HHS is committed to protecting the safety and fostering the well-being of children and youth, through the combined efforts of ACF, SAMHSA, HRSA, and OD, and in partnership with other Federal departments, such as the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), and other interested stakeholders.
Several of the Department’s efforts relate to child maltreatment and safe and permanent living situations for children and youth, as represented by the performance measure at the end of this chapter, which focuses on the adoption rate for children involved with the child welfare system. Other programs and collaborations focus on child care and fostering school readiness, as measured by the percentage of Head Start programs that have a positive impact on verbal and mathematical abilities. Additional initiatives, including mentoring, abstinence education, youth development, and suicide prevention, foster positive behavior, as represented in the indicator focusing on the lack of interaction with law enforcement. Although many of these programs are not new, they will continue and will be strengthened during the period covered by this Strategic Plan.
The Child Abuse State Grant Program plays a key role in the prevention of child abuse and neglect by funding postinvestigative services such as individual counseling, case management, and parent education. The Child Welfare Services program helps State child welfare agencies improve their services with the goal of keeping families together. Grants also are provided to develop and improve education and training programs and resources for child welfare professionals through the Child Welfare Training program and to prevent the abandonment of infants and young children exposed to HIV/AIDS and drugs through the Abandoned Infants Assistance Program. Over the next several years, funds for new regional partnership grants will assist State and local agencies in building cooperative efforts addressing the range of issues presented by families whose substance abuse impairs parenting and places their children at risk. The Independent Living Education and Training Vouchers program provides up to $5,000 for costs associated with college or vocational training for youth ages 16 to 21 in foster care.
Two interagency workgroups focus on the issue of child abuse and neglect and provide settings within which Federal agencies coordinate and collaborate. The first, the Federal Interagency Work Group on Child Abuse and Neglect, led by the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect of ACF/Children’s Bureau, engages ACF, CDC, HRSA, IHS, NIH, and SAMHSA, as well as the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Interior, Justice, and Labor, State staff, and other partners, in its discussions on child abuse prevention, child welfare, and independent living support services. The group shares information, plans and implements joint activities, makes policy and programmatic recommendations, and works toward establishing complementary agendas in the areas of training, research, legislation, information dissemination, and delivery of services as they relate to the prevention, intervention, and treatment of child abuse and neglect. The second, NIH Neglect Consortium, develops and supports research on child neglect, with support from ACF and the U.S. Department of Education. ACF/Children’s Bureau is working with OD in supporting necessary research to understand the impact of child maltreatment on children and youth with disabilities residing in long-term care facilities and with families (including foster care).
Safety and Permanency
The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-89) established that a child’s health and safety must be of paramount concern in any efforts made by a State to preserve or reunify a child’s family. ACF’s Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, and Independent Living programs have demonstrated success in improving safety, permanency of living arrangements, and well-being of children. Working with the States, these programs minimize disruptions to the continuity of family and other relationships for children in foster care by decreasing the number of placement settings per year for a child in care. The programs also met goals to provide children in foster care with permanency and stability in their living situations by improving the timeliness of reunification, if possible, and promoting guardianship or adoption when reunification is not possible. In recent years, the Children’s Bureau within ACF has pioneered a results-focused approach to monitoring Federal child welfare programs. The second round of these Child and Family Service Reviews began in 2007 and will hold States accountable for the safety, permanency, and well-being of children involved with child welfare authorities.
Additionally, the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program, a capped entitlement program authorized through the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-89), assists States in coordinating services related to child abuse prevention and family preservation. These services include community-based family support, family preservation, time-limited reunification services, and adoption promotion and support services. Inspired by research showing that regular caseworker visits are related to the achievement of important child and family outcomes for children in foster care, new funding within the PSSF program provides resources to States to help them ensure that caseworkers visit children monthly.
Through the Adoption Incentives program, States will be able to earn bonus payments by increasing the number of adoptions of children in foster care over previous years. The Adoption Opportunities program supports grants that facilitate the elimination of barriers to adoption, and the adoption awareness programs support adoption efforts, including adoption of children with special needs, through training and a public awareness campaign. Adoption incentives added in the 2003 reauthorization of the Adoption Incentive Payments Program focus on adoptions of children age 9 and older who face particularly long waits for adoptive homes.
Early Care and Education
ACF’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs are comprehensive child development programs that serve children from birth to age 5, pregnant women, and their families. Head Start is designed to foster healthy development and school readiness in low-income children. Head Start programs help ensure that children are ready to succeed at school by supporting social and cognitive development. Head Start programs provide comprehensive child development services, including educational, health, nutritional, and social services, primarily to low-income families. They also engage parents in their child’s preschool experience by helping them achieve their own educational and literacy goals as well as employment goals, supporting parents’ role in their children’s learning, and emphasizing the direct involvement of parents in the administration of local Head Start programs. Early Head Start has a triple mission. It promotes healthy prenatal outcomes, enhances the development of infants and toddlers, and promotes healthy family functioning. HHS will continue to explore how to maximize the use of technology to disseminate information and research in ways that will improve programs and performance. HHS will investigate ways that Head Start and child care can collaborate with other State and local partners, such as State prekindergarten programs, to ensure that children enter school ready to succeed.
Several collaborative efforts between HHS and the U.S. Department of Education support early childhood programs and research. The Good Start, Grow Smart interagency workgroup, with HHS representatives from ACF/Office of Head Start, ACF/Child Care Bureau, NIH, and ASPE, focuses on enhancing early childhood programs and fosters better collaboration among agencies serving young children at risk. The Interagency School Readiness Initiative engages the same operating and staff divisions from HHS and the U.S. Department of Education to focus on enhancing early childhood research. Another interagency collaboration, the Early Childhood Workgroup on English Language Learners, involves ACF and ASPE in developing strategies for coordination of early childhood programs aimed at English Language Learners.
Research indicates that children with parents who are incarcerated are seven times more likely than the general population to become incarcerated themselves and are more likely to display a variety of behavioral, emotional, health, and educational problems. Through ACF’s Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), HHS supports the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program, through which public and private organizations establish or expand projects that provide one-on-one mentoring for children of parents who are incarcerated and those recently released from prison.
OD promotes physical fitness for children and youth with disabilities in conjunction with the President’s HealthierUS Initiative and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports awards system, through its “I Can Do It, You Can Do It” mentoring program. This program features one-on-one mentoring for children and youth with disabilities across the Nation to enhance their physical fitness, with the goal of serving 6 million children with disabilities.
HHS also participates on the recently formed Federal Mentoring Council, an offshoot of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (see the section, Collaborative Efforts to Support Youth, for more information on this Council). Convened and staffed by the CNCS, the Council seeks to improve coordination and better leverage resources among all the mentoring programs that exist in the Federal Government. The Council includes representatives from the U.S. Departments of Defense, Education, Interior, Justice, Labor, and many others. The Council works to identify key ways in which the Federal Government can advance the goal of involving 3 million new mentors by 2010, and then act on those findings.
ACF administers two abstinence education programs—the Community-Based Abstinence Education program and the State Abstinence Education program. ACF’s abstinence education programs provide grants to community-based organizations, including faith-based organizations, as well as to States, to develop and implement abstinence programs. The Community-Based Abstinence Education program focuses on adolescents, ages 12 through 18, and targets the prevention of teenage pregnancy and premarital sexual activity. The Community-Based Abstinence Education program also supports a national public awareness campaign designed to help parents communicate with their children about health risks of early sexual activity. The State Abstinence Education program enables States to create or augment existing abstinence education programs and, where appropriate, provide mentoring, counseling, and adult supervision to promote abstinence from sexual activity, with a focus on those groups most likely to bear children out of wedlock. ACF expects that all grantees will present medically accurate information. ACF is requiring Community Based Abstinence Education grantees to certify that curricula are medically accurate and is conducting reviews for medical accuracy as part of the grant award process.
Within OPHS, the Adolescent Family Life Program (AFL) also supports abstinence education activities. Through Title XX of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C., 300z et seq.), AFL authorizes two types of demonstration projects: (1) care projects to develop, implement, and evaluate innovative, comprehensive, and integrated approaches to the delivery of health care, education, and social services for pregnant and parenting adolescents and their families; and (2) prevention projects to develop, implement, and evaluate program interventions to promote abstinence from sexual activity among preadolescents and adolescents. AFL also places a strong emphasis on ensuring that educational materials are medically accurate.
OPHS, through an interagency agreement with ACF, has launched an initiative that focuses on the importance of parental communication. The Parents Speak Up National Campaign (PSUNC) is an educational campaign aimed at encouraging parents to talk with their children early and often about abstinence. This interactive campaign will include radio, print, and television advertisements to raise awareness. All PSUNC products direct parents to the 4Parents.gov Web site for further information and skills on talking early and often with their children about sex and abstinence. 4Parents.gov provides concise, helpful health information regarding the importance of parent-teen communication. The Web site also provides specific information on sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy, benefits of abstinence from sexual involvement, drugs and alcohol, development of healthy teen relationships, and preparation for future marriage and family.
Collaborative Efforts for Youth
Positive Youth Development is an approach to youth programming based on the understanding that all young people need support, guidance, and opportunities during adolescence, a time of rapid growth and change. FYSB’s Positive Youth Development State and Local Collaboration Demonstration grants will continue to develop and support innovative youth development strategies.
Together with nine other Federal agencies, HHS also supports the First Lady’s Helping America’s Youth initiative, which focuses on the importance of connecting caring adults with youth in order to help youth make better choices that lead to healthier, more successful lives. The Community Guide to Helping America’s Youth helps communities build partnerships and assess their needs and resources. It also offers information about evidence-based youth program designs that could be replicated in their community. In the coming years, the Community Guide will continue to be enhanced so that it serves the needs of local youth-focused partnerships.
Representatives from several operating and staff divisions within HHS also participate with nine other Federal agencies and eight practitioner members on the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The Council’s primary functions are to coordinate Federal juvenile delinquency prevention programs, Federal programs and activities that detain or care for unaccompanied juveniles, and Federal programs relating to missing and exploited children. The Council works to implement several of the recommendations from the 2003 report of the White House Task Force on Disadvantaged Youth. In the coming years, the Council will conduct an inventory of comprehensive community initiatives and will investigate how to support collaboration among Federal, State, and local partners, to determine how best to invest Federal resources to serve youth.
HHS will continue to participate in the Federal Government delegations that attend the meetings of the Executive Board of the United Nations Children’s Fund. The Department also will promote programs and policies at international organizations to protect the interests and well-being of children and their families.