Executive Order on Strengthening Child Welfare System for America’s Children

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Purpose. Every child deserves a family. Our States and communities have both a legal obligation, and the privilege, to care for our Nation’s most vulnerable children.

The best foster care system is one that is not needed in the first place. My Administration has been focused on prevention strategies that keep children safe while strengthening families so that children do not enter foster care unnecessarily. Last year, and for only the second time since 2011, the number of children in the foster care system declined, and for the third year in a row, the number of children entering foster care has declined.

But challenges remain. Too many young people who are in our foster care system wait years before finding the permanency of family. More than 400,000 children are currently in foster care. Of those, more than 124,000 children are waiting for adoption, with nearly 6 out of 10 (58.4 percent) having already become legally eligible for adoption.

More than 50 percent of the children waiting for adoption have been in foster care — without the security and constancy of a permanent family — for 2 years or more. The need for stability and timely permanency is particularly acute for children 9 years and older, children in sibling groups, and those with intellectual or physical disabilities.

Even worse, too many young men and women age out of foster care having never found a permanent, stable family. In recent years, approximately 20,000 young people have aged out of foster care each year in the United States. Research has shown that young people who age out of the foster care system are likely to experience significant, and significantly increased, life challenges — 40 percent of such young people studied experienced homelessness; 50 percent were unemployed at age 24; 25 percent experienced post-traumatic stress disorder; and 71 percent became pregnant by age 21. These are unacceptable outcomes.

Several factors have contributed to the number of children who wait in foster care for extended periods. First, State and local child welfare agencies often do not have robust partnerships with private community organizations, including faith-based organizations. Second, those who step up to be resource families for children in foster care — including kin, guardians, foster parents, and adoptive parents — may lack adequate support. Third, too often the processes and systems meant to help children and families in crisis have instead created bureaucratic barriers that make it more difficult for these children and families to get the help they need.

It is the goal of the United States to promote a child welfare system that reduces the need to place children into foster care; achieves safe permanency for those children who must come into foster care, and does so more quickly and more effectively; places appropriate focus on children who are waiting for adoption, especially those who are 9 years and older, are in sibling groups, or have disabilities; and decreases the proportion of young adults who age out of the foster care system.

Children from all backgrounds have the potential to become successful and thriving adults. Yet without a committed, loving family that can provide encouragement, stability, and a lifelong connection, some children may never receive the support needed to realize that potential.

This order will help to empower families who answer the call to open their hearts and homes to children who need them. My Administration is committed to helping give as many children as possible the stability and support that family provides by dramatically improving our child welfare system.

Sec. 2. Encouraging Robust Partnerships Between State Agencies and Public, Private, Faith-based, and Community Organizations. (a) In order to facilitate close partnerships between State agencies and nongovernmental organizations, including public, private, faith-based, and community groups, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the “Secretary”) shall provide increased public access to accurate, up-to-date information relevant to strengthening the child welfare system, including by:

(i) Publishing data to aid in the recruitment of community support. Within 1 year of the date of this order and each year thereafter, the Secretary shall submit to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, a report that provides information about typical patterns of entry, recent available counts of children in foster care, and counts of children waiting for adoption. To the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law, including all privacy laws, this data will be disaggregated by county or other sub-State level, child age, placement type, and prior time in care.

(ii) Collecting needed data to preserve sibling connections.

(A) Within 2 years of the date of this order, the Secretary shall collect information from appropriate State and local agencies on the number of children in foster care who have siblings in foster care and who are not currently placed with their siblings.

(B) Within 3 years of the date of this order, to support the goal of keeping siblings together (42 U.S.C. 671(a)(31)(A)), the Secretary shall develop data analysis methods to report on the experience of children entering care in sibling groups, and the extent to which they are placed together. The Secretary’s analysis shall also assess the extent to which siblings who are legally eligible for adoption achieve permanency together.

(iii) Expanding the number of homes for children and youth.

(A) Within 2 years of the date of this order, the Secretary shall develop a more rigorous and systematic approach to collecting State administrative data as part of the Child and Family Services Review required by section 1123A of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) (42 U.S.C. 1320a-2a). Data collected shall include:

(1) demographic information for children in foster care and waiting for adoption;

(2) the number of currently available foster families and their demographic information;

(3) the average foster parent retention rate and average length of time foster parents remain certified;

(4) a target number of foster homes needed to meet the needs of children in foster care; and

(5) the average length of time it takes to complete foster and adoptive home certification.

(B) The Secretary shall ensure, to the extent consistent with applicable law, that States report to the Secretary regarding strategies for coordinating with nongovernmental organizations, including faith-based and community organizations, to recruit and support foster and adoptive families.

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