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Hearing on Letting Kids Be Kids: Balancing Safety with Opportunity for Foster Youth

May 9, 2013 — Transcripts   



Hearing on Letting Kids Be Kids: Balancing Safety with Opportunity for Foster Youth

_____________________________________

HEARING

BEFORE THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES

OF THE

COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

ONE HUNDRED THIRTEENTH CONGRESS

FIRST SESSION
________________________

May 9, 2013
__________________

SERIAL 113-HR04
__________________

Printed for the use of the Committee on Ways and Means

 

COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
DAVE CAMP, Michigan,Chairman

SAM JOHNSON, Texas
KEVIN BRADY, Texas
PAUL RYAN, Wisconsin
DEVIN NUNES, California
PATRICK J. TIBERI, Ohio
DAVID G. REICHERT, Washington
CHARLES W. BOUSTANY, JR., Louisiana
PETER J. ROSKAM, Illinois
JIM GERLACH, Pennsylvania
TOM PRICE, Georgia
VERN BUCHANAN, Florida
ADRIAN SMITH, Nebraska
AARON SCHOCK, Illinois
LYNN JENKINS, Kansas
ERIK PAULSEN, Minnesota
KENNY MARCHANT, Texas
DIANE BLACK, Tennessee
TOM REED, New York
TODD YOUNG, Indiana
MIKE KELLY, Pennsylvania
TIM GRIFFIN, Arkansas
JIM RENACCI, Ohio

SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
CHARLES B. RANGEL, New York
JIM MCDERMOTT, Washington
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
RICHARD E. NEAL, Massachusetts
XAVIER BECERRA, California
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
MIKE THOMPSON, California
JOHN B. LARSON, Connecticut
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
RON KIND, Wisconsin
BILL PASCRELL, JR., New Jersey
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
ALLYSON SCHWARTZ, Pennsylvania
DANNY DAVIS, Illinois
LINDA SÁNCHEZ, California

JENNIFER M. SAFAVIAN, Staff Director and General Counsel
JANICE MAYS, Minority Chief Counsel

   

SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
DAVID G. REICHERT, Washington ,Chairman

TODD YOUNG, Indiana
MIKE KELLY, Pennsylvania
TIM GRIFFIN, Arkansas
JIM RENACCI, Ohio
TOM REED, New York
CHARLES W. BOUSTANY, JR., Louisiana

LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
DANNY DAVIS, Illinois

 

 

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CONTENTS

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Advisory of May 9, 2013 announcing the hearing

WITNESSES

The Honorable Nancy Detert
Florida Senate Senator, District 28
Testimony

Talitha James
Foster Youth Fellow, Kidsave
Testimony

Irene Clements
President, National Foster Parent Association
Testimony

David Wilkins
Secretary, Florida Department of Children and Families and Tanya Wilkins, Advocate for Foster Care and Adoption, Governor’s Office of Adoption and Child Protection
Testimony

Lynn Tiede
Senior Associate Director for Policy, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative
Testimony

______________________________________________

Hearing on Letting Kids Be Kids: Balancing Safety with Opportunity for Foster Youth

Thursday, May 9, 2013
U.S. House of Representatives, 
Committee on Ways and Means, 
Washington, D.C. 

____________________

     The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 9:32 a.m. in Room 1100, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. David Reichert [Chairman of the Subcommittee] presiding

[The advisory of the hearing follows:]

____________________________________________________________________
   

     *Chairman Reichert.  I will call this Subcommittee hearing to order, please.  Welcome to today’s hearing.

     Entering foster care is a life changing experience for children.  Foster children are faced with a dizzying array of changes that are anything but normal, as all you know.

     They are separated from their parents.  They are often sent to live with a family they have never met.  They may start attending a new school, have to make new friends, and make new efforts to participate in sports and other activities they previously took for granted.

     On top of all this change, we know some child welfare policies have the unintended effect of making life even harder for our children.

     Rules may keep them from spending time with friends, participating in sports and even getting a driver’s license or finding a summer job.  For example, Ryan Cummings from my home State of Washington was not able to get a driver’s license while in foster care.  He missed going on vacation with his foster family because the rules did not allow him to travel.

     Georgiana Rodriguez from Florida could not play in the high school marching band.  John Paul Horn from California needed to save money before his 18th birthday when he would be on his own, but his group foster home rules initially blocked him from being able to obtain a job.

     Such foster youth often speak of living in a separate world where they are isolated from the community around them, making it that much harder for them to succeed.

     While we clearly need to make sure children are safe while in foster care, these are examples that highlight how in some areas policy makers have gone too far in creating that separate world for these kids.

     Now the tide seems to be turning in some areas of the country.  In recent years, Federal and state reforms have tried to allow more children to stay safely in their own homes or be adopted instead of spending year after year in foster care.

     For children who must enter foster care, Federal reforms have stressed helping children stay in their own school whenever possible.  Some states have also taken on this issue directly.  In 2004, California amended their laws to eliminate unnecessary restrictions on the activities of foster youth, and provide foster parents more flexibility to make responsible decisions.

     In 2011, foster youth in Washington State, working with the Mockingbird Society, highlighted this issue.  Now my state has a working group to develop ways to make improvements.

     As we will hear today, Florida enacted a law just this year that is designed to ensure foster youth are treated more like every other child.  This law will allow foster youth more freedom to participate in age-appropriate activities like sports, sleep over’s with friends, and getting a driver’s license.

     We are going to review those efforts today.

     In the process, we have learned what is being done to improve the lives of foster youth and how we can work together to better ensure that foster kids can successfully grow and develop like other children.

     That is our responsibility, and we welcome all of today’s witnesses to help us achieve that goal.

     Some of you on the panel may not know my background, but I want to share this very quickly.  I was in law enforcement for 33 years before I ended up here in Congress.  I look like I have been here for 40 years, but it has only been nine, a little over eight, really.

     Thirty‑three years with the Sheriff’s Office in Seattle, and part of my time working in the Sheriff’s Office, I worked on the Green River serial murder case.  You might imagine the number of young people that the task force members came in contact with, children who ran away from home for all kinds of reasons, unimaginable treatment sometimes in the homes that they ran from, ending up on the street, ending up in foster homes, from one foster family to another foster family, running away again, out on the street.

     One of the things I like would like to make clear for the record, back in the 1980s when we were working this case, the detectives cared so much that they gave their home phone numbers to these children on the streets.  You probably know some police officers in your own community who care that much and accept those phone calls.

     In the middle of the night, I can remember driving out to meet a child who said I do not want to be out here, but I just ran away from my foster home.  I have nowhere to go.  I cannot be who I want to be.

     They could not get adopted, they were 14, 15, 16.  It was a sad experience.  We were able to help some of those young people.  I get calls today still from some of those, mostly young women, who I met during that time, who have grown to be educated, successful, and have a family.

     There are always good stories to share with folks.

     Thank you all for what you do.  I now yield to Mr. Davis for his opening statement.

     *Mr. Davis.  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  Either fortunately or unfortunately, Mr. Doggett cannot be here today, the Ranking Member for this Subcommittee, and he asked if I would read his opening statement.

     Children in foster care have the same needs, desires and dreams of all children.  They need a safe and loving home, and they want and deserve the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to fully experience life.

     Our foster care system is rightly focused on trying to keep kids safe, but safety cannot be the only goal we pursue.  Children in foster care deserve the opportunity to join in the activities that help young people gain confidence and maturity, but too many foster youth encounter a “No Entry” sign when it comes to competing in a sport or going on a field trip or working at a part time job.

     Some foster youth cannot even spend the night at a friend’s house unless they ask their friend’s parents to first undergo a criminal background check.

     These barriers further isolate kids who already feel isolated.  Hopefully, this hearing will allow us to examine the policies and practices that unduly prevent foster youth from joining in the activities that other children take for granted.

     Helping foster youth experience the same things other kids do sometimes requires more than just granting them permission.  Starting a savings account, applying to college, and getting a driver’s license often requires some guidance and our financial assistance.

     Additionally, if we want to empower foster parents to make more decisions for the children in their care, we should review the supports we give to foster parents as well as our efforts to improve the recruitment and retention of caring parents.

     No policy will ever affect a child as much as a committed, caring and informed parent.

     Finally, to promote more normalcy for older foster youth, we encourage every state to extend foster care to the age of 21.  I have never met a parent who sends their child out the door without any support when they turn 18.  That was the policy of our foster care system for far too long.

     About 20 states have now taken advantage of a change in the Federal law to extend foster care, and it is past time for the rest of the states to catch up.

     Investing in the success of our foster children is not only good for them but it will also reduce unemployment, homelessness, teenage pregnancy, incarceration, and other negative outcomes that cost society much, much more.

     Mr. Chairman, with this Committee taking the lead, Congress has made some progress in recent years in ensuring that a child’s well being is a central goal of the foster care system.

     I look forward to working with you to continue that trend so that every foster child has an opportunity to succeed.

     I thank you for this hearing.  I thank all the witnesses for coming to participate, and I yield back my time.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Thank you, Mr. Davis.  Thank you for standing in for Mr. Doggett.  Mr. Doggett had a choice between being with the President of the United States or Mr. Davis and myself.

     [Laughter.]

     *Chairman Reichert.  I know Mr. Doggett really cares about this issue and you can tell from the words that Mr. Davis read on his behalf that he is passionate about this, and I appreciate his work and Mr. Davis’.  This Committee really has a close working relationship.  Hopefully, we can find a way to help our children across this country.

     Without objection, each member will have the opportunity to submit a written statement and have it included in the record at this point.

     *Chairman Reichert.  I want to remind our witnesses to please limit your oral statements to five minutes.  However, without objection, all of the written testimony will be made a part of the permanent record today.

     On our panel this morning, we will be hearing from The Honorable Nancy Detert, Florida Senate.  Talitha James, Foster Youth Fellow, Kidsave.  Irene Clements, President, National Foster Parent Association.

     David Wilkins, Secretary, Florida Department of Children and Families, and Tanya Wilkins, Advocate for Foster Care and Adoption, Governor’s Office of Adoption and Child Protection.  Lynn Tiede, Senior Associate Director for Policy, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.

     We are also pleased to be joined by another Ways and Means member this morning, Representative Buchanan from Florida.  Mr. Buchanan would like to introduce a couple of our witnesses today.

     Mr. Buchanan?

     *Mr. Buchanan.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Thanks for this very important hearing.  I was back a couple of years ago at a Boys and Girls Club, and they said children make up 25 percent of the population, 100 percent of the future.  I want to thank not just our Chairman and the members here, but I also want to thank all of our witnesses for being here today.  I have hung on to that because at the end of the day, that is really what it is all about.  I really appreciate all the hard work you do here.

     It is an honor this morning to introduce my dear friend from Florida, State Senator Nancy Detert.  I have known and admired her for over ten years.  She has been an incredible Senator.  She is a tireless worker with a passion for public service, fighting every day to better the lives of her constituents.

     I might add just this week I noticed she had the highest rating from our papers in terms of Florida finishing its legislative session.  I think she got an A+.  That is the grade I would give her as well.

     I should warn the Committee that Nancy has a reputation for not mincing words.  She is very direct, very blunt.  That is what I love about her, but she is going to tell you like it is.

     I hope my colleagues will take her words to heart today as I will.

     Also from Florida we have two special guests, Mr. Chairman.  It is my pleasure to introduce from Florida, David and Tanya Wilkins.  David and Tanya are an incredible husband and wife team.  That is exactly what they are.  My wife was telling me they were on a mission trip together a while back, so I know where their hearts are set in terms of the work they are doing.

     David is a very dynamic Secretary in the Florida Department of Children and Families, with a wealth of experience in both the private and public sector.  Tanya is a tireless supporter for foster care and adoption.

     I think some of your children are some of our adopted foster children.

     David and Tanya were the recipient of the 2012 Daniel Webster Healthy Families Florida Leadership Award in recognition of their work on behalf of Florida’s most at risk children.

     We are lucky to have them here today, and I look forward to their testimony.  Thank you.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Thank you, Mr. Buchanan.  Senator Detert, you are recognized for five minutes.

STATEMENT OF HON. NANCY DETERT, A SENATOR IN THE FLORIDA STATE SENATE

     *Ms. Detert.  Thank you, Mr. Chair.  Thank you, Chairman Reichert and members of the Subcommittee.  Thank you, Congressman Buchanan, for your kind words.

     I am honored and thank you for the opportunity to participate in the hearing today.  I am Nancy Detert, a State Senator from Florida.  I served in the House from 1998 to 2006, and was elected to the Florida State Senate in 2008.

     In all those years, I have always served on the Committee for Children and Family and have chaired it on occasion.  Foster care is an issue that I have dealt with for many, many years.

     Our foster care system historically has been focused on safety concerns and liability.  We felt that our main purpose was to protect these children, to take them from unsafe homes and make sure they were safe, but in our quest to make them safe, what we have done is bubble wrapped these kids and deprived them of any kind of normalcy when it comes to childhood.

     We have designed a system where they have to check with their case worker over every move, things as simple as getting a haircut.  We succeeded in protecting them but we deprived them of a life.

     Foster parents have concerns about safety.  They have concerns about liability, but children typically miss many rights of passage common to their peers.  While their friends are getting a driver’s license, most children in care are not because they generally have no one to teach them to drive or lack the money for insurance.  They do not have parents, they cannot even sign for insurance.

     Getting a first job, participating in sports, camping out with friends, even going to the prom, that are activities that are a normal part of growing up, but not common for children in our care.

     The issue of normalcy for children in foster care has been addressed in the past, and we promulgated rules in 2004, we made rules to solve all of these problems, but we have  gone to community based care, and not everyone was following the rules.

     This year, we decided ‑‑ former Secretaries have also issued memoranda and did everything they could do make people follow the rules, but they did not.  Under our new Secretary of DCF, Secretary Wilkins, who we are very pleased to have, he is a Secretary who understands the issues and has seen them firsthand and cares, so the current Department of Children and Family Services implemented two surveys to gather data related to independent living services and outcomes.

     The surveys captured information from children 13 to 17, and from those who have aged out from 18 to 22.

     These are their findings:  that children report that 66 percent are able to spend time with friends without adult supervision; 46 percent can spend the night with friends; 53 percent receive a personal allowance, which is one of our rules, so they can learn to manage small amounts of money, but that rule was not being implemented.

     Forty‑four percent are allowed to go to school events, movies, shopping, and other unsupervised activities with friends; 14 percent have completed a driver’s education course, and only two percent have a driver’s license.

     I learned early in my legislative career that if you want to make a good law, you listen to the people who are affected by that law and try to implement the changes that they need, and we have listened to the kids.

     In Florida, we are fortunate enough to have a group of older teens and young adults known as “Florida Youth Shine.”  Youth Shine is a peer driven organization that empowers young advocates across the state to regularly identify the challenges and help create solutions to our growing problems in our child welfare system.

     I just have a few seconds left and I want to share two things that we learned in testimony.  A young woman began by thanking the committee for allowing her voice to be heard.  She said when you think of normalcy, you think of what everyone else is doing.  When I think of normalcy, I think of going back and forth to court for orders to allow me to do things like going to a basketball game or spending the night.

     This is not normalcy.  Our new bill changes these laws and codifies our rules.  We hope to have some time to tell you about the laws that we have passed this past session.

     Thank you for your time.

     [The information follows: Ms. Detert]

     *Chairman Reichert.  Thank you, Senator.

     Ms. James, five minutes, please.

STATEMENT OF TALITHA JAMES, FOSTER YOUTH FELLOW, KIDSAVE

     *Ms. James.  I want to thank the Committee for this opportunity to speak on behalf of former foster youth and current foster youth.  My name is Talitha James.  I am a former CCAI intern.  I had the opportunity to intern here on the Hill, as well as I am a graduate from California State University of Fullerton.

     My experience in care, I was placed in care at the age of two.  I emancipated at the age of 18.  My experience in care was not that great, but I know that a lot of youth had the opportunity to be placed in great homes, but I did not have that opportunity.

     I was placed in homes where I was not allowed to be myself, and I was not allowed to participate in sports.  The reason being was that one of the homes I was placed in, the foster parent pretty much told me that I should go to therapy instead of playing sports.  That was something that I held on to because I had a desire to play sports.

     As you have all seen the picture that is being passed around, I was on the volleyball team at Lancaster High School when I was placed with my aunt, so at the age of 14, I was placed with my aunt, and my aunt took the initiative to just bypass all the barriers that social workers put in place that do not allow foster youth to play sports.  She took it upon herself to allow me to play sports, and that pretty much changed my life.

     Me playing sports, I was allowed to learn what team development was all about.   I was allowed the opportunity to, you know, mess up, and not be reprimanded for that.

     Now, prior to me being on that team, I was bounced around from homes to homes, and they did not see the importance of a foster child playing sports.  And, at that time, as well, they also said there was no funding for me to play sports for me or no funding for them to pay for a uniform.  So that was another reason why I was not allowed to play sports.  And I just wanted to highlight the importance of a lot of the barriers we put in place for foster youth to protect them, like we’ve heard, is a hindrance to their success as an adult.

     Had I not played on that team, a lot of the skills that I learned on that team I wouldn’t have today, just the love for sports, the love for my coach that I developed on that team I would not have today.  So I just wanted to highlight that important piece, as well as when I was in care I did not have the opportunity to receive rides from friends when I was going home.  So I would have to walk to school and from school, because my foster parents at the time did not want to drop me off at school.

     So we had to walk to school.  And, a lot of the times my friends would offer me the opportunity to have a ride home, but I had to explain to them that I couldn’t.  And, so, finally, one of my friends asked me.  She said, “Is everything okay?  Are you okay?”  And I just finally told her I can’t take the ride home, because I’m a foster youth.  And it didn’t make sense to her.  And she was just so confused, and for me, I understood, because I knew the system.  But she didn’t understand the system.  So that kind of showed me that that wasn’t a normal thing for me not to be able to receive a ride from a friend on my way home.

     So those are just a few things I wanted to highlight about my experience and care.  And, lastly, there was an opportunity for me to spend a night at a friend’s house.  And because they did not have time to complete a background check and all those things that you have to do in order for a child who is in foster care to spend the night, they did not have time to do that.  And, so, my best friend, again, she wanted me to spend the night, and I couldn’t do so.

     And, finally, the family, my best friend’s family followed through on the requirements of completing a background check and doing all they needed to do so that I could spend the night.  And, unfortunately, because they had a pool that was raised above ground and it did not have a fence around it, I ultimately could not spend the night at the friend’s house.  So it’s a lot of barriers in place and we can’t tackle them all, but I appreciate this opportunity to address the things we can tackle, which I think is the normalization of the experience of foster care.  So, thank you.

     [The statement of Ms. James follows:]

     *Chairman Reichert.  Thank you for your testimony.  Thank you for being here at all, for the struggles that you’ve gone through; and today, here you are testifying in front of the United States Congress.  Congratulations on your upcoming career.

     *Ms. James.  Thank you.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Ms. Clements, you are recognized.

STATEMENT OF IRENE CLEMENTS, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FOSTER PARENT ASSOCIATION

     *Ms. Clements.  Thank you, Chairman Reichert, and members of the subcommittee for this opportunity.  My name is Irene Clements and I’m president of the National Foster Parent Association.  For the last 43 years, the National Foster Parent Association shared the subcommittee’s quest to elevate and dramatically improve the foster family services that our members provide to children for whom the government has assumed temporary and all too often long‑term responsibility, as well as we serve as the national voice of foster parents.

     My husband and I fostered for 27 years, and during that time we fostered 127 children and adopted four of those children.  During our tenure as foster parents, we fostered children of all ages; however, the last 12 years were dedicated to youth 14 and over.  While we know a lot of well‑meaning legislation has been passed since 1991, we still have a system that’s not working well for the children it was designed to serve.

     Children experience too many placement disruptions.  They’re often not placed with siblings.  They’re often placed too far from their biological parents to have effective and frequent visits or remain in their school.  They’re frequently not involved in decisions made on their behalf or attend court.  Some children experience unneeded medications, and they often feel singled out as different.  I’m going to use a couple of examples that I have put in my testimony to explain the kind of the situations that children experience, but also the frustrations of the foster parents because of the system.

     Let me use an example of Mary, who’s an 11‑year‑old child in foster care.  She was a member of the 4H Club in her small town.  She wanted to take sewing lessons really bad.  They were every week on Thursday, after school, and there were four little girls in her class. The 4H leader, who taught the classes, had been the leader for many years and provided those lessons in her home.  Mary’s foster mother was told that Mary could not attend these sewing classes until the 4H leader, and any others living in her home who were over the age of 14 had criminal background checks.

     Mary didn’t understand why the other three little girls could go into this home and have sewing lessons when she couldn’t.  Why was it okay for her peers when she couldn’t do it?  Bottom line was that Mary’s foster mother said, “If I could, I would have stayed there and supervised each week for two hours on Thursday, but I had commitments with two other children:  one to take to karate class, and one to pick up from band practice.”  And because of the family not wanting to get everybody in the family to have background checks, because they might come home before the class was over, Mary wasn’t allowed to be in sewing class.  So she lost interest in 4H.  She dropped out.  She stopped going to anything.  And she became so discouraged, and she wanted to know and she kept asking “Why do my friends get to go, but I can’t go?  What’s the difference?”

     Then, an example of John, who’s a freshman in high school, who made the freshman football team.  Really, really proud of himself, and is keeping his grades up so he can play.  His foster mother always picked him up after practice every day, and occasionally his foster father; but, his foster father traveled some for work, and wasn’t available all the time.  On one particular day, John’s foster mother had a medical emergency with John’s sibling, who was also in her home, and they were at the hospital.  She couldn’t pick John up from football practice, and her husband wasn’t home.  So she called the coach and asked him if he could take John home.

     John, in his service plan, had the ability to be in the home for three hours without supervision.  The coach said he couldn’t do it, because of something else he had to do.  But he would get one of John’s friend’s parents to take him home.  Well, that had occurred.  The foster mother got home with the other child in about two hours, and everything was fine.  A couple of days later, the children’s caseworker came, and they were discussing the hospital visit and then how John got home from football practice.  Immediately, the caseworker said, “Well, you’ve broken many rules in this.  Let me call my supervisor to see if I have to remove these children from your home, because you obviously did not supervise these children and made a bad decision on their behalf.”

     Thank God the supervisor said, “No.  Let’s investigate a little bit further before you rip these kids out of this placement where they’re doing very well.”  This family is not going to continue to foster, and they are a really good family.  They have done really good work with a lot of kids, but they are so frustrated with a system that won’t allow kids to have a normal life.  And for when emergencies come up that we have understanding, that some of the time these things happen, and the outcomes can be all right.

     And, to conclude briefly, the National Association is literally looking forward to working with Congress to help make normalcy a reality.  And we’ll work diligently with foster parents around the country to help them trust that this move from risk aversion to a system that embraces normalization is real.  Safety plus opportunity equals well being, and that’s where we need to go with each of our kids.  Thank you.

     [The statement of Ms. Clements follows:]

     *Chairman Reichert.  Thank you.

     Secretary Wilkins, and Mrs. Wilkins, you are recognized for five minutes.

STATEMENT OF DAVID WILKINS, SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES

     *Mr. David Wilkins.  Good morning, Chairman Reichert, Members of the Subcommittee and Congressman Buchanan.  Thank you for giving us the opportunity to talk about this issue that’s so near and dear to all of our hearts.  And, as we previously mentioned, I am the Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families.  And Tanya, my wife, is the Governor’s Chief Advocate for Foster Care and Adoption.

     Tanya is a Registered Nurse.  I worked for a global management consulting technology company for 30 years.  We don’t have a lot of experience in government, but our private sector experience and our experience raising our own three daughters, and our volunteer experience in fostering children in our home, I think, has given us a unique perspective of what are the issues.  And we are here today to really tell you that the bill that we passed in the Florida legislature this session is something I think every state of the union could benefit from.

     You have heard testimony from Sen. Detert, talking about some of the challenges and some of the numbers of why children fell in foster care, and you’ve heard some of the other testimony about just some of the ‑‑ no other word but bizarre rules and processes that have evolved into the foster care system over the years.  You know, all of the statistics point out that the success of children in foster care is simply not adequate.  And, on further analysis, a large reason of these inadequacies is related failures of our foster parenting system.

     Our foster parenting population in our state has dropped over 15 percent over the last three years.  Not surprisingly, group home care has risen in that same timeframe.  Upon surveying many of these parents, we were told that the frustrations are extremely high, and you heard some of the testimony there.  Foster parents are burdened with paper work, court responsibilities, a list of job responsibilities, all centered around protecting the child, and the result is obvious.  We are not letting kids be kids and we’re not giving the parents the permission to parent.

     So, a culture change was needed in our state, and in essence to permeate the entire system with the information that normalcy in foster care is the most paramount of the goals.  The parents of our children’s families do not need to do backgrounds for sleepovers.  Young people should be able to go to church activities without a licensed foster parent, and children should be included in all social and extra curricular activities.

     Having seen the need for these types of changes, we launched three, key initiatives in the state of Florida.  One was around performance management of our provider network.  We now believe that measuring performance is central to promoting accountability.  We have developed a performance scorecard that measures contracted foster care agencies on 11 performance measures to determine how well they are meeting the most critical needs of our children.

     Since the first scorecard was produced over a year ago, we have improved performance by over 25 percent.  We also initiated a whole initiative around normalcy, as Sen. Detert mentioned.  We issued open letters to demand normalcy in all of our foster parents and provider organizations.  We developed media campaigns and we issued social networking policies to basically say children can have access to the Internet.  And, as you all know, I think every child has to have access to Face Book.

     That’s a new requirement in our children.  So this bill is absolutely key to our success; but, another key initiative that we knew we had to have was an initiative we called Fostering Florida’s Future.  And Tanya will address what we tried to accomplish there.

TANYA WILKINS, ADVOCATE FOR FOSTER CARE AND ADOPTION, GOVERNOR’S OFFICE OF ADOPTION AND CHILD PROTECTION 

     *Mrs. Tanya Wilkins.  Good morning, Chairman Reichert, Congressman Davis, Members of the Subcommittee.  Thank you for allowing me to speak to your committee about the Fostering Florida’s Future Initiative.  Recognizing that Florida needs additional quality foster parents and families who can provide safe and loving homes to children in need, we launched the Fostering Florida’s Future initiative in June of 2012.  This is a collaboration with our 20 community‑based care organizations throughout the state with the Guardian Ad Litem, the Florida State Foster and Adoptive Parent Association, Quality Parenting Initiative, local associations and many others.

     When the Governor appointed me as the state‑wide advocate, I had no idea how it would change our lives and touch our lives.  We had been a sponsor family for foster children, teenage girls, primarily, from a residential group home in Tallahassee.  We served them, and as we served them, we would listen to their stories.  It was heart‑wrenching the stories that they told us at night when we were tucking them into bed at night.  And I had to listen to their stories ‑‑ and we would say prayers ‑‑ of the neglect and abuse that they had endured; and, yet, a blessing that we knew we could help empower them to overcome and have a future.

     We parented them as we would our own, much like the hundreds of foster parents that I’ve been fortunate to meet.  Based on these learnings, we landed on an action plan for Fostering Florida’s Future initiative.  We developed an awareness campaign with a website, videos and social media.  We created a recruitment campaign to find 1200 new foster families, quality foster families for our children.  And we are trying to reach that goal by June of 2013, this year.

     We are improving training for foster parents through the Quality Parenting Initiative, using trauma-informed care principles focusing on awareness of attachment disorders, and we have simplified the licensing process.  Fostering Florida’s Future is showing great success in building enthusiasm and getting people interested in fostering and making a difference in these children’s lives; but, most of all, it’s helping to provide loving and caring families that these vulnerable children need.

     [The statement of Mr. David Wilkins s follows:]

     *Chairman Reichert.  Thank you.  Thank you.

     Ms. Tiede?

STATEMENT OF LYNN TIEDE, SENIOR ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR POLICY, JIM CASEY YOUTH OPPORTUNITIES INITIATIVE 

     *Ms. Tiede.  Good morning.  It is my pleasure to be part of today’s hearing on “Letting Kids Be Kids.”  I thank the Committee for the invitation to be here and I commend you for inviting Talitha to give testimony as well.

     We know first‑hand that results are always better when young people that have experienced foster care are involved in the conversations.  I am the policy director with Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a national foundation named in memory of the founder of United Parcel Service, UPS.

     We are focused solely on helping states and communities assist older youth in foster care in making successful transitions to adulthood.  In fact, this hearing is very timely.  Just this week, Jim Casey launched a national campaign, “Success Beyond 18,” which promotes state policies supportive of normalcy for older youth and young adults in foster care.

     Based on our experiences working in communities across 16 states, partnering with youth leadership boards, we have encountered many, if not all of the barriers that you’ve heard about today.  A key underpinning of the Jim Casey approach is the knowledge we now have about adolescent brain development.  This science provides compelling evidence on why these normal experiences are so vitally important, especially as young people reach their teenage years.  States have already begun to apply this knowledge.

     The two, critical things to know about adolescent brain development is that adolescence is a time of profound brain development, paralleling that of early childhood.  The brain is not done developing at 3 or 6, as previous believed.  Secondly, the impact of trauma on the brain is not permanent.  Through adolescence and early adulthood, the brain can alter its structure in response to positive experiences and positive relationships.

     What does this mean?  It means that adolescence is a time rich in opportunity, and potential to help young people overcome adversity, overcome trauma through positive experiences like those normal experiences we’re talking about today, like playing on a sports team.  It has done for us in many ways what the research on early childhood brain development did.  It tells us that what families typically and naturally do is what is right.

     How do we act on this knowledge?  We do this through letting kids be kids, which inherently involves a degree of risk.  Any parent knows that and has lost sleep over it.  Yet, we also know that gearing our kids towards these kinds of normative risks and healthy relationships will mean they are less likely to engage in more dangerous risks and unhealthy relationships.

     Talking to young people, they summarized the barriers that they face on a day‑to‑day basis, and you’ve heard about them today; not being engaged in normal, every day‑to‑day activities; internalizing a culture of “no,” after hearing “no” again, and again, and again, and just wanting normal family experiences like a family vacation.  From our efforts in states to normalize foster care, we’ve seen progress that can be built upon.  One area you’ve heard about today, policies must explicitly support kids in foster care being involved in normal activities.

     I commend the folks here from Florida for your work in this area.  We also need a reduced reliance on congregant care as it poses inherent challenges to normalcy.  There are two more promising areas that I’d like to highlight.  First, we must also promote opportunities, because it’s not enough just to remove barriers.  This includes empowering foster parents and other care givers with decisionmaking ability.  Training and support as also was mentioned.   It also includes supporting specific opportunities that are age appropriate, for example, financial skills.

     Financial skills are one of the things that young people report as most lacking when they leave foster care.  Jim Casey, with our partners, implement the Opportunity Passport which provides young people with opportunities to earn money and save in a matched savings account.  We have shown that young people can and will save money and they learn financial management skills along the way.

     Why has it worked?  Because it provides what most families do for their teenagers and young adults; real life experiences managing and saving money for things that the young people care about and that will help them on their path to adulthood, like a car to go to work and school or a computer for college.

     The second and critically important area is to ensure that young people are not only engaged in speaking out, as Talitha has today, and is important ‑‑ but are also engaged while in foster care in decisions about their lives.

     Too often young people in foster care have never been  asked “what interests you, what were you involved in before foster care, or what would you like to do”?  Engaging young people, in their case planning where decisions about their life are made, is no different than a family sitting around the kitchen table talking with their teenager about the upcoming school year and planning what activities they want to be involved in.

     It’s merely starting from the same place families do, which is “what about you is special” rather than where we too often start in the child welfare system which is “what about your life went wrong?”  States are moving in this direction, but more can be done.  Promoting clarity in state polices, incentivizing placements in homes, in family homes, with appropriate training and supports, incentivizing experience‑based opportunities and revisiting the federal case planning framework and guidance to be modeled on the best practices we’ve learned in states.

     In conclusion, we should not be surprised that when we do not let kids be kids, we do not let them have normal experiences and grow up as most kids do, that they continue to face barriers well into adulthood.  At Jim Casey, we know that we can do better.  Thank you very much for this opportunity to address the committee.

     [The statement of Ms. Tiede follows:]

     *Chairman Reichert.  Well, thank you all for your testimony and thank you for being here . The first part of the hearing was your testimony and the second part of the hearing will be some questions. I know the members of this Subcommittee are anxious to ask questions.  I was a foster grandfather for a number of years until my daughter and her husband adopted two children.  And they’re drug‑addicted babies and watching, they were three months old when they were adopted and ‑‑ well, taken in as foster children and then finally adopted.  But, they’re ten and eleven now and they’re playing soccer, she’s a painter, Briar is a soccer player.  But, they have a good solid foundation.

     The first hearing that this Subcommittee had was looking at how we can move foster children to adoptive homes more quickly. It’s sort of a preventative move, creating that solid foundation that Talitha didn’t ‑‑ that you missed.  And we’re working on that.

     So, my question is what can we do to help?  The Federal Government, you hear all the time we’re from the Federal Government and we’re here to help.  And I know when I was the sheriff and the FBI came and told me that, I ran the other way.  I hope there aren’t any FBI agents in the audience this morning.

     But, we really do want to assist you in letting kids be kids and that’s why we’re holding this hearing.  Can you think of some way that the Federal Government can play a role?  And then secondly, is there any federal law that you can think of that’s causing states to react in the way that they are?  I understand liability is a huge issue, but is there any federal law that’s really causing the states to have a reaction and limit the activity of foster youth?  Senator?

     *Ms. Detert.  I kind of thought you might ask something like that.  I do the same thing.  They always blame it on government, but is government really the problem?

     It’s really a mindset and it starts at the Federal Government and it goes down.  And the mindset was safety and we just need to change the emphasis to permanency and to normalcy.

     So, if the Federal Government would just rearrange its way of thinking, which is what we’ve had to do in Florida as we wrote this law.  What we’re doing is changing the dynamic, empowering foster parents so they can behave more like real parents and change the dynamic in the relationship.

     The relationship under current laws is that kid and their caseworker, and the caseworker turns over eighteen months, and they have less of a relationship with the foster parent.

     So, my vision is you have more of a relationship with your foster parents, empower the foster parents, free them up from some liability and, you know, for normal decision‑making and break that cycle where the kid has to go to court for everything.  And we’re the lawmakers and we’re the ones that make those rules and regulations.  And so, if we could just change the way we think and just say does this make the kid’s life easier or harder?

     One of the things in meeting with so many of these foster kids, and this girl is probably a prime example, there are so calm and patient.  And I think that probably comes from years of waiting for the caseworker, or sitting in court waiting for a decision.  They’re certainly not usually hyperactive.  So, it’s more of a mindset than a law.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Can I ask Talitha?  You know, you grew up knowing the system.  I grew up in the sheriff’s office knowing the system in an entirely different way, watching young people like yourself move through the system.  Is it mostly local law, state law, federal law?  Did you get into it that deeply or you just knew you were under the law, a law?

     *Ms. James.  You’re speaking of while I was in care?

     *Chairman Reichert.  Yes.

     *Ms. James.  Yes, so when you’re in care, when you’re in the thick of it, all you know is the system whether it be state, federal, but mainly I knew the system to be the social workers.  So, it wasn’t a matter of legislation or law, but it was the social workers because I had face‑to‑face contact with those individuals who were making my life a miserable hell, so.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Yeah.  Now, as you look back, do you see specific laws that ‑‑?

     *Ms. James.  I wanted to touch on a point where you asked what can be done. I feel like the social workers are the ones who are being scrutinized because they have liability as well, so I think it needs to be addressed at that level as well because a social worker can only make a decision based on the grounds that they’re given.  And then they put those same barriers up on the foster parents.  I think that needs to be addressed.  And there are so many social workers who would rather check off the box that they’re doing their job versus am I really doing this for the good of a child?  So, that needs to be addressed.

     And also you asked about how can we move older youth into permanent homes, which I did have the option to be adopted ‑‑ or, not the option; I was not adopted when I was in care.  But, there is a program that I work for called Kidsave.  And we have a Weekend Miracles program and we help to get older youth from foster care in adoptive homes through hosting.

     So, we have a program where you’re able to host a child for a year, get to know them naturally, and then these families are able to adopt them because they know them naturally.  They get to work out the kinks of building a relationship that most adoptive families don’t have the opportunity to do so because they’re given the child without any experience.  So, I think that is a great program and we have an eighty percent success rate if you want to look at it, so.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Well, with you involved, we know it’s going to succeed.  Thank you.

     *Ms. James.  Thank you.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Ms. Clements, did you have a comment?

     *Ms. Clements.  Yes, sir, I did.  We currently have the Child and Family Services review that every state goes through every four years and those are built on safety, health, and well‑being, where you look at the outcome performance measures that states are supposed to meet.  And we know the states are not meeting those very well historically over the last two rounds.

     But, we already have a mechanism through the CFSR review where we address well‑being and that’s where normalcy fits in.  And so, I think if we would re‑look, review those outcome performance measures that are in the CFSR review and maybe put some teeth into them, more emphasis into that.  Maybe less on the safety part because hopefully, we’ve got that down pretty well across the country.

     But, use a tool we already have, a system we already have in place, so that when these reviewers come out and visit the states every four years, they’ll be looking more in depth at the well‑being.

     And so, if states aren’t doing a very good job at that, then they’re going to have to do their program improvement plan back to the feds about how they’re going to improve that over the next two years until their next CFSR review.

     I think that the mechanism is there; it’s just reviewing what the content of those performance measures are to make sure that they’re in line with this new way of thinking.

     And then the other piece that is probably local, or state and then local, depending on how the child protection systems are set up.  And some states are state‑run, some are county‑run, so you have lots of different people making rules and regulations and setting standards, especially for foster homes and what they can and can’t do, what they can allow children to do and not do, is the whole piece of the liability concern.

     You know, we have immunity for our state employees in my state where I live in Texas, but you can’t even get liability insurance for a foster parent.  Nobody wants to do that.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Right.

     *Ms. Clements.  And you know, foster parents are investigated over so many things and one example was a little boy that his mother was standing four feet from him.  He was climbing a tree.  He’s nine years old and there was three other little boys at a little birthday party and they were climbing this tree.  He fell and he broke his arm and of course, Murphy’s Law, they got a full‑blown investigation for child abuse.  And he just fell out of the tree.  I mean, it was an accident, but he was climbing, he was having fun with his friends.  And so, the foster family had their children removed from their home.  They went through this kind of stuff, they were in fear that the birth parents  might bring a lawsuit against them, you know, all that kind of stuff.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Right.

     *Ms. Clements.  Those are the realities of care, so however we take the time to change the systems from risk of adverse, like I said, to something that embraces taking risks so children can have normalcy.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Thank you.  And Mr. Secretary, I’m going to ask for your response in writing because I’ve gone way over my time and my committee members are going to really get upset with me, so Mr. Davis, you’re recognized.

     *Mr. Davis.  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  Ms. James, let me ask you and I comment you first of all for your personal development, the way that you navigated the system, and for being who you are and where you are at this point.

     Do you think you would’ve gone to college necessarily had you not been able to express your interest in athletics?

     *Ms. James.  I would say I would not have gone to college had my aunt not cared for me at the age of fourteen and her guidance is what got me to where I am today.  So, had she not taken me in, I would not have been to play sports, I would not have been able to graduate high school.  Only three percent of foster youth graduate high school.  One percent then go on to graduate college.  So, she set me up for a lot of things when she took me into her care.  So, I give all the credit to her and to God, of course.

     *Mr. Davis.  Well, thank you very much.  I think that she is indeed an angel and there are many angels like her.

     The community that I live in has a great deal of interest concerning engagement in child welfare issues.  As a matter of fact, my congressional district has more children who live with someone other than their natural parents than any other congressional district in America.  And the district that is adjacent to mine is number two in terms of children living with someone other than their natural parents.

     We have every kind of program that one can imagine.  The State of Illinois has a good system and I comment them for their forward thinking.

     One of the areas that we have difficulty with, though, is recruiting foster parents for teenaged young people.  That seems to be a big program for us.  We’ve got programs where foster children are living with grandparents, where grandparents are raising grandchildren.  But, finding foster parents for teenagers, Secretary and Mrs. Wilkins, could you all address, because I am tremendously excited about your success in this area; how you really get foster parents for teenagers.

     *Mr. David Wilkins.   Thank you.  I agree, it is a major challenge.  And fortunately or accidentally, it ‑‑ Tanya and I ‑‑ the children we fostered were teenagers, so we jumped right in as well.

     But what we have tried to do in Florida is look at the recruitment of foster parents as a major imperative and a focus area.  And my simple business background says you get what you measure and you get what you focus on.  And so what we said is just in general, if we are going to create this normalcy initiative, then we have to raise the bar on foster parents.  And so we need to expect more out of foster parents, and so the ‑‑ because they have to do all these things we talked about, in terms of getting the kids to soccer practice and demanding performance in academics on the children, and all those kind of things.

     So we have really looked at creating a ‑‑ literally just a private sector marketing program, going after people differently and telling people that foster parenting is not like your father’s Oldsmobile.  Foster parenting today is different than it was 20, 30 years ago.  And so we are looking for those families who really wanted to dedicate their lives.  And what we are finding in Florida is they are there.  And what we need to do is go outside the normal channels.  Reach out to the faith communities, reach out to other NGOs, and reach out to private businesses to partner with us on these types of things.  And it can be accomplished.

     *Mrs. Tanya Wilkins.  When we started taking foster children in our home, everybody thought we were crazy.  They think that foster children come with all of this baggage,  that they’re bad kids.  They are kids from tough places.  And when we showed up the same place, church, wherever, about the 16th time, people would say, “You are okay and you still have these children.”  And I said, “Absolutely.”  And as people get to know the children, they will realize that they are so ‑‑ so many decisions that they make are fear‑based.  They are scared to death.  These children have been moved and moved and moved.  There is nothing stable in their life.

     So if you understand that, which is part of our training for new foster parents and for older ones that want to stay there ‑‑ if you understand that about the children that we deal with ‑‑ there is normal adolescent behavior, there is normal childhood behavior, and then there is trauma.  And that is going to be fear‑based behavior.  So in that ‑‑ if you explain that, you will reach those people that have the heart to care, but then also will be equipped to be able to do that.  So as David said, I have dragged him all over the state of Florida to do recruitment.  And when people hear the message and the awareness of the need, when we go to a community and say ‑‑ in this community in Tallahassee, when we presented to them and said, we have no one in this Tallahassee area that will take a teenage girl, we had probably 50 people that responded and said, “I will do it from my heart.”

     So you have ‑‑ David calls drinking the Kool Aid.  You have to get the awareness out there and talk about these children.  That they are children that want to be loved and cared for.  And if you get out there and tell that, and spread that kind of message ‑‑ so there is not ‑‑ there are marketing plans and then there is getting to the people and telling them what you really need.  And it is working in Florida.  It is exciting.

     *Mr. Davis.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Thank you, Mr. Davis.  Mr. Renacci, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you for holding this hearing.  And I want to thank all the witnesses for your testimony.  It has been a learning experience, I know, for me, in listening to all of you and reading your testimony.

     One thing I have learned in looking into some details in Ohio, which is the state I represent, 12,000 Ohio children are living in foster care each month.  Last year, more than 1,500 foster children aged out of care when they turned 18.  When I hear these statistics, I think about whether or not the system has really prepared the young adults to become successful in their adulthood.  Our job as their representatives should be to set them up for success, not to make their lives more difficult.

     I understand there are states like my home state of Ohio that have begun to lessen the barriers for foster youth to engage in normal activities.  One thing I heard today was a lot of discussion about Florida and some of the things Florida has done.  And Senator Detert, as a legislator, what did it take to get Florida interested in changing their current foster system?

     *Ms. Detert.  Thank you for that question.

     A friend of mine who gives me simple but startling advice once said, first you have to care.  And years ago, I had a foster girl ‑‑ I mean, it is really not on anybody’s radar.  And the most ‑‑ when you talk about the subject to your colleagues and to groups, they say, I had no idea.  Because none of us have any idea.  And what got to me was a foster care girl walked into my office when I chaired Children and Family in the House.

     And she said, “Why does the state of Florida keep screwing with my life?”  And I said to her, “We spend millions of dollars to do that to you.  Why don’t you sit here and tell me how we can spend millions of dollars to fix your life?”  And she went through her list, which was legitimate.  We ‑‑ I have been moved four times.  My whole goal is just get out of foster care.  You are not helping me.  You are not doing anything.  She was turning 18.  She was going to go in the Army.

     So my staff, I told them, sit down with this girl and make a list and see what we can fix.  And it is simple things.  Don’t move them in the middle of their school year and make them repeat a whole year.  This is not helping.  So because of that girl, that year we did a bill that I sponsored and I got ‑‑ I named it the Road to Independence.  Which covered foster care kids from 18 to 21.  Because we found when they left foster care they were ending up homeless or in jail.  They have grown up with no family support.  Nothing there for them.  So under that piece of legislation ‑which we used with your federal dollars, thank you ‑‑ those kids, as long as they were in community college, university, or any kind of school that would get you a job, we would give them a small monthly stipend.

     So I did that bill probably 10, 15 years ago.  2008, I got elected to the Senate.  I was not think of serving on that committee anymore, but I signed up for it.  And who came back but all those kids that originally were in the Road to Independent program.  And now they are grownups and they help other foster kids.  And it has just been thrilling.  So really, first you have to care.  You have to tell your  colleagues.  You have to take an interest.  We pass laws and then we have to survey and see are they working.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Well thank you for caring, and I do want to thank the other witnesses.  Because I know there is a lot of caring at that table as well.

     Mrs. Clements, I heard in testimony a lot of discussion about breaking the rules.  And I would like to find out a little more about that.  What would be the repercussions for a guardian, should they break a rule with the foster child?

     *Ms. Clements.  Well, there are standards that every home has to follow, and you are supposed to be in 100 percent compliance with all those standards that are set up by your individual state or county on what it takes to be a foster parent.  They are very restrictive and almost make families have to act like little institutions because they have to be so restrictive on the kids.  And when either the private agency that you foster for or the state licensing people come out and they look at that, and you are not following the rules, there is an investigation.  And the example I used about the foster mother who had an emergency at the hospital with another child and could not go pick up her foster son from football practice, not only did she get in trouble because the coach and the parent did not have a background check, neither one of them had a copy of their automobile insurance on file with the caseworker.  That is how nitpicky it gets.  So you get investigated because you have broken those rules.  And there are so many of them that you have to back off and you can’t let kids do anything.

     *Mr. Renacci.  Thank you.  I know I have run out of time.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

     I yield back.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Unfortunately, we are going to be called to go vote in a few minutes.  So we would like to continue the hearing, but if the members could be more poignant in their questions, we can go vote.  Mr. Reed is recognized.

     *Mr. Reed.  Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  Thank you to the witnesses for coming today. I do want to publicly acknowledge some work by a colleague of mine who is not a member of the Committee but is here today.  A good friend of mine, the gentle lady from California.  And this is a Republican publicly applauding a Democrat on the other side of the aisle because she is a tireless advocate for adoption, and I applaud her for those efforts.

     And this is one of those moments where ‑‑ you don’t get a lot of good testimony down here, many a days.  But Ms. James, Ms. Wilkins, hearing your testimony makes me proud to sit here and hear it. My hat is tipped to you.  We have passed some legislation here recently on the federal level, 2008, 2013, some acts.  And one of the concerns I always have when we act federally, we sometimes think that one size fits all as to this issue.  And I would be very interested in knowing from maybe Ms. Clements, Mr. Wilkins, and the state senator ‑‑ is this area really a one size fits all issue that a federal standard could address?  Or is this something that we should give the discretion to the states for to try to deal with it on a state by state basis?  Anyone want to take a stab at that?

     *Mr. David Wilkins.  Great question.  One of the reasons Florida has been able to “turn around” their system over the last 8 years is because you guys granted the state of Florida a waiver in our child welfare system.  And in that waiver, we have now more flexibility of, in essence, how to spend the money.  And so we have then been able to move more of our costs to the front end of the system and we are continuing on a journey on that to really focus more on prevention types of activities.  And I think the results speak for themselves.  I mean, if you look at ‑‑ just at the mathematical progress that Florida has made over the last 8 years, it is a model that other states could benefit from.  Now, how Florida did doesn’t necessarily ‑‑ probably, there is not even a one size fits all, I think, because other states are coming from different places and would go after an implementation differently.

     But I would definitely encourage giving more waivers to states.  But going back to a comment Irene made, too, was ‑‑ is continuing to hold states accountable for outcomes, not process results.  And we still get a lot of federal government reporting and measurements based on process.  It doesn’t matter how many kids we have, it’s the progress of those children.  Right?  And so if we do that, then people don’t get as obsessed about following all the rules and procedures, because it is not about process.  Instead, it is about making the right decisions for kids.

     *Mr. Reed.  Mrs. Clements?  Want to offer?

     *Ms. Clements.  Completely agree with the secretary on that one.  I do believe we have the system already in place through the Child and Family Service Reviews to look at the outcomes of these performance measures and let the states decide how they are going to do it.  Because we all have a different personality out there, depending on where we are from.  And that is, I think, the key.

     *Mr. Reed. Senator, I don’t know if you want to offer anything, but ‑‑

     *Ms. Detert.  I would agree with the secretary on that.  Flexibility and accountability, and we are there.

     *Mr. Reed.  Very good.  So then I generally am hearing, let states have the flexibility and the federal government potentially have an accountability oversight type of role.  And I appreciate that.  Because the other issue that is out there is that ‑‑ we are hearing some great stories today, but we also ‑‑ I have heard the horror stories of the .001 percent situation that needs to be recognized as we go through this.  Because God forbid that that happens in the future and we had an opportunity to do something about it.  And so I just offer that as kind of a sensitivity that I am too ‑‑ that I am aware of, and that ‑‑ and trying to grapple with as we deal with this.  Giving flexibility but at the same time making sure that accountability gets at that .1 percent situation that we have identified.

     So with that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back and I appreciate the Chairman’s hard work in this area.  And I know he is personally committed to this area also.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Thank you, Mr. Reed.

     I think what I am going to do is limit the time now to three minutes so that we can make sure that every member has an opportunity.  Mr. Young is recognized.

     *Mr. Young.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you all for your testimony.  I will try to speak quickly and ask you to perhaps respond pointedly to the questions I have.

     Common sense and the powerful testimony of people like Ms. James tell us that a certain amount of innovation at the state level is certainly helpful to our foster care population.  That is evidenced not just by testimony but also by hard evidence, much of which we receive, as has been indicated, through the Child and Family Service Reviews.  My first question would be to Ms. Wilkins and Senator Detert.  If you could speak to those reviews, do you have any ideas for improvement with respect to those reviews?

     *Ms. Detert.  To reviews by the federal government?

     *Mr. Young.  That is right.

     *Ms. Detert.  Of the state?

     *Mr. Young.  That is right.  You are on the receiving end of them, so ‑‑

     *Ms. Detert.  Right.

     *Mr. Young.  Yeah.

     *Ms. Detert.  And I think, frankly, if you would do surveys of the kids aging out of foster care, and if they had an opportunity, one of the things that bothers them is they feel they are caught up in a whirlwind of a bureaucratic system, and that they don’t have a voice.  So I would say surveying them and then looking at our results.

     *Mr. Young.  Okay.  That sounds excellent.  Got a minute forty left, very quickly on this because I have another question, please.

     *Mrs. Tanya Wilkins.  Yeah, one thing that we did do was not have the government call the foster parents that had been in that situation before, fostering.  And so we had foster parents call foster parents that had quit fostering for whatever reason.  So we specifically did that so that they would open up.  And so you are not going to open up to DCF or whatever.  So we got a lot of information about what barriers there are, and then I spend a lot of time speaking with youth in ‑‑ under 18 and over.  “And what held you back from where you want to go in life?”  And all these things.  And we bring them back, and I am fortunate enough to live with this man, so I can kick him at home and say, This is what needs to be arranged in DCF ‑‑

     *Mr. Young.  Sure.

     *Mrs. Tanya Wilkins.  ‑‑ Or the system, or whatever.”

     *Mr. Young.  Briefly, we have laboratories of democracy, so to speak, here.  If we empower you to innovate, I think it would be helpful for other states to learn from your innovation.  Perhaps they adopt some of your best practices.  Perhaps they learn from worst practices and failed experimentation.  Through what means or forum do you share such information and can the federal government, to your mind, help facilitate such conversation and sharing of information either way?  I will give this to either of you that maybe have strong feelings.

     Senator?

     *Ms. Detert.  Yes.   What we found ‑‑ we’re talking about our normalcy bill today, and it’s very important in the lives of the kids, but we also did another huge bill that is yet to be signed by the Governor, but he will sign it, extending foster care to age 21 for no new money, and the way we did that is to look at our budget and look at what we’ve privatized and community‑based care and how many things are vendor‑driven rather than child‑driven.

     *Mr. Young.  But state‑to‑state conversation is just an informal basis?  Is that right?

     *Mr. David Wilkins.  Yeah.  And I would personally like to see more standardization on the accountability issues for states, because when we go and look at other states and try to understand who is doing something good, everybody measures things differently, and so, there’s ‑‑ it’s very complicated.

     We do have some great organizations, like all the different Casey organizations that try to help triangulate that, but better standardization on the accountability issues nationally would help.

     *Mr. Young.  Thank you.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Mr. Kelly.

     *Mr. Kelly.  Thank you, Chairman, and thank you all for being here.

     My question, Ms. James, would be to you, because I don’t think that most of us would realize the difficulties that could come from participating in sports and it wasn’t till your aunt took you in that you were able to do it.  I’ve got to tell you, those life experiences, playing in teams sports, are not about making the major leagues, it’s about making a major difference in your life, and every life is a journey. Tell me more the difficulty ‑‑ that’s hard for me to understand.

     Growing up in a little town where I coached youth sports ‑‑ and I want to talk to ‑‑ Mr. Young ‑‑ he talks about his soccer days.  Mr. Renacci talks about all the football and baseball and days he had, and of course, my friend Tom Reed was a great swimmer.

     But for you, a huge difference in your life, was it not, being able to have a common goal.  Tell me, how tough was it, though, and why couldn’t you play when you were in a foster home?

     *Ms James.  Thank you for the question.  I could not play prior to me being with my aunt because of the barrier of money.  So, a lot of foster homes, they did not want to pay an additional fee out of their pocket for me to pay for my uniform or just have money when we had a game out of town.

     So, those were the things that prevented me from doing that, as well as taking me to practice.

     So, a lot of the foster parents were not foster parents; they were bystanders in the process.

     But a lot of issues came about because you have to travel outside of your residence.  So, if I traveled 100 miles outside of my residence, I would need county approval or my social worker had to sign off on it, and she would have to go to the courts to get that approved.

     So, that was an issue until my aunt just said this is nonsense; I’m just going to do what I am going to allow you to do.

     *Mr. Kelly.  That’s great.  Did your aunt come and watch you play?

     *Ms. James.  Absolutely, yes.

     *Mr. Kelly.  We just passed a bill yesterday in the House that’s going to allow comp time where people can actually go and watch their sons, their daughters, their nephews and nieces play, which I thought was a great piece, so I’m glad that happened to you.

     Ms. Clements, you talk about Mary in 4‑H.  I was a 4‑H’er, and I know it’s about head, heart, health, and hands.

     *Ms. Clements.  Absolutely.

     *Mr. Kelly.  What another great experience.  But if you are a foster child, you can’t participate in 4‑H?

     *Ms. Clements.  Well, you can.

     *Mr. Kelly.  But ‑‑

     *Ms. Clements.  Right.  But everybody has to have a background check.  You know, again, the child couldn’t go to 4‑H camp every summer.  I mean, I went for nine years and it was the biggest deal of my life each time. But if you are a foster child, you often can’t go because it is too far away from home and there are too many people without criminal history checks.

     You had all these people there that were adults and kids over 14 where, in my state, they all had to have a background check if you’re going to be around them more than a few hours.

     You couldn’t do those things, and it just totally, totally ties the hands of the parents who are trying to take care of these kids and frustrates the children to the point where they have acting‑out behaviors.

     It’s not that they’re bad kids.  They’re just so darn frustrated with the system, and they don’t trust anybody anymore to do their best interest.

     *Mr. Kelly.  Yeah.  Well, that’s great you can mainstream them, and thank you for all being here.

     Mr. Wilkins, congratulations on the award, private sector.  You’ve got to inspect what you expect.  So, you’re seeing some changes.  It’s what you’ve done that makes a difference.

     Thank you all so much for being here.

     Chairman, thank you for having this hearing.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Thank you, Mr. Kelly.

     Mr. Lewis is recognized.

     *Mr. Lewis.  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

     Mr. Chairman, I will be very brief.

     I want to thank members of the panel for being here.  I’ve read some of your testimony.  I apologize for not being here earlier.  I was on the floor.

     But Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this hearing, and thank Mr. Davis for being here, and for the other members, and I want to thank our colleague, Congresswoman Bass.

     Since she’s been here, she’s been a strong advocate, unbelievable spokesperson in the House, on the Hill, for foster care.

     So, thank you.

     Ms. James, I had an opportunity to read your testimony, and I admire all of you for all of your work ‑‑ the parents; Senator, for your leadership and your vision.  Ms. James, I admire you for not giving up, for not giving in, for not becoming bitter or hostile but for keeping the faith with a sense of direction and a sense of purpose.

     I notice, in the end, at the end of your testimony, you quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. King.

     *Ms. James.  Absolutely.

     *Mr. Lewis.  I knew Dr. King.  I met him when I was 18. I met Rosa Parks when I was 17.  I grew up in a very large family, very, very poor, but individuals that I met and came in contact with inspired me and lifted me, and someone along the way in foster care, no doubt, lifted you, and you just kept the faith.  Thank you.

     *Ms. James.  Thank you.

     *Mr. Lewis.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I yield back.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Well, if you’re not inspired by that ‑‑

     *Ms. James.  Let the church say amen.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Amen.

     Thank you, Mr. Lewis.

     Mr. Griffin, you are recognized.

     *Mr. Griffin.  And this Baptist says amen.

     I want to apologize for not being here earlier.  I was on the floor with the highly esteemed Representative Lewis, and I appreciate his words, and it’s always an honor to serve with a living legend and a civil rights icon, and I appreciate everything that he does.

     I just want to mention that there’s a great program in central Arkansas, in Little Rock, called The Call.  You’re shaking your head.  Children of Arkansas Love For a Lifetime. I call it The Call. 

     My wife and I have been learning about that through our church, Immanuel Baptist Church.  A lot of churches in Little Rock are working with The Call, which is a nonprofit, and the purpose is to find more foster parents.  There are something like 7,000 children in Arkansas in any one year in foster care and only about 950 families, and so, in addition to improving it, we’ve got to do more recruiting, but one of the things that really struck me and that I want to get your input on is this ‑‑ this is a nonprofit.  It is a faith‑based, Christ‑centered organization with a lot of local churches in it.  It’s very open about that.

     But I’ve been really impressed that the top levels of leadership in our Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Children and Family Services, have been active.  It’s described here as unprecedented cooperation between state government and these churches, which I think is fabulous.

     The churches are meeting a need that they believe and I believe is part of our Christian mission to love kids who need homes, and the government is saying this is helpful and is partnering.

     So, I’m wondering, have you heard of this?  Have you heard of similar cooperation between churches and the government in other states?  Any of you want to comment on that in my very limited time?

     *Ms. Tiede.  Very quickly, I know that Commissioner Corrigan in Michigan has had a similar outreach.  They are under a consent decree and needed to recruit, I think, 600 foster family homes within a year, I believe, and she called together all of the faith‑based organizations across the state and gave them a challenge, and last I heard, they are meeting that challenge.

     *Mr. Griffin.  So, Michigan.  Any others?

     *Ms. Clements.  Yes, sir, we have a faith‑based initiative in Texas, as well, and over 400 churches are participating at this point, and we’re just in the beginning stages.

     Recruiting for foster parents, for adoptive parents, and for those who don’t feel they can do that, how those congregations then can support those that can.  Beautiful, beautiful programs.

     *Mr. Griffin.  Well, it seems to me it’s a natural network of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands and millions of people ready to go to work for the same cause that the government has.

     *Ms. Clements.  Well, we have 11 regions across the state, and there’s a state employee in each one that’s called a faith‑based initiative specialist.  I mean, that’s how dedicated the department is.

     *Mr. Griffin.  Awesome.

     *Ms. Wilkins.  I just wanted to say a quick thing.  I went to the Christian Alliance for Orphans conference last week, and it was 4,000 faith‑based leaders across the U.S. coming together to talk about this issue, and so, we had breakouts in government, Arkansas being one of them and how they use The Call.

     So, I met them.  I said come to Florida, and we’ve got some great things going on in Florida.  We at DCF actually ‑‑ we ‑‑ sorry ‑‑ he actually has hired a faith‑based leader.  He was a pastor.

     *Mr. David Wilkins.  It’s a partnership.

     *Ms. Wilkins.  A partnership.  I had to find my place.  And so, we brought him to DCF, and so, he’s actually meeting with pastors cause they can do the pastor‑to‑pastor talk and talk about why wasn’t it on his radar as a pastor, and so, he’s getting this.

     So, we just were able to speak with Northland in Orlando.  They have 20,000 members, and it simulcasts all over, right?  And so, we had 300 that responded to the call, and so, now they’re going to nurture those through the church in coming along, and they’re going to save the government tons and tons of money in the support that they get, plus it’s going to be recruitment ongoing in that church.

     *Mr. Griffin.  It’s exciting.

     *Ms. Detert.  It’s exciting.

     *Mr. Griffin.  Let me know what I can do to help.

     *Ms. Detert.  Okay.  Thank you.

     *Chairman Reichert.  Thank you.

     Well, we wish we could listen to you all day.  You really have a lot of excitement, a lot of knowledge, and good or bad, some experience in this arena, and I think what you’ll find from this Committee is a great passion and a devotion to trying to find a way, as I said earlier, to help our foster youth.

     There are Members of Congress who have come from places that you may not really expect, and of course, Mr. Lewis shared just briefly a little piece of his story from a large family from a poor neighborhood, and here he is a Member of Congress.

     I know Mr. Davis has had a similar experience.  I grew up the oldest of seven, ran away from home when I was a junior and senior in high school and lived in my car, a 1956 Mercury.  I’ll never buy another 1956 Mercury again in my life.

     But the reason I share that with all of you is that I hope that, as you go back and you share, Ms. James, with the folks you work with, your experience, there’s opportunities.

     You’re a very, very bright young lady.

     *Ms. James.  Thank you.

     *Chairman Reichert.  You have a great future in front of you, and faith is one of the things I know I’ve used and I know that you have relied on.

     I appreciate all of you ‑‑ all the hard work you do, your testimony here today, and I’m sorry we had to cut it a bit short, but that’s sometimes the nature of Congress.

     So, we’re all going to go vote.  We look forward to working with you.  We are going to be sending you some questions, expecting some answers in writing, as I said earlier.

     If members have additional questions for the witnesses, they will submit them to you in writing, and we would appreciate receiving your responses for the record within two weeks.

     The committee stands adjourned.

     [Whereupon, at 10:55 a.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]

Questions For The Record

Public Submissions For The Record


Generations United Outside Submission

CCAI

Linda Young
Mandy Urwiler
Will Lightbourne and Frank Mecca

SUBCOMMITTEE: Worker and Family Support