Bill Introduced to Offer New Child Welfare Waivers

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A bill introduced this week would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to issue more waivers to allow state child welfare systems to test innovative strategies.

The bill – introduced by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Montana), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) – would permit HHS to grant three-year waivers to systems that want to use federal foster care funds in ways that the current entitlement of Title IV-E does not permit.

In order to receive a waiver, a state would have to agree to keep state spending on child welfare at the same level as in the years preceding the waiver. The state also would have to offer already , or promise to offer, six different services out of a long list specified in the bill. The list includes development of a plan to ensure mental health care for children in foster care, a protocol for promoting educational stability, and procedures for protecting foster care children from inappropriate use of psychotropic medications.

A state system would be able to renew the waiver once, extending the period to six years.

Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, held a hearing in March about the existing waivers with HHS, and witnesses reported that in general they had helped state and county systems reduce their reliance on foster care.

“The majority of federal funds for child welfare are directed at the least desirable outcome: removing a child or children from the home and placing that child in foster care,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in his statement at the hearing.

A hearing of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, held in July 2010, produced similar support from witnesses. One of them was former Florida child welfare director George Sheldon, who will soon oversee the Administration for Children and Families, the HHS agency that provides federal funds to states for child welfare services.

Florida received permission in September 2010 to continue its waiver with HHS, the only one of seven active waivers to cover an entire state system.

Click here to read the new legislation.