President Signs Bills for Youth Programs

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President Bush has signed all three major pieces of youth-related legislation that recently passed in Congress: the Protect Our Children Act, the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act and the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.

• The Protect Our Children Act, a bipartisan effort sponsored by Sens. Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), gives more than $320 million to the Justice Department to fight online child pornography with advanced tracking technology and more investigators. The law also requires Internet companies to report child pornography.

Justice Department officials have said that limited resources allowed the agency to investigate only 2 percent of the 500,000 individuals known to be tracking child pornography in 2007.

The president signed a related bill, the Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators Act, which requires convicted sex offenders to provide the National Sex Offender Registry with all of their Internet identifiers, such as e-mail addresses.

• The Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) authorizes appropriations for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. The law increases the budget authorization to serve runaway and homeless youth from $113 million to $165 million and includes money for shelters, counseling and other programs. In addition, the act mandates a study on runaway and homeless youth every five years, to help better understand and confront the problem. It also requires a more careful review of who receives grants to favor those most experienced in running youth programs.

According to a federal evaluation, the previous RHYA, in 2003, increased school attendance and employment and reduced parental abuse. However, not all youth in need could be served, due to limited financing. The extra money included in this year’s bill would allow youth to stay in temporary shelters for 21 days, as opposed to the current 15 days, as well as increase their maximum time in transitional living from 18 months to 21 months.

Among other things, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008:

• Reauthorizes through 2013 the Adoption Incentives Program, which financially rewards states that show annual increases in adoptions of children from foster care systems. It establishes 2007 as the “base year” against which states will measure adoption outcomes and increases award amounts, particularly for more adoptions of special needs and older youth.

(See “Major Adoption Bill Passes,” October 2008.)