Washington, DC – Last night, the U.S. Senate approved bipartisan child welfare legislation aimed at reducing child sex trafficking, increasing adoptions and improving child support collections. The legislation was approved by the House on July 23, 2014.
Specifically, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980) would encourage states to combat sex trafficking among youth in foster care; promote normalcy for foster youth; help move more children from foster care into adoptive homes or the homes of relatives; and, increase the amount of child support provided to families in which one parent resides outside of the U.S. The legislation is fully paid for.
In June, House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Ranking Member Sander Levin, D-Mich., along with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, announced this bipartisan legislation. The legislation, which ultimately passed both the Senate and House reconciled differences on three bills previously approved by the House (H.R. 1896, H.R. 3205, and H.R. 4058) and the Senate Finance Committee (S. 1876, S. 1877, and S. 1878).
The following are key provisions of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act. The bill was introduced in the House by Camp, Levin and House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas:
Title I: Protecting Youth at Risk of Sex Trafficking
- Requires state child welfare agencies to identify, document, and determine appropriate services for children in foster care or who are otherwise involved in the child welfare system who are victims of child sex trafficking or at risk of becoming victims.
- Requires state child welfare agencies to promote “normalcy” for youth in foster care allowing them to more easily participate in age appropriate social, scholastic and enrichment activities.
Title II: Improving Adoption Incentives
- Improves the adoption incentives program and extends it for three years. It also extends the Family Connection Grant Program for one year.
Title III: Improving International Child Support Recovery
- Requires states to make necessary changes to implement the Hague Convention in enforcing international child support cases, increasing the amount of child support collected for families.
- Requires data standardization within the child support enforcement program, improving administration. This would streamline the child support programs with federal programs including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), child welfare, Unemployment Insurance and food assistance programs such as SNAP.
- Requires all states to implement electronic processing of income withholding, as most states already do; this will improve the collection of child support and save taxpayers $48 million over 10 years.
- Creates a task force to explore ways to improve the effectiveness of the child support enforcement program.
Overall, the entire bill would save $1 million over 5 years and $19 million over 10 years.
House Ways and Means Chairman Camp said: “We must do all we can to protect and improve the lives of children in foster care. This bill will help protect vulnerable youth from becoming victims of the horrible crime of sex trafficking, as well as ensure that foster youth have a better chance of living safe, healthy and normal lives. Importantly, it will encourage more adoptions of children in foster care so they can live in permanent, loving homes. I am pleased we have done this in a bipartisan, bicameral way so this bill can quickly become law.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Wyden said: “This sends a clear message that states can’t turn a blind eye to child sex trafficking, and that there’s a responsibility to identify victims and build a systemic response. This law will help also foster children build stable relationships with permanent families, where they are much less likely to fall victim to pimps and traffickers and other predators. I urge the President to quickly sign this legislation which Congress has enacted with overwhelming support and will help keep vulnerable children from ending up in the streets, homeless shelters or the juvenile justice system by creating permanent, healthy, and supportive relationships.
House Ways and Means Ranking Member Levin said: “This legislation will help protect vulnerable children from exploitation, move foster children into permanent homes and strengthen child support enforcement across international borders. I hope we can use a similar bipartisan process to further strengthen families, reduce hardship and safeguard children.”
Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Hatch said: “This bill takes crucial steps to improve the lives of children and youth in the foster care system who are vulnerable to sex trafficking and other negative outcomes. I am pleased that a number of provisions I introduced last year in my bill, I O Youth, are included in this legislation. While there is more to be done to reform child welfare, such as ending the over-reliance on group homes, this bill takes a critical step forward. “
House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Reichert said: “The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act makes key changes to our nation’s child welfare system to improve the lives of kids in foster care. We have committed to protect these children and we are responsible for their safety and success, yet for too long we have not lived up to that that promise. This legislation will help protect children from the horrors of sex trafficking and give them opportunities to lead more normal and successful lives. It also encourages states to move children into permanent, loving homes more quickly. Passage of this bill is a victory for America’s children, and the President needs to sign this legislation without delay.”
House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Ranking Member Doggett said: “Much more is needed to protect vulnerable children, but this bill represents a constructive step forward.”
The legislation enjoys widespread support within the child welfare community, and its supporters include (in alphabetical order):
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Psychological Association
Association on American Indian Affairs
Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska
Children’s Advocacy Center of Suffolk County
Children’s Advocacy Institute
Children Awaiting Parents
Children’s Defense Fund
Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Eastern Shashone Tribe
First Focus Campaign for Children
Fort Belknap Child Support Program
Foster Family-Based Treatment Association
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Menominee Tribal Child Support Agency
Mescalero Apache Tribe
Meskwaki Nation Child Support Services
National Adoption Center
National Child Support Enforcement Association
National Children’s Alliance
National Foster Parent Association
National Indian Child Welfare Association
Nebraska Families Collaborative
Nez Perce Tribe
North American Council on Adoptable Children
NYS Citizens’ Coalition for Children
Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin
Oregon Post Adoption Resource Center
Penobscot Nation Child Support Agency
Red Cliff Tribal Child Support Services Agency
The Adoption Exchange
The Attachment and Trauma Network
The California Alliance of Child and Family Services
The Child Welfare League of America
The Donaldson Adoption Institute
The National Crittenton Foundation
Tribal Child Support Enforcement, Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma
Voice for Adoption
You Gotta Believe