunately, Taatianna and her siblings were able to live together and be raised by their biological grandmother, Ruby, in Relative Kinship Care. Ruby played the role of mom, dad, and grandma to these three children. While growing up, Taatianna and her siblings faced emotional and mental anxieties, trying hard not to succumb to the curse of substance abuse addiction that ran in their family. But more importantly, the kids longed to be with their mom and dad again, hoping they could get clean, hold a job, and be a family. Taatianna’s mother struggled, and continues to struggle with, addiction.
Drugs and alcohol have torn this family apart, and have destroyed any sense of normalcy or permanency they so desperately yearned for. Taatianna witnessed first-hand the traumatic effects of substance abuse in both her parents and many other family members. Taatianna, and many other foster youth in this country, could be helped if parents were treated or had better access to treatment for their substance abuse problems.
Foster care shouldn’t be a destination. It should be a temporary detour for children while their parents are treated and are ready to be parents.
So, today, on behalf of many youth in foster care, I introduce the Partners for Stable Families and Foster Youth Affected by Methamphetamine or Other Substance Abuse Act. This bill will reauthorize the Regional Partnership Grants that were created in 2006 as part of the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act. The passage of this legislation was a tremendous step forward in our efforts to help the youth in the foster care system. The funds from these grants address a variety of challenges that are barriers to optimal family outcomes. The mission of the Regional Partnership Grants is to improve the safety, permanency, and well-being of children who are in an out-of-home placement or are at-risk of such placement because of a parent or caretaker’s abuse of methamphetamine or another substance.
In September 2007, following the authorization of the Regional Partnership Grants, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded multiyear grants to 53 regional partnerships representing 29 states and 6 tribes. The first round of grants supported the creation or expansion of family treatment drug courts, improvement of system-wide collaboration, expanded access to comprehensive family centered treatment, use of evidence-based practice approaches such as motivational enhancement therapy, parent advocates, and recovery management approaches to drug treatment monitoring. The groups receiving these grants were split almost evenly between the public and private sectors, and they represent a great example of how both can assist the many youth and families that are a part of the foster care system.
Allow me an opportunity to tell you about the grantees in my home state of Iowa.
One grantee, Upper Des Moines Opportunity Inc., is undertaking the Parent Partner Program in 9 counties in rural Northwest Iowa. This program primarily assists individuals addicted to meth, and is unique because parents are matched to Parent Partners who serve as mentors, assisting clients to navigate the child welfare and substance abuse systems. The goal of these Parent Partners is to support and mentor parents who have trouble keeping their families together and are at risk of incarceration or permanently losing custody of their children. This program is more personal than stand alone drug treatment programs because Parent Partners have been through the same situations. One outcome is that clients are developing a trusting relationship with professionals in the child welfare and substance abuse systems, thereby increasing their chances for success and becoming more engaged in substance abuse treatment and recovery. The Parent Partner understands the client’s situation, allowing them to bond and build trust with the goal of regaining custody of their children more quickly. The Parent Partners serve as the critical link between the Department of Human Services, the parent, and other experts.
Another grantee, the Parents and Children Together (PACT), is a family drug court initiative implementing a community based approach to substance abuse treatment. The program supports the family to remain the primary permanency option for their children. PACT is a partnership of the courts, the state child welfare agency, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and five community pilot sites with the State Court taking the lead. Through this program, family treatment courts were implemented in each pilot site. The program is focused on increasing the safety, permanency and well-being of children by addressing the substance abuse treatment programming and service gaps through a community collaborative planning approach. The partnership has worked hard over the years to establish family drug courts in their pilot sites that support families as they navigate the foster care system and substance abuse treatment. With the knowledge they are gaining on what works and what doesn’t, they have provided two family treatment court forums for other interested community court led teams. They presently serve six sites and have six other court led teams that are interested in learning more.
According to a forthcoming report from the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, over 8,000 adults and 12,000 children have been served by the Regional Partnership Grants. Bryan Samuels, the Commissioner of the Administration, has said that children are discharged from foster care at a faster rate because of the grants and that families are more likely to be reunified within 12 months and are more likely to stay that way after 12 months.
The efforts to help at-risk youth must continue. We know that substance abuse issues will continue to push kids into foster care. In Iowa alone, from 2005-2009, the Iowa Department of Human Services classified 5,330 children victims of abuse due to the presence of an illegal drug in their body. Meth continues to be a huge concern. In fact, meth lab incidents in Iowa have dropped dramatically since their peak in 2004, but have risen in each of the past three years. The resurgence in meth lab incidents coincides with a rise in drug-related prison admissions, meth treatment admissions, and child abuse cases.
In my original version of the Regional Partnership Grants in 2006, I envisioned $40 million per year to be available for grants to improve the outcomes of those affected by meth or other substance abuse. Unfortunately this amount was reduced during conference committee negotiations. In the bill I am introducing today, I am again calling for the amount to be set at $40 million per year. This will allow new grantees to start programs while giving short two year extensions to existing grantees. The goal is to encourage new collaborations throughout the country, while giving time to existing collaborations to institute best practices and educate other entities about what works and what does not.
The reauthorization of the Regional Partnership Grants will also include several measures aimed at improving the original legislation. The bill will allow more dollars to be available for activities and collaborative efforts by instituting a 5% administrative fee cap on the amount that can be retained by the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families for technical assistance or contract services. Finally, the bill will require more evaluation of regional partnerships, and require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to evaluate the new grantees and issue a report on the best practices implemented by their programs no later than December 1, 2012, with a follow up report due in 2017. These reports will prove useful in efforts to improve our foster-care system.
The improvement of the lives of families and youth that are involved in the foster care system is one of the most important issues I’ve undertaken in the U.S. Senate. The Regional Partnership Grants have not only helped youth in search of permanent, loving families, but have brought back together families that were torn apart by substance abuse. As a founder and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, I have been a witness to the many successes that have occurred thanks to our support of these children and young adults, however, I am also still painfully aware of the amount of work that remains. We can take another significant step forward in this area by passing the Partners for Stable Families and Foster Youth Affected by Methamphetamine or Other Substance Abuse Act and reauthorizing the Regional Partnership Grants.