President Trump delivered the third-longest State of the Union address of the past 50 years, putting him just behind two of the ones delivered by Bill Clinton. Youth Services Insider sees a few segments in the speech of particular interest to the family and youth services industry.
Adoption and Opioids
Trump highlighted the story of Ryan Holets, a New Mexico police officer who, with his wife, adopted Hope, a child born to a homeless heroin addict he encountered on a routine call. It was not the first time Holets has been singled out for attention in the past year; his story was featured in a segment on the president’s favorite deliverer of news, CNN.
What Holets did is, of course, beyond admirable. He and his wife, Rebecca, worked toward adoption with the consent and support of the baby’s mother, Crystal Champ, who did not wish to raise the child. It is a story worthy of the applause the Holets received.
Holding out what the Holets did as an inspiration for new opioid policy, however, should be cause for some wariness. Because the suggestion seems to be that aggressively moving the kids of addicted parents toward adoption is the way to shield children from the opioid crisis.
It isn’t that simple by a long shot. Almost none of those children would follow the seamless path to new parents that Hope Holets did after she was delivered.
Absent Officer Holets’ intervention, the child likely would have been taken from Champ and placed in foster care. Maybe child welfare workers would have found a relative of Champ’s to care for the child, even adopt her.
But maybe not, in which case Hope would head to foster care, not straight to the home of a willing adoptive family. And if Champ’s rights as a parent were terminated, and no relative would take her, Hope would join the list of more than 100,000 kids waiting to be adopted from foster care every year.
And of that list of children, tens of thousands will live in foster care their entire adolescent life, heading into adulthood without any parents at age 18.
Further: Just as the Holets’ story is an aberration from the norm, so is that of Crystal Champ. Very few of the children born to an addicted parent in this country are born to one who is homeless, does not want to raise their child, and has no family able to step in and help. Parents deserve a chance to get treatment, get clean and provide a safe and loving home, and many can, especially with the support of family.
Champ got access to a residential rehabilitation clinic, and housing support for the year after. But that only happened because of the attention from the CNN story, and the Holets’ efforts to get her housing and medical assistance through a GoFundMe page.
“As tax cuts create new jobs, let us invest in workforce development and job training,” Trump said. “Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential.”
It was left unsaid who the “us” is that would invest in these things, but it does appear that Trump is supportive in general of a federal role here.
But the current outlay of federal job programs does not impress him: In his first budget request, he proposed deep cuts to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), including a $275 million reduction in services for youth and young adults and a $250 million cut to Job Corps. He also appointed David Muhlhausen, the most published critic of federal jobs programs, to lead the research-oriented National Institute of Justice.
That budget reserved praise for apprenticeship programs, a strategy he highlighted in the speech when he mentioned Staub Manufacturing employee Corey Adams.
“Corey is an all-American worker,” said Trump. “He supported himself through high school, lost his job during the 2008 recession, and was later hired by Staub, where he trained to become a welder. Like many hardworking Americans, Corey plans to invest his tax‑cut raise into his new home and his two daughters’ education.”
It would be easy to work new workforce development funds into an infrastructure deal, were such a thing to come about. We’ll see if the president proposes new ideas for federal job training in his next budget proposal, or if he again pushes for fewer funds to support the existing programs.
The Central American component of the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program is America’s only federal foster care program. Youth who arrive from Central America without parents are apprehended by border patrol and handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which moves them to shelter programs until a relative or guardian can be found in America.
In theory, these children are in the states to await a scheduled court hearing to determine an asylum claim. In actuality, few actually attend that hearing; they are nominally set for deportation, and therein become undocumented immigrants.
The program got a lot of scrutiny in the later years of the Obama administration as the number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border skyrocketed. The number plummeted in 2017 (although there’s been a sharp recent uptick), so the issue got moved to the back burner.
But Trump might have turned up the flame with this speech. He highlighted the fact that several of the teens arrested for their involvement in the murder of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, two Long Island girls, were unaccompanied minors.
“Six members of the savage gang MS-13 have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders,” Trump said. “Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors ‑ and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school.”
House Republicans have a bill marked up and ready for a vote that would drastically change the UAC program, giving border officials more time to immediately send Central American children back without handing them over to HHS. And Trump called in his speech for an immigration deal that ended “catch and release,” which is essentially what happens under UAC once Health and Human Services gains custody.