Trump, Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice

In a few months, Donald Trump will take the oath of office and become this country’s 45th president. And in doing so, he will become the single most influential person on federal and state policy related to child welfare and juvenile justice.

When compared with his opponent, Hillary Clinton, Trump is a completely unknown commodity in this arena. Clinton has written and shepherded legislation on youth and families, and long before that advocated for reform. There is just nothing in Trump’s past to suggest a cognizance of, let alone a track record on, the systems that serve our most disadvantaged and at-risk children and their families.

YSI-MB-PageThat makes it hard to fully anticipate what comes next. Youth Services Insider assumes that a lot of the discussion among national advocates will be defensive, about how to protect existing programs and funding.

Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order of importance, about the potential for new policy and agenda in the child welfare and juvenile justice space.

The Better Way Agenda

Given the acrimonious relationship they have, one has to think that House Speaker Paul Ryan extracted some guarantees from Trump that he’d support Ryan’s agenda if elected. Add to this the fact that when Trump was mulling vice presidential candidates, it was reported by an adviser for Ohio Gov. John Kasich that the veep would have day-to-day control of domestic policy.

So it may be that Vice President Mike Pence and Ryan will be the real core of leadership in Washington for the foreseeable future on youth policy. This all hinges, of course, on Ryan keeping his job as Speaker of the House, which is far from certain.

As the controversy-laden presidential campaign thundered around him, Ryan continued to use his in-person and online platform to press his “Better Way” agenda. A few pieces of that platform of intense interest to the field:

Reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. From the Better Way platform:

We should also seek to preserve the balance that currently exists between state and local flexibility and accountability in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and promote state and local solutions that will invest in programs that are successful in working with at-risk youth.

JJDPA is long overdue for a reauthorization. A bill to update the law has passed the House, and is currently being held up in the other chamber by one legislator, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who opposes a phase-out of a federal exception that permits judges to lock up status-offenders.

TANF Reform. Ryan calls for an intense examination of federal welfare programs to identify duplication and ineffectiveness, which are certainly the pretext for lower spending down the line. Front and center in welfare reform will be the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which is block granted out to states and Ryan believes has strayed from its central mission of moving people out of poverty and into jobs.

This is incredibly important in terms of child welfare funding, because about $2.3 billion in TANF funding goes into child welfare services each year. As support from the federal IV-E entitlement for foster care has dwindled, many states have come to rely heavily on TANF to fund child welfare services.

Family First Act. There is no specific mention of the bill (or child welfare reform) in A Better Way. But it is also worth noting that Speaker Ryan supported the Family First Prevention Services Act, and helped whisk it quickly through the House over the summer.

Child Welfare and Immigration

If Trump is as aggressive as he has vowed on deporting undocumented immigrants, there is no doubt that we will see an increase in the number of children entering the child welfare system as a result. Children born here to undocumented parents are citizens, and the choice will be leaving them with parents, staying with relatives if possible, and foster care.

A study by Race Forward estimated that 5,100 children were in foster care due to such circumstances, and that the number would increase to 15,000 by 2016. And that did not factor in a dramatic increase in deportations.

ObamaCare Repeal

It is a near certainty that the Republicans will set the Affordable Care Act (ACA) aside. The question will be whether that is a wholesale ejection, or whether anything will be saved?

The ACA locked in Medicaid for foster youth until age 26, a major guarantee for older youth facing the transition to adulthood. The bill also ushered in a massive increase in the federal investment in home visiting, programs that fund professionals to assist expecting and/or new mothers.

Those are just a few pieces of ACA, off the top of our head, that have had a profound impact in child welfare.

Urban Violence: Solutions, or Just Campaign Rhetoric?

Trump repeatedly portrayed America’s inner cities as a dystopia inhabited by a well-meaning many beset by the violence of a few. He also slammed Clinton in the first presidential debate for her use in the mid-1990s of the term “super-predators” to describe juvenile offenders. The misguided fear from both parties back then contributed greatly to the construction of large juvenile prisons and transfers of juvenile offenders into adult court.

Trump made no secret of his primary antidote for urban crime: law and order. Federal involvement in local law enforcement is mostly the product of Justice Department block grants, so it is conceivable that he can follow through with more funds directed to urban police units.

But might there also be a role for youth development in a Trump anti-crime agenda? By calling Clinton out on super-predators, Trump tacitly suggested that he rejects the legacy of that era. Youth Services Insider anticipates that juvenile justice advocates, including the conservative-led Right on Crime, will appeal to that sentiment.

If Congress is looking for a precedent for pairing crime prevention and suppression, it needs to look no further than 2010. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) merged her anti-gang bill with the PROMISE Act, a piece of legislation long championed by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.)

Feinstein’s bill would have established definitions of gangs and gang crimes; increased the federal role in prosecuting gang crimes; and lengthened the potential sentences for them. She also would have steered more federal funds to probation departments.

Scott’s PROMISE Act provided funds to communities experiencing high rates of youth violence, first to develop localized plans and then implementation support.

Trump is likely to either have a potential partner or a critic on this issue in President Barack Obama. The administration spun the president’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative into a nonprofit last year, and many expect development of young black men to be a focus for Obama after January.

Your support allows The Imprint to provide independent, nonpartisan daily news covering the issues faced by vulnerable children and families.

Subscribe or Donate

OPINION: Whether it's ready or not, #childwelfare is about to be on the front line in a fight to prevent families from sliding into despair

The House Ways and Means Committee is backing a #childwelfare relief package that would focus on upping housing and college funds, further help for states that have implemented #FamilyFirst Act