Some Big Questions for Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice in 2018

Last weekYouth Services Insider reflected on some of the bigger stories in child welfare and juvenile justice for 2017. Now, let’s look ahead.

Following are a few things we think will come up in 2018 in child welfare and juvenile justice.

Stability of Home Visiting

There remains bipartisan support for extending Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV), a federal program tested under George W. Bush and grown through the Affordable Care Act. But there is a fundamental disagreement over what funding for the next five years of MIECHV should look like.

Advocates entered last year with hope that Congress would not only consider a five-year reauthorization for MIECHV, but also double the appropriation to $800 million per year.

The Senate Finance Committee leadership, for both parties, approved a flat, $400 million-per-year extension for five years. No more money, no less.

The House Ways and Means Committee, on a party-line vote, approved a reauthorization that would potentially increase MIECHV funding. But it would do so by requiring states to fully match the federal dollars by 2022. If a state did not match their full portion of MIECHV funding, it would only receive the amount it could match.

YSI researched what is known about the existing state outlays for home visiting. We found at least 14 states that appear to spend enough now to fully match their MIECHV allocation. We also found about 15 states that, as is, would leave either all or most of their MIECHV allocation on the table.

That latter group of the states represents the gambit for House Republicans, led on this bill by Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.). They believe the prospect of losing MIECHV prompts will increase state spending.

Our guess as 2018 begins is that none of these things will happen this year. The Senate floated the idea of a two-year flat extender for MIECHV before the holidays. MIECHV advocates, who are dug in against the state match plan, will support a two-year deal if it avoids the match coming into play.

Deferred DREAMs, Unaccompanied Minors

There are two areas in which Congress could make significant youth-related changes to immigration policy during 2018. One gets a lot of ink, the other doesn’t get much at all.

Last year, President Trump started the sunset clock on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era policy that took effect after a filibuster blocked the passage of the DREAM Act in 2010. DACA permits young people who arrived to or remained in America illegally to receive renewable two-year deferred action status. The status permits them to work, attend college or serve in the military.

DACA will now expire in March, which gives a deadline-challenged Congress only a few months to pass legislation to embed this policy in law.

2017 saw a significant decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors who arrived at the Mexico-U.S. border from Central American countries (mostly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador). Those youth are apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and then handed over to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within two days. This is known as the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program.

HHS places the children in contracted shelter programs; then, more often than not, those contractors find relatives or parents in America who take the child while a claim of asylum is processed. But most of these children do not end up appearing for the hearings, and they are slated in absentia for deportation.

In the final months of the year, the rate of unaccompanied arrivals shot up again, suggesting we could see a return in 2018 to rates that overtaxed the network of providers that HHS contracts with to manage UAC. HHS has already reached out in search of additional shelter beds, and for a 500-bed emergency shelter in Texas.

Nobody really likes the way UAC works, certainly not with the increased volume of arrivals since 2014. But the House Judiciary Committee is the only corner of Congress that has consistently championed an overhaul. The committee marked up and approved a bill this year that, in a nutshell, would slow the timeline on ICE handoffs to HHS custody and permit ICE to quickly send Central American unaccompanied minors back home.

Foster Care Quality Control

California has embarked on a foster care reform plan, the Continuum of Care Reform, that is contingent on improving the quality and quantity of “resource parents,” the term the state uses to describe its roster of foster parents and relative caregivers. This is the key to the state’s aim to limit reliance on group care settings.

Meanwhile, a large group of funders, advocates and service organizations are spearheading a new campaign to improve the quality of the foster care system in dozens of states. Children Need Amazing Parents, or CHAMPS, has begun its work in Georgia and New York.

It will be interesting to see what comes of these ventures in 2018, since they cover three of the 10 biggest child welfare systems in the country. Congress voiced some concern in this area in late 2017: the Senate Finance Committee released a report that questioned the state-level monitoring of foster homes, particularly ones recruited and managed via contracts with private nonprofits and corporations.

CCR in California hit some significant snags with recruitment and payment this year, and a second year of problematic implementation could really jeopardize the whole plan.

Raise-the-Age Plans in New York, North Carolina

As of January 1, 2017, New York and North Carolina were the only states that considered all 16-year-olds to be adults in the eyes of the law, regardless of circumstance. Both states head into 2018 with legislation signed to raise the criminal age to 18 by the year 2019.

Both juvenile justice systems will have a lot of plans to make to ensure they have the right mix of probation, community programs and secure facilities to handle an influx of older teens. They can perhaps glean some lessons from the experience of some other states, such as Connecticut and Illinois, that recently raised their age of jurisdiction.

The Chronicle will report on this as details emerge for how the two states gear up for this.

Decisive Year for Federal Juvenile Justice Law

For the first time in decades, a state has opted out of participation in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJPDA), a modest program through which states receive small formula grants in exchange for compliance with four basic federal juvenile justice standards.

Nebraska withdrew from participation in 2017, joining Wyoming as the only states to not engage on these basic standards. But JJDPA is now more than 15 years overdue for reauthorization, and House appropriators have targeted it for elimination for years now. A bill to update the act has passed both chambers, but a conference on the two bills is being held up by a single senator, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

All of this is against the backdrop of new standards that make complying with the federal rules harder. Some advocates have quietly expressed concern to YSI that tougher compliance rules, small grants and no reauthorization could be the mix that breaks the dam on JJPDA.

Will 2018 bring much-need stability to JJDPA, or will it be the year the states start walking away from the act? Two potential causes for optimism:

  • Cotton might soon become the next director of the CIA, which would take him off the legislative board and virtually ensure JJDPA reauthorization.
  • President Trump has announced a pick – Caren Harp, a former prosecutor and champion for restorative justice practices – to lead the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which oversees JJDPA. The move surprised YSI, because Trump has yet to nominate a leader for the Office of Justice Programs, the bigger agency that runs OJJDP. The Obama administration went through a full term before it put in a leader at OJJDP.

School Stability

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bill that rewrote federal education policy and replaced the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act, included a provision meant to close the loop on a previous federal action to ensure school stability for foster youth.

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, passed in 2008, had required child welfare agencies to make sure foster youth attended their school of origin if that’s what they wanted to do. But child welfare agencies don’t typically own school buses, so ESSA yoked school districts into the mission by requiring them to work with child welfare agencies to ensure student transportation was covered.

2017 was the first full year after the ESSA compliance deadline of December 2016. And as The Chronicle’s consistent coverage of this provision shows, states have been slow to live up to the new requirements. Will 2018 bring increased attention and pressure to comply?

Los Angeles County took a step in that direction by contracting with a ride-share service to transport foster youth. Perhaps other urban systems will consider this option over bussing.

Substance Abuse Support

The recent release of annual, federal foster care data (for fiscal 2016) shows the number of youth coming into foster care has continued to increase. For several states, the rate of new entries spiked in the past year. And while exits from care are also up, that appears to be fueled by more adoption and guardianship, not more reunification with birth parents.

There is no doubt that the increased reliance in foster care is tied up with the continued plague of opioid and heroin addiction. It is likely that the impact of the drug plague is twofold: kids are being taken from parents who have been rendered incapable of ensuring their children’s safety, and other children are being taken from parents who just need some meaningful help with treatment.

We said it in one of the last columns from 2017, and we’ll say it again here. There is probably no more important dialogue to have in child welfare right now than the one about when children need to be removed from an addicted parent, and when they can be kept safely in the home or with family while treatment is provided.

The Trump Administration convened a commission about opioid use, but Trump and Congress did not take any significant action on the issue in 2017. It will be interesting to see if that changes in 2018, and if so, if the federal response includes some attention to improving access to treatment for parents facing struggles with addiction.

Juvenile Justice and Opioids

The nexus between child welfare and the opioid crisis is starting to get some mainstream media attention, as evidenced by this end-of-the-year column in the New York Times.

But to what extent is the opioid crisis influencing juvenile justice? Juvenile arrests and incarceration have greatly decreased in the past decade, but we don’t think it’s crazy to wonder if this crisis could slow that trend or even put it in reverse. It seems unlikely that this is the first drug crisis in American history that did not involve youth in trafficking and sales. And that’s before you get to the straighter line of crimes committed to fuel addiction.

YSI attended a juvenile justice conference in 2017, where we chatted with some juvenile justice officials from the Midwest. One intervention staffer from Ohio shared that a nearby town had seen 19 overdose cases in a 24-hour period.

Probation and intake staff in his county had all been trained to administer Narcan, not on the streets so much as to juveniles who “fall out” during their time in the court and intake buildings. Narcan, a nasal spray of Naloxone that can save someone who has OD’d, is now readily available around the offices.

This is a space that The Chronicle intends to explore in 2018.

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Some Big Questions for Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice in 2018