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12. Strengthen Families

The President believes that every child deserves to live in a safe, permanent and caring family, with a loving father and mother. Unfortunately, the dramatic increase in the number of children living without fathers, or worse still languishing in foster care, means that for millions of children, this is not the case. The result is that countless children are growing up without the stability they need to fulfill their dreams.

Certainly, no law can make people love one another. Places of worship, faith-based organizations, and other value-shaping groups do the hard work of changing hearts and minds. Government should, however, wherever possible, cultivate a climate that helps families, and the individuals and groups that support them. With this goal in mind, the budget includes additional initiatives to strengthen and rebuild families.

Responsible Fatherhood

The President is determined to make committed, responsible fatherhood a national priority. Over the last four decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children growing up in homes without fathers. In 1960, fewer than 10 million children did not live with their fathers. Today, the number is nearly 25 million. More than one-third of these children will not see their fathers at all during the course of a year. And, the trend is getting worse. By some estimates, 60 percent of children born in the 1990s will spend a significant portion of their childhood in a home without a father.

This is troubling news for our children. Experts agree that the lack of a father in the home has a negative impact on children. Research shows that nearly 75 percent of children in single-parent homes will experience poverty before they are 11 years old, compared with only 20 percent of children in two-parent families. Violent criminals are overwhelmingly males who grew up without fathers.

In contrast, the presence of two committed, involved parents contributes directly to better school performance, reduced substance abuse, less crime and delinquency, fewer emotional and other behavioral problems, less risk of abuse or neglect, and lower risk of teen suicide. The research is clear: fathers factor significantly in the lives of their children. There is simply no substitute for the love, involvement, and commitment of a responsible father.

Promoting a New Pro-Fatherhood Agenda: Government's traditional answer to the absence of fathers from the lives of children has been to focus on child support enforcement ensuring the financial support fathers owe is provided. Strong child support enforcement is critical to getting fathers who have the ability to pay to support their children. However, research shows that a large portion of fathers who do not pay child support are themselves poor. Many have limited education and are unemployed or underemployed.

While fathers must fulfill their financial commitments, they must also fulfill their emotional commitments. Dads play indispensable roles that cannot be measured in dollars and cents: nurturer, mentor, disciplinarian, moral instructor, and skills coach, among other roles.

A new Federal commitment to reverse the rise in father absence should improve the job skills of low income fathers; promote marriage among parents; help low-income fathers establish positive relationships with their children and the children's mothers; and enlist the potency of faith-based and community groups that are closest to the needs of, and can provide the most direct support to, fathers and families.

Promoting Responsible Fatherhood: The 2002 Budget provides $60 million for competitive grants for initiatives that promote responsible fatherhood. Grants will be awarded to faith-based and community organizations that help unemployed or low-income fathers and their families avoid or leave cash welfare, as well as to programs that promote successful parenting and strengthen marriage. This initiative will spur new community-level approaches to working with low-income fathers and families, and to providing them with job training, subsidized employment, career-advancing education, skills-based marriage and parenting education, mentoring and related activities. The budget also provides $4 million in 2002 for projects of national significance that support expansion of State and local responsible fatherhood efforts and extends two jobs tax credits for an additional year.

Strong Families, Safe Children

The President also is committed to helping families in crisis and to protecting children from abuse and neglect. The Federal-State child welfare system needs to do more to support and preserve families. At the same time, once children are placed outside the home, the system too often leaves them languishing in foster care or other temporary living arrangements for months or years.

There are more than 568,000 children in foster care, some 118,000 of whom are legally available for adoption now. This substitute care population has grown many times faster than the rate of growth of the U.S. child population in general. For each of the years from 1983 through 1999, more children entered than exited substitute care. Tragically, one in four foster children remains in foster care for at least three to five years; in every State, there are children who have been in foster care more than seven years. A foster child, on average, lives with three different families, and experiencing 10 or more placements into different homes is not rare.

Providing Education and Training Vouchers for Older Foster Care Children: The personal and emotional costs are especially high for young people who leave foster care at age 18 without having been adopted. Research indicates that these young people experience alarming rates of homelessness, early pregnancy, mental illness, unemployment, and drug abuse in the first years after they leave the system.

This year, some 20,000 youths will leave foster care when they reach the age of majority. To help these children, the budget proposes to provide $60 million through the Foster Care Independence Program specifically for education and training vouchers to youth who age out of foster care. This initiative would help ensure that these young people are able to obtain the support they need to develop skills to lead independent and productive lives. Each voucher, worth up to $5,000, would be available to cover the costs of college tuition or vocational training.

Promoting Safe and Stable Families: The current child welfare system has three primary goals to ensure children's safety; to create permanency in children's living arrangements; and to promote healthy child development. The financing mechanism of the current system, however, does not always advance these goals. Approximately ninety percent of Federal child welfare funds are provided for the removal and placement of children outside their own homes, including adoption activities. By contrast, less than 10 percent is provided for services that could either prevent a child's removal from his or her family or support timely family reunification in cases in which temporary removal is necessary. Because the growth of funds for prevention services through grants such as the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program has been so restricted, States often do not have enough money to provide the services that could either prevent children's removal from their families, if appropriate and safe, or support timely reunification in cases in which temporary removal is necessary.

To strengthen States' ability to promote child safety, permanency, and well being, the budget proposes funding the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program at $505 million in 2002, a $200 million increase over the 2001 level. These additional resources will help States keep children with their biological families, if safe and appropriate, or to place children with adoptive families. By undertaking more preventative efforts to help families in crisis, the prospects for children to live in a permanent home are enhanced. A child will remain with his or her biological parents or will be removed and placed in temporary foster care. Attempts can be made to return the child from foster care back to the home. If the State can show that such preventative efforts have failed to safely keep the child in, or return the child to, the home, judges are more likely to terminate parental rights, making the child legally free for adoption. In addition, to help States comply with Federal requirements that children be safe from abuse and neglect, and not languish in foster care, the budget provides $2 million to expand collaborative Federal/State efforts to monitor State child welfare systems.

Encouraging Adoption and Helping Children from Foster Care: In 1996, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, a tax credit designed to increase the number of adoptions. The provision provides a $5,000 tax credit to families for expenses associated with the adoption of a child. The provision also provides a $5,000 exclusion from income for employer-provided assistance.

There are more than 118,000 children legally available for adoption in the United States. While adoptive parents do not need to be given financial incentives to welcome children into their homes, the costs of adoption can be high and many parents need help defraying those costs. To encourage more adoptions, the budget proposes to make the adoption tax credit permanent and increase it from $5,000 to $7,500.

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