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.