Last Thursday evening, the Senate passed The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980) just before leaving Washington for the campaign season. While its fate remained uncertain until just hours before passage, the bill’s push through the Senate – following the House, which unanimously passed it on July 23 – was a great victory for children in foster care, kinship care and those waiting to be adopted.

The primary goal of H.R. 4980 is to ensure children in foster care find the permanent, loving families they deserve. The bill reauthorizes an important incentive fund that promotes adoptions from foster care. It also makes improvements in that fund and extends it to promote guardianship. It enacts new oversight for youth in foster care and importantly addresses sex trafficking of youth in foster care. It provides one more year of funding for the federal Family Connection Grants that support Kinship Navigators, Intensive Family Finding, Family Group Decision Making, and residential family substance abuse treatment.

The road to passage was a long one, spanning the last year and half with a number of the provisions informed by discussions going back even further. For instance, H.R. 4980’s provisions on normalcy grew out of more than 10 years of incremental reforms with many years of effective advocacy by former foster youth, critical research findings that shed light on the poor outcomes of youth aging out and what is needed to change the course for these youth, efforts by private philanthropies investing in youth advocacy, research and systems change, and policy makers championing the needs of foster youth through legislation.

H.R. 4980 includes a number of critical provisions including:

Addresses Child Sex Trafficking

  • Requires states to identify, collect and report data on, and determine appropriate services or children in the foster care system that have been or are at-risk of being sexually trafficked or have run away;
  • Establishes a National Advisory Committee on the Sex Trafficking of Children and Youth which will develop guidelines and recommendations for states and the federal government on how best to address the sex trafficking of children and youth;
  • Includes sex trafficking data in the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS)

Promotes Normalcy

  • Establishes the “reasonable prudent parent” standard for foster parents
  • Eliminates the Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) option for youth under the age of 16
  • Includes children over the age of 14 in their case plan development
  • Encourages placements with siblings
  • Requires that youth who leave the foster care system are provided with essential documents, including their birth certificate, a social security card, health insurance information, medical records, and a driver’s license

Improves Permanency Outcomes

  • Reauthorizes the Adoption Incentives Program for three years (includes guardianships and amends formula for payments)
  • Reauthorizes Family Connections Grants program

H.R. 4980 is a result of a committed bipartisan effort aimed at improving outcomes for children in the child welfare system and reflects an incredibly open process, convened by Committees of jurisdiction in both chambers, seeking input from stakeholders about how to improve critical programs and better serve children, youth, and families. Child welfare agencies, advocates, youth, and families all broadly support this legislation. We now look forward to its implementation, and ensuring that all children who stand to benefit from its passage do so.