Tonight’s Debate Is Missing the Only Candidate with a Detailed Child Welfare Plan

Last month, presidential candidate Julián Castro released his Children First proposal, the most comprehensive plan for child welfare put forth so far by any contender in the 2020 race. Photo courtesy of Julián Castro campaign.

Tonight, the still-crowded Democratic field will face off in Los Angeles for a sixth primary debate. It will not include Julián Castro, one of the first people to throw his proverbial hat in the presidential race.

Because of more stringent qualifying requirements regarding donations and polling percentages, Castro is not eligible for the last debate of 2019. That is a shame, because the former mayor of San Antonio is the only candidate that has put out a comprehensive agenda for child welfare.

Last month, Castro released his Children First plan, promising a $10 billion investment in prevention services, a prohibition on discrimination by faith-based child welfare providers, an end to the long-standing income test for foster care and other investments that will “prioritize the prevention of neglect and child abuse.”

Also the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Castro said that his effort to reform the country’s child welfare system is personal. His grandmother was raised by relatives when she came to the U.S. as a young girl, and as a young attorney, Castro said he “saw firsthand the turmoil children endure and the inherent tensions within the foster care system,” according to the plan.

Democratic candidate Julián Castro. Photo courtesy of Julián Castro campaign.

Castro’s plan seeks to draft off of the Family First Prevention Services Act by adding $10 billion a year for primary prevention services aimed at addressing family crises before abuse or neglect ever occurs. While the proposal fails to give specifics about where this new investment would be in the federal budget, the Promoting Safe and Stable Families would be a likely suspect.

“Overall, our goal should be to reduce the number of children entering the foster care system by addressing the root causes — deprivation, substance abuse, and a lack of social services — and keep families together,” Castro’s proposal reads.

Castro also describes poverty as a source of foster care removals, repeating a point that family preservation advocates and even U.S. Children’s Bureau Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner have also made: poverty is too often a pretext for neglect.

“A majority of children who end up in the foster care system do so as a result of neglect, not abuse,” Castro writes. “This neglect is often a consequence of poverty exacerbating the already intense burdens of parenthood.”

Building a “21st Century safety net,” according to Castro, also involves a billion-dollar annual investment in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), and funds for pilot testing new maltreatment prevention models.

For children in care, the presidential contender would make sure all children in foster care qualify for funding under Title IV-E, the federal entitlement program for child welfare. Currently, about 60 percent of all foster youths do not qualify for Title IV-E funds because their eligibility is still tied to the 1996 federal poverty standard. Castro said he would repeal the law known as the “lookback,” a move that could mean billions of dollars in federal reimbursements now borne by states.

On Wednesday, the presidential candidate pledged his support for current and former foster youth when he met with young people at the Rightway Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that works with transition-age foster youth. Part of that plan, according to the Children First proposal, would require all states to fully support extended foster care until age 21. Currently 49 states offer some form of extended foster care, and 29 use federal matching dollars to do so.

Castro also stepped into one of the nation’s most controversial child welfare issues by saying said he would immediately reinstate Obama-era rules that prohibited faith-based child welfare providers from discriminating against LGBTQ caregivers or children. In October, the Trump administration announced it would no longer enforce rules that would prevent federal funds from going to providers that wanted to be able to choose not to work with prospective foster or adoptive parents, or children.

Castro also said he would strongly support the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, recently introduced in the House of Representatives. That law, which has been introduced each year for nearly a decade now, would penalize federal child welfare funds for any state with a law that permitted faith-based providers to discriminate.

Other parts of Castro’s plan include:

  • A $275 million investment to provide a trauma-informed training to foster families and social workers.
  • Legislation to fully fund transportation of foster youth to their school of origin in the hopes of supporting the educational stability of foster youth.
  • New grant funding that would offer life-coach model programs for foster youth until the age of 26 for transition age foster youth.
  • An expansion of Family Unification Vouchers, which provide housing to transition-age foster youth.
  • A bigger investment in the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program and Educational and Training Vouchers, which provides youth aging out of the foster care system supports for education and self-sufficiency.

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