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Explainer: How the new Executive Order from the White House would strengthen the Child Welfare System

What just happened?

This week, the Trump Administration issued an executive order aimed at improving America’s child welfare system by seeking to strengthen foster care and adoption programs. The order outlines three objectives: improving partnerships, improving resources, and improving oversight.

What does the order do?

Executive orders work in our system of government as administrative policy directives. This order seeks to bolster the current foster system through community action and education by increasing the resources available to children, families, and caregivers. It also seeks to increase transparency within and surrounding the current system in order to facilitate a stronger legal structure for children and their families, both biological and adoptive. 

The order directs the federal government to “protect the lives and well-being of young Americans and children” who may age out of the foster care system. While this program operates to find children “permanent homes,” sadly, close to 20,000 youth age out of care every year. By increasing the connection between non-profit institutions—including faith-based local groups—the administration is trying to reduce the number of young adults left without families.

The impetus behind this order is the belief that every child deserves a family, and states and communities have both a legal obligation, and the privilege, to care for our nation’s most vulnerable children. Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson said of the executive order, “These strong actions support vulnerable children and youth nationwide by advancing measures to reduce child abuse and neglect, encouraging family preservation, and strengthening adoption and other forms of permanency for America’s kids.”

Why is this important?

There are currently 437,283 children and youth in the U.S. foster care system and approximately one-fourth of those children are eligible for adoption. The efforts to improve the child welfare system, especially through partnerships with faith-based organizations and the promotion of trauma-informed resources for caregivers are positive steps in helping to create an even stronger child welfare system that serves children and families.

The executive order lays out why children experience prolonged waiting periods in foster care, and how the order seeks to address those issues:

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.

The goal for reform is to find ways for more children to safely stay with their biological families while also providing greater opportunities for children in the foster care system to find forever adoptive families with less bureaucratic red tape. Providing needed services to vulnerable families helps the prevention of children from entering into foster care in the first place.

What does this mean for faith-based organizations?

The executive order specifically instructs Secretary Azar to work with faith-based organizations to provide additional resources and placement opportunities. This guidance makes it clear that faith-based organizations are eligible for partnerships, on an equal basis. Collaboration between public and private agencies is vital for caring for the diversity of needs of the children in the foster care systems, and faith-based providers play an important role in caring for our nation’s most vulnerable children.

How is the ERLC engaged in this issue?

Child welfare is a significant priority for the ERLC’s ministry and advocacy work in Washington, D.C. We believe that every child deserves a safe, permanent, and loving family, and are grateful for policies that help promote the dignity of children and families.

The ERLC has been actively engaged in advocating for a more robust partnership between faith-based organizations and public providers. Faith-based organizations are on the front lines of serving our nation’s most vulnerable children, and are often leading the way in foster parent recruitment and retention. Supporting a flourishing public-private partnership is an important step in supporting vulnerable children and families.

ERLC interns Carolina Lumetta and Seth Billingsley contributed to this article

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