On December 8, a group of current and former foster youth joined Vice President Joe Biden and the cast of the remake of the Broadway classic Annie at the White House for a Foster Youth event. A special screening of Annie was accompanied by the release of a fact sheet on Improving Outcomes for Our Nation’s Foster Youth.

The fact sheet shared by the White House announced several new steps that the Administration and partners are taking to increase supports for foster youth. Among the notable announcements were a tri-agency letter issued just this week by the Departments of Agriculture, Education and Health and Human Services, outlining the categorical eligibility of children and youth in foster care for free school meals, authorized under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The letter also addresses other issues including meals for other children in the household and transferring eligibility when a foster child or youth moves.

Before the 2010 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Programs, foster parents could self-identify their foster child on the school meals application. Essentially, foster children were considered a family of one for purposes of free school meal determination, and foster parents were required to fill out a separate free/reduced-price meal application for each foster care child. The First Focus Campaign for Children and advocacy partners saw an opportunity to encourage direct certification for foster care children for free meals and milk under the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program and the Special Milk Program. Most of these kids were already receiving these benefits so it would not have been costly, and would go a long way toward making the application process a lot less cumbersome. Where few saw a need to change existing practice, we saw an opportunity to streamline eligibility for a critical program and ensure that more foster children receive free meals at school. We were pleased that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Act of 2010, P.L. 111-296 provided categorical eligibility for free meals to foster children. The tri-agency letter issued on December 8 will help ensure that foster children are better connected with free school meals.


The White House fact sheet also highlighted a new initiative launched by the Department of Justice to promote compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).  A recent SPARC policy brief authored by the National Indian Child Welfare Association identifies ICWA’s key requirements as:

1)  Encouraging more intensive examination of the efforts to prevent removals of AI/AN children and rehabilitate their parents,

2)  Improving the identification of tribal and relative families who can serve as placement resources for AI/AN children,

3)  Increasing access to culturally appropriate services,

4)  Clarifying roles between states and tribes in child welfare matters,

5)  Increasing sharing of funding and other resources between states and tribes, and

6)  Stimulating the development of state policy to improve the effectiveness of services and supports for AI/AN children and families.

Unfortunately, implementation of these requirements has been varied and the intent of these provisions is not being met. Lack of oversight by federal authorities as well as limited resources appropriated have made it difficult for ICWA to reach its potential. We are encouraged by Attorney General Holder’s December 3rd announcement that the Department of Justice will actively promote compliance of ICWA by filing briefs in state courts opposing unnecessary removals and will increase collaboration with the Departments of the Interior and Health and Human Services. We hope that Congress will do its part as well and make the necessary resources available to aid the Administration in this important effort.

These were just two of the many initiatives and activities highlighted in the White House factsheet. We are always encouraged to see the Administration pay special attention to the needs of young people in care, and pleased to hear about a number of the efforts underway. We hope to see the momentum generated by the event continue in the coming weeks, months and years.