I rise in support of this legislation, which is designed to prevent sex trafficking of youth in foster care, encourage the adoption of more children from foster care, and increase child support collected to support children, among other important purposes.
Subcommittee Chairman Reichert will discuss the provisions designed to prevent sex trafficking, and I will focus my comments on the important adoption provisions.
I have spent much of my professional career promoting adoption of children by loving parents. As an attorney in private practice, I worked with parents and children in the foster care system. Those sorts of experiences provided much of the background for changes in landmark adoption legislation Congress has approved in recent years.
In 1997, my colleagues and I on the Ways and Means Committee crafted the Adoption and Safe Families Act. That legislation streamlined the adoption process to help more children in foster care quickly move into permanent adoptive homes. It also, for the first time, offered incentives to states to safely increase the number of children adopted from foster care.
It worked. In the decade following that legislation, the number of U.S. children adopted from foster care increased by 71 percent. In the years since, adoptions have continued to remain higher even as the foster care caseload started to decline. Overall, almost 300,000 children have been adopted as a result of the increase in adoptions starting in 1997. While placing children in permanent loving homes is the most important benefit of the legislation, one study estimated the federal government saved $1 billion over eight years by ensuring children were adopted instead of remaining in foster care.
That’s the successful incentive program this legislation extends and updates. With this bill today, we add a new award for states that increase adoptions of older children, who are the hardest to adopt and have the worst outcomes if they “age out” of foster care without a family to call their own.
We also add a new award for increases in guardianship, when family members step up to care for their nieces and nephews, grandsons and granddaughters.
And, this bill ensures states maintain their commitment to post-adoption and related services so children truly have a forever family.
Finding a forever family is the goal of this legislation, and forever homes are possible. Just last year, I met with the Johns family of Midland, Michigan. The Johns family has adopted three kids and was honored during their visit to DC as an Angels in Adoption family. But before they adopted, they were foster parents to Austin and Katie, their first two children. They adopted them and later adopted their third child, Aliyah. The Johns family made a safe, permanent and loving home a reality for three children, and with this legislation we can continue to build on that success.
I note that this legislation is fully paid for by expecting all states to use electronic methods that will do a better job collecting child support – increasing family incomes and reducing the amount of welfare benefits taxpayers pay. Those savings not only cover the cost of this legislation, but reduce the deficit by $19 million over the next 10 years. That’s a win-win for children, families, and hardworking taxpayers alike.
This legislation reflects bipartisan, bicameral agreements on all these policy areas, and I thank my colleagues who joined me in introducing this legislation – Mr. Levin of Michigan, Mr. Reichert of Washington, and Mr. Doggett of Texas, as well as the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, Senators Wyden and Hatch. They are all leaders on these issues, and I value their help in developing and advancing this legislation.
This bill was crafted the way legislation is supposed to be – through hearings, markups, public comments and negotiations with our colleagues in the Senate. The bill we are considering today incorporates many suggestions from experts in the child welfare field, as well as just interested citizens and adoptive parents. We are grateful for the public’s comments and their participation in this process.
The bottom line is this: children in foster care deserve a place to call home, not just for a few months or years, but for good. We have already seen great progress in increasing adoptions since the Adoption Incentive program was created in 1997, and it is our hope that we can continue this progress once this bill is signed into law.
I encourage all my colleagues to join us in supporting this bill in the House, and I hope and expect the Senate to also act soon on this bill so we can continue to move even more foster children into permanent, loving homes.
I reserve the balance of my time.