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Davis Opening Statement: Hearing on Improving Programs Designed to Protect At-Risk Youth

June 16, 2011

(Remarks as Prepared)

In today’s hearing, we will review several programs under our jurisdiction that are designed to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of children at risk of abuse and neglect.

The majority of federal child welfare spending is used to reimburse States for supporting and overseeing children while they are in foster care. However, the two programs we will focus on today, the Child Welfare Services program and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program, are designed to prevent the need for foster care in the first place, as well as help foster children return home safely or be placed with adoptive parents as soon as possible.

These two programs were last reauthorized in 2006 and both expire at the end of the fiscal year. The 2006 reauthorization made significant changes, such as requiring that foster children be visited at least once per month, ensuring that States consult with medical providers in assessing the health of foster youth, and helping States better address caretaker substance abuse issues.

The purpose of our hearing today is to review the effects of those changes, and to consider other changes that may be needed to promote the wellbeing of children at risk of abuse and neglect.

While we will primarily focus on these two programs, we should also draw attention to the patchwork way in which child welfare programs currently operate. In our prior hearing on program duplication, I noted that this Subcommittee has jurisdiction over nine different child welfare programs, each with different purposes, spending requirements, and funding mechanisms. We need to ensure these programs help and do not hinder States’ efforts to serve families in need.

We also must make sure we understand how this taxpayer money is used and whether it is achieving its intended purpose. Amazingly, until 2006, there was no requirement that States report how they actually spent Child Welfare Services program funds. In other words, for that program’s first 70 years, the public had no way of knowing how this money was spent. This is no way to run a government.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses this morning on what we have learned from the recent changes to these programs, as well as what we can do to ensure more children remain safely in their own homes.

Joining us today will be a mix of experts from Congress, the Administration, States, and outside groups. We look forward to all of their testimony.