In early December 2020, Congressional leaders announced a framework for a $908 billion bi-partisan package as the starting point for further Covid-19 negotiations. Unlike the second Heroes Act proposed by House Democrats, the proposed bipartisan package does not include much needed support for foster and kinship families.
Caregivers, foster youth, and youth who are at risk of entering foster care need support now more than ever. In our last blog post, we outlined the impact of the pandemic on kinship caregivers,many of whom are grandparents uniquely vulnerable to the health impacts of Covid-19. An April survey of older foster youth and youth who had aged out of the system revealed that the majority of youth had experienced food insecurity and mental or physical health impacts due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, half of respondents indicated their work hours had been cut or they had been laid off, and nearly one-third reported education disruptions.
The Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act (H.R. 7947) was included as part of the previously proposed Heroes package. The Act would increase federal reimbursement for kinship navigator programs, which offer kinship caregivers crucial support as they care for children outside of the formal foster care system. H.R. 7947 also provides additional education, employment, and housing assistance to older foster youth impacted by Covid-19, and prevents youth from aging out of care and losing support during the pandemic. Despite bipartisan support for the bill in the House, the Senate has not committed to including the provisions in the new package.
The package previously proposed by House Democrats also included funding for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (H.R. 2480), but the current proposal does not. We know that child maltreatment has likely increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. Families are financially, physically and emotionally stretched and stressed. Without protective staff like school officials and medical professionals seeing children on a regular basis, a signficiant amount of child abuse is likely going unreported.
Foster youth and their caregivers cannot be an afterthought in Covid-19 relief negotiations; we must not sacrifice the safety and long-term well-being of foster children and youth.