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Hatch, Wyden Respond to Significant Need to Improve Government Oversight Following Foster Care Investigation
Bipartisan Senate Finance Committee Investigation into Foster Care Uncovers Abuse, Neglect and System Failures at Every Level
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today released a bipartisan report detailing their two-year investigation into foster care privatization and the increasing practice of states tasking private entities (for-profit and non-profit) with protecting our nation’s most vulnerable children. As a result of the investigation’s findings, Hatch and Wyden also introduced legislation, the Child Welfare Oversight and Accountability Act of 2017 (S. 1964), to address issues raised by the report.
The investigation – launched in April 2015 with inquiries to the governors of all 50 states and conducted by the bipartisan oversight staff of the Senate Finance Committee – examined the privatization of foster care services in the 33 states that responded. The investigation found that flaws in data collection and oversight structures at both the state and federal levels make it difficult and sometimes impossible to monitor the operations of the child welfare system, especially its private providers, and ensure that foster children receive proper care.
“For many years, I have worked to improve outcomes for vulnerable children, and this bipartisan investigation uncovered that too often children in foster care are experiencing substandard care,” Hatch said. “The lack of oversight of the nation’s child welfare system, at both the state and federal level, is unacceptable. The Child Welfare Oversight and Accountability Act, which I introduced today with Ranking Member Wyden, would help to ensure better government oversight and protect children in foster care in Utah and across the country.”
“It is outrageous and heartbreaking that so many vulnerable children experience neglect and abuse within our foster care system,” Wyden said. “The ultimate indictment of this system is there is so little oversight that the government can’t even confirm the gaps that caring advocates tell us are getting worse. What’s even more outrageous is that efforts to fix flaws in the system have been held up by stonewalling in the United States Senate. To end this unacceptable treatment of children I intend to doggedly pursue the report’s recommendations. Chairman Hatch and I are committed to making this issue a priority for the committee and will work to bring America’s foster care systems up to the standards our children deserve.”
One specific private company, The MENTOR Network – one of the largest for-profit providers of foster care services in the United States – voluntarily provided data and analysis that showed that over a 10-year period, approximately 70 percent of children’s deaths were unexpected.
S. 1964 will strengthen oversight and accountability of child welfare systems and individual providers, improve training for caseworkers, and provide incentives for more children in foster care to be placed with family members. The bill text of the Child Welfare Oversight and Accountability Act of 2017 can be found here and a one-page summary can be found here.
Additionally, Finance Committee staff made a series of bipartisan recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services, the states and to Congress about how to address child welfare systems’ shortcomings identified in the report. Those recommendations can be found here.
Foster care placements for children who are victims of abuse and neglect have historically been managed by a combination of private and public resources. However, the need for specialized foster care services, combined with a shortage of foster care homes that has been exacerbated by the nation’s opioid epidemic in recent years, has led to increased privatization of many core foster care services.
Today, both non-profit and for-profit private agencies contract with and provide foster care services on behalf of state agencies. In 2015, 671,000 children in the United States were provided out-of-home foster care services. State child welfare agencies report they have procedures in place to monitor child welfare providers’ performance and outcomes. Following media reports in 2015 highlighting problems with foster care placements made by for-profit entities, the bipartisan investigation used The MENTOR Network as a case study of the state of foster care in the U.S. and the growing role of private providers.
The Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over federal child welfare and foster care funding.
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