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House Subcommittee Examines Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held a hearing on May 10 to review the effectiveness of the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program. The program was authorized by the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 (P.L. 105-89) and was designed to provide funding for services that would prevent child abuse and neglect. The Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program is set to expire this year.

Chair Wally Herger (R-CA) noted that, “The Subcommittee played a key role, through the Adoption and Safe Families Act, in setting the terms of the Safe and Stable Families Program,” adding that the law “sent a bipartisan message that children should not languish in foster care for so long that they have little hope of finding a permanent home.”

Committee members and witnesses hailed the effectiveness of the program. “Since the enactment of the Adoption and Safe Families Act,” said Rep. Herger, “adoptions are up from 28,000 in 1996 to 48,000 in 1999, and child maltreatment is down nearly seven percent.” In his opening statement, Ranking Democrat Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) said, “This committee has a proud record” of helping children at risk, and, “I am encouraged by the President’s recommendation to make more money available for this program.”

Betsey Rosenbaum of the American Public Human Services Association agreed that the program needs more funding and endorsed “President Bush’s recommendation to increase funding for Safe and Stable Families Program to $1 billion over five years.” She also told the subcommittee, “Even with a funding increase for the Safe and Stable Families Program, services that protect child safety and promote reunification remain underfunded by the federal government,” and added, “The needs of the state child welfare systems far outstrip the resources that are now provided with federal funding.”

According to Linda Mouson of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program funds “enhance our efforts to support troubled families, to preserve families when possible, to provide services to achieve reunification, and to promote adoption.” She also recommended that “Congress significantly increase funding” for the program and “that Congress also provide new federal resources to increase the availability of substance abuse treatment for families involved in the child welfare system.”

“It is clear that there is a general consensus that we must reauthorize the program and support the President’s proposal for $200 million in additional funding per year,” acknowledged Rep. Cardin, who also asked the panel, “Where would you spend the money?”

Ms. Mouson reiterated her strong support for substance abuse treatment programs for families involved in the child welfare system and “a good recruitment campaign to fund foster parents.”

Mr. Cardin concurred, stating that “there is a definite relationship between substance abuse and child abuse.” Several of the witnesses urged the subcommittee to give states more flexibility in how they use federal dollars under the program. Ms. Rosenbaum told the subcommittee, “There are four categories of opportunities for spending: prevention, early intervention, reunification, and post-placement services.” Adding that, “One size does not fit all,” she emphasized the need for more flexibility in spending “that would allow Maryland to focus on family resource centers, where Florida would like to look at something else.”

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