by Alex Fitzsimmons
On September 30, President Obama signed the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act (P.L. 112-34), having been passed with strong bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. The law, which renews the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) authority to grant child welfare waivers to states, provides states with greater flexibility to meet the needs of vulnerable children.
“This is great news for states, and for the children who will benefit from the projects,” said Georgia State Senator Renee Unterman. “NCSL pushed hard for this in Washington for several years, and I’m glad Washington got the message.”
In letters to the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee, NCSL strongly urged Congress to pass the legislation, emphasizing the need to provide states with the flexibility to implement child welfare services that will safely reduce out-of-home placements and improve child outcomes.
The waiver authority encourages a state-federal partnership under which states are pushed to compete for a limited number of HHS waivers: up to ten per year from 2012 to 2014. The waivers, which expired in 2008, last for five years and can be extended at the discretion of the secretary.
NCSL was pleased that the final version of the bill did not include a maintenance of effort requirement that would have precluded many states from participating in the demonstration projects due to fiscal constraints.
In 2008, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act codified into law a set of broad-sweeping reforms aimed at improving safety and permanency programs for foster children. Now, thanks to the Child and Family Services Act, HHS waivers to Title IV-E requirements will empower states to continue to promote safe, permanent outcomes for the country’s most vulnerable children and families.
Alex Fitzsimmons is a communications intern in NCSL's Washington office.