As many of you are aware, President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas remains unconfirmed, which is hampering the ability of the administration to act in a number of key areas. States are waiting for guidance from HHS to fully implement the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 and assist children being raised by grandparents and other relatives.
I was pleased to read from Governor Sebelius' confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Finance Committee that both the Finance Committee and the Governor view implementing the Fostering Connections Act as an important priority. Both Senators Baucus and Rockefeller choose to use some of their time to ask Governor Sebelius about the new law. Let's hope that she can get to work quickly.
I have attached some of the highlights for you:
Senator Baucus: Last year, Senator Grassley and I worked together, along with other members of this committee, to pass the ―Fostering Connections and Increasing Adoptions Act. Implementation of that bill will require your immediate attention. Are you prepared to begin the implementation of this landmark piece of legislation? How should we interpret the constant rate of entries into foster care? What policies can reduce entries into foster care?
Governor Sebelius: I applaud your leadership and vision in enacting the Fostering Connections and Increasing Adoptions Act. If I am confirmed, implementing this landmark legislation will be a high priority for me, and for my team at HHS. Consistent with the goals of safety, permanency, and well-being, it will be vital to invest in up-front services to strengthen families and avoid foster care placements where possible. These early services will need to link closely with family and other community-based supports for vulnerable families.
Senator Baucus: Do you see the need for the development of age-specific and culturally appropriate approaches to prevention of abuse and neglect and/or prevention of entry to foster care? What should HHS‘ role be in developing such approaches and/or tailoring existing programs to improve age-specific, developmentally, and culturally appropriate services? How do you see HHS‘ role in addressing parental "risk factors"? Are risk factors most appropriately addressed in child welfare policy or in other ways – for example, income security or via broader based mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence related services?
Governor Sebelius: If confirmed as Secretary of HHS, I intend to look closely at evidence-based approaches for preventing abuse and neglect and/or foster care placement. Parental ―risk factors should be addressed through both the broader-based approaches you mentioned and child welfare policy. It would seem very reasonable to examine tailored strategies that have proven effective in particular settings. HHS has an important role to play in promoting public health, including mental health, and in working with state, local, and tribal partners to provide direct services that support individual at-risk families.
Senator Rockefeller: Last fall, Congress passed a bipartisan bill that I was pleased to work on with Chairman Baucus and Senator Grassley called the Fostering Connections and Increasing Adoptions Act. HHS will need to implement this historic legislation to increase adoptions and allow states the option to help grandparents raising their grandchildren by guardianship.
Adoption and child welfare don‘t dominate the news, but having a safe permanent home is essential for a child‘s healthy development and future. We hope to work with you on strong implementation. I would appreciate hearing you views on adoption and child welfare issues
Governor Sebelius: I applaud your steadfast leadership on the issue of child welfare reform and advocacy, and I appreciate your central role in passing the Fostering Connections and Increasing Adoptions Act. I recognize that the Department of Health and Human Services has a special responsibility to our most vulnerable people, and that children who suffer abuse and neglect deserve our attention even if their plight does not dominate the news. If confirmed, I look forward to working with you to identify other opportunities to improve outcomes for children served by the child welfare system, and to increase adoptions so that more children receive the benefit of a safe, loving, and permanent home.