WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., this week introduced bipartisan legislation that would 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 Child Welfare Oversight and Accountability Act introduced by Wyden, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, follows their report detailing a two-year investigation into foster care privatization and the increasing practice of states tasking private entities with protecting our nation’s most vulnerable children. The bill, along with the report’s recommendations, were written to respond to child welfare system shortcomings in Oregon and across the nation.
“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.”
The Senate Finance Committee investigation – launched in April 2015 with inquiries to the governors of all 50 states -- 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.
One specific private company, The MENTOR Network – one of the largest for-profit providers of foster care services in the U.S. – voluntarily provided data and analysis that showed that over a 10-year period, about 70 percent of children’s deaths were unexpected.
The bipartisan Child Welfare Oversight and Accountability Act would require states to maintain a public website of all private foster care companies and report to the Department of Health and Human Services performance measures for each foster care provider when it comes to preventing child deaths and abuse. The bill establishes a new penalty process for states that are out of compliance with federal child welfare standards and reinvests penalty dollars into the areas most in need of improvement.
It would also require states to set limits on the number of caseloads caseworkers are handling, encourage more relatives to take in foster children and make it easier to get more caseworkers trained and into the field.