HHS Approves First Child Welfare Demonstrations with New Expanded Authority for...

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HHS News Release

HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala today announced approval of two child welfare demonstrations for Maine and Mississippi, aimed at broadening protection of children and securing permanent foster families quickly when they are needed.

These demonstrations are the first approved with expanded authority provided under the Adoption and Safe Families Act signed by President Clinton in November 1997. The new authority enables HHS to give states more flexibility in trying innovative child welfare projects.

"Thousands of children in our country, many of whom have been abused and neglected, are languishing in the public foster care system, dreaming of one day having their own family to love and care for them," Secretary Shalala said. "President Clinton sought, and Congress approved, new authority to help states try creative and groundbreaking demonstrations to improve services to children. We're very pleased to support Maine and Mississippi in their new efforts on behalf of their most vulnerable children."

The Adoption and Safe Families Act made the most sweeping changes in the nation's child welfare laws since 1980, directing the states to ensure the safety of children at risk as a priority, and aimed at securing permanent homes speedily for children placed in foster care. President Clinton has set a goal for the new law of doubling the number of children adopted from the public foster care system.

Prior to the new law, Congress had given authority to HHS to grant up to 10 demonstration projects to states. Ten states were approved, though many more were interested. The new law allows HHS to approve up to 10 more demonstrations each year for the next five years. HHS has encouraged states to develop projects in several key areas: increasing adoptions of special needs children, promoting community-based services to prevent child abuse and neglect, improving the access to needed health and mental health services, and projects to meet the unique needs of Indian children.

Maine's demonstration aims to increase the number of adoptions of special needs children, which includes those children who are older, have disabilities, or other factors that make their adoption more difficult. The state will use its federal funds to design and implement an adoption training curriculum for mental health professionals and other service providers working with the families of special needs children. These providers will become expert in working with families in need of post-adoption services. Maine will also use its adoption assistance funds to provide an array of supportive services for families who adopt special needs children. Such services could include support groups, advocacy services, respite care, rehabilitation support, and recreational services.

In Mississippi, the State and HHS have in recent years developed a Partnership Initiative to improve the state's child protective system. Under the new demonstration, Mississippi will expand eligibility for federal child welfare services. Child welfare funds will be spent for items or services that will eliminate or reduce harm to children in crisis. The state will build "child-focused, family-centered" case management teams that will work together across agency and discipline lines. These teams will provide services that may include respite care, family counseling, parenting training, medical care, child care, transportation, and tutoring. The demonstration will be tested in eight counties: Forrest, Holmes, Jones, Lamar, Madison, Pearl River, Rankin, and Yazoo.

"Maine has a creative plan that will encourage more families to open their hearts and homes for children in need," said Olivia A. Golden, HHS assistant secretary for children and families. "Mississippi has made enormous strides over the past few years in improving its child welfare services, and this demonstration will support the state in trying new and promising approaches that could become a model for other states."

Federal funds will be available to states for these services and placements which previously could be used primarily to pay for the room and board of eligible children in outofhome care. The demonstration projects are required to be consistent with the purposes of existing law and be cost-neutral to the federal government. Both Maine's and Mississippi's demonstrations are for five years, and will include a rigorous evaluation.

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.

Contact: Michael Kharfen, (202) 401-9215
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