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Opinion: What this Utah congressman is doing to connect forever families

As a father of four sons, Blake Moore understands that children need a safe and stable home. Adoption can offer that

SHARE Opinion: What this Utah congressman is doing to connect forever families
Blake Moore, his wife, and three of his sons stand in their yard on a snowy day.

Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, second from left, poses for a portrait with his family in Salt Lake City on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. Blake Moore is currently proposing a bill to address weaknesses in the foster care and child welfare systems.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Long before I ever stepped foot in Congress, I knew I wanted to make foster care and adoption reform a top priority. In high school, I learned about the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which is dedicated to helping the more than 140,000 foster care children in the U.S. and Canada connect with supportive homes and adoptive families. This experience opened my eyes, and I stayed engaged on the issue and eventually became a board member of Raise the Future to help address the great needs of our adoption and foster care system in Utah. 

Now, as a father to four boys, I understand firsthand the importance of providing children with a safe and stable home life.

Recent data indicates that 39% of Utah’s 2,000+ foster care children have more than two placements, which is 4 percentage points higher than the national average. Consistent and stable placement is key for children’s development and sense of belonging, and research highlighted by Casey Family Programs has found that multiple placements lead to “delayed permanency outcomes, academic difficulties, and struggles to develop meaningful attachments.”

We have a duty to maintain an efficient and robust child welfare system.

This is why I introduced the Connecting Forever Families Act. This bill will support the essential yet often overlooked Court Improvement Program, which addresses weaknesses in the child welfare system by providing funds to state courts so stakeholders can study and improve the efficacy of their child welfare, foster care, and adoption laws and processes.

These funds have been used for improving engagement with families, legal representation and technological modernization, among other uses. For example, in Utah, these funds support a biennial training summit to improve our child welfare system and help expedite child welfare appeals.  

The opioid epidemic has increased the strain on our child welfare system, and new court training and hearing requirements have slowed processing times. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these challenges as courts reduced or stopped in-person proceedings, which led to further backlogs. There is a clear need for change, and efforts to improve the Court Improvement Program can be bipartisan.

Both Presidents Trump and Biden proposed increasing funds to the Court Improvement Program. Understanding this need, my Connecting Forever Families Act would support child welfare proceedings and help courts more efficiently process their caseloads. The bill increases funding for the program by $30 million each year for five years without adding to our national deficit. 

The legislation will also help facilitate remote hearings moving forward. During the pandemic, due to lack of resources and guidance, courts struggled to implement remote hearings. This delayed placements for children. The Connecting Forever Families Act would provide certainty that program funds can be used to implement and modernize technology needed for remote proceedings. It would also give courts updated guidance on how to conduct remote hearings while promoting participant privacy and engagement. This will greatly benefit the program and ensure that states can effectively use their Court Improvement Program funds to keep up with demand. 

This legislation builds on my commitment to addressing the shortcomings in our child welfare system.

In April of 2021, I worked with Congressmen Lloyd Smucker and Don Bacon to introduce the Improving Adoption Outcomes and Affordability Act to authorize the Administration for Children and Families to award grants to state or local governments, public or private adoption agencies, and faith-based organizations for the purpose of enhancing medical support services and mental health resources for mothers considering adoption.

It is imperative that the federal government better equip our agencies and partners to make adoption more attainable and accessible to American families, which will provide foster care children better opportunities to experience a supportive and stable home.

A positive home life is key to a child’s ability thrive, and the Connecting Forever Families Act is the direct result of engagement with Utahns who are working hard to connect more forever families.

Last year, I hosted a roundtable at the Utah state Capitol on foster care and adoption to hear directly from government and nonprofit stakeholders who are advocating on behalf of Utah’s most vulnerable children every day, and this was one of the solutions that was discussed.

Family is the foundation of Utah’s core values, and it’s been an honor to work with constituent leaders who are creating better outcomes for Utah’s children.

Congressman Blake Moore represents Utah’s 1st District.