Academic journal article Child Welfare

A Profile of Post-ASFA Hearings in the U.S. Congress

Academic journal article Child Welfare

A Profile of Post-ASFA Hearings in the U.S. Congress

Article excerpt

Examination of the policymaking process can yield a better understanding of the rationale behind policy content and prescriptions for shaping future policies. To this end, this study uses data from 38 child welfare hearings held by the U.S. Congress from 1999-2010 to describe key hearings, as well as Congress, committee member, and child welfare indicators. This manuscript concludes with implications for research and practice.

In 1997, the landscape of service provision for children and families struggling with abuse and neglect changed remarkably with the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (1997, ASFA, P.L. 105-89). Among other things, this law strengthened the federal infrastructure supporting state and local child welfare systems by mandating performance deadlines, providing financial support, and offering technical assistance. Since the passage of this sweeping reform, child welfare systems have improved, but significant issues remain. Too many children are reentering foster care, remaining in foster care without placement in a permanent home (Children's Bureau, 2012), and suffering from poor mental-health and educational outcomes (Pécora, Jensen, Romanelli, Jackson, & Ortiz, 2009; Sullivan Sevan Zyl, 2008). Several scholars have conducted policy analyses to understand post-ASFA policy outcomes (Duerr Berrick, Young Choi, D'Andrade, Sc Frame, 2008; Schroeder, Lemieux, Sc Pogue, 2008). This study compliments such works by assessing the process by which current policies were made. By examining the policymaking process, one can glean a better understanding of the rationale behind policy content and begin to generate prescriptions for shaping future policies.

The segment of the policymaking process considered in this study relates to federal congressional hearings, during which the U.S. Congress invites witnesses to share information about specific policy topics. In some cases, members of Congress intend to inform themselves about an issue, and in others, their primary concern is signaling to others that they are attending to an issue (Brasher, 2006; Stolz, 1985; Svihula & Estes, 2007). Regardless of their purpose, congressional hearings provide a plethora of data to policy practitioners, service providers, and service consumers. Using data from child welfare hearings held by the U.S. Congress from 1999 through 2010, this manuscript addresses the following research questions: (1) how did hearings relate to production of legislation, (2) what were key characteristics of these hearings, (3) what were key characteristics of members of Congress involved in these hearings, and (4) what were the rates for child welfare indicators at the time that the hearings occurred? This analysis may be used by child welfare advocates and researchers to inform future research questions, policy practice interventions, and a better understanding of current child welfare policies. To this end, this manuscript reviews relevant literature, provides an overview of research methods, presents results, discusses findings, and concludes with implications for research and practice.

Literature Review

Several studies have considered congressional hearings for a variety of policy areas (Brasher, 2006; Burstein & Hirsh, 2007; Mead, 2006; Svihula, 2008), but few have focused solely on child welfare (Edwards, Bryant, & Bent-Goodley, 2011). Child-welfare policies are unique because they (a) are too complex to compel voters to prompt their legislators for specific action (Gainsborough, 2006), (b) do not have a powerful lobby (Portwood & Dodgen, 2005), (c) do not contain polarized positions (i.e. for child abuse and against child abuse) (Edwards, Jones, & Pryce, in review), (d) cannot be avoided, because the laws require periodic reauthorization and an entitlement status (U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, 2008), (e) are not inherently a partisan issue (Edwards, 2010a), and (f ) primarily address the needs of children who society perceives with the greatest positive regard and who have the least political power (Ingram, Schneider, & deLeon,2007). …

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