Several indicators can gauge the well-being of children—including family, physical and social environments, health, and education. Federal agencies administer a number of programs that can work to address these indicators and help children grow up in safe and healthy environments. However, some of these programs face challenges that need to be addressed.
- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) helps states support children in foster care, including those in residential facilities. While some states are employing innovative solutions to address the abuse of youth by staff in such facilities, others continue to face significant challenges. HHS is in a unique position to facilitate information sharing and disseminate best practices across states to prevent and address abuse in youth residential facilities.
- About 1 in 10 young adults and 1 in 30 minors under age 18 experience homelessness without a parent or caregiver over the course of a year. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and HHS provide grants to local organizations to operate programs that could help—like shelters or transitional living programs. However, many of these youth may not be receiving the services for which they are eligible. HHS and HUD could provide more guidance to local programs on how to help youth who are homeless.
- A number of federal grant programs are working to address underlying challenges that Native American youth face—such as poverty and exposure to violence—that can make them susceptible to being arrested, charged, or sentenced in the justice system. There are over 100 federal programs that can help address these challenges. However, federal agencies could improve how they administer these programs.
- HHS awards grants to provide care for unaccompanied children—those without legal immigration status or an available parent or guardian. The grants go to state-licensed organizations that provide shelter and other services. HHS monitors these facilities to ensure they're keeping children safe. However, HHS hasn't met its own targets for how frequently it visits facilities, and doesn't consistently share information with the state agencies that license them.
- USDA oversees child nutrition programs (including the National School Lunch Program), and is working on a number of ways to improve its oversight of these programs. For instance, USDA is giving states information and training on monitoring finances for school meals. It’s also planning to collect more reliable data on children’s participation in the summer meals program. (The COVID-19 pandemic has also had serious effects on children who depend upon school lunches.)
- Officials in a number of locations reported declines in child abuse reports—and concerns about unreported cases, as children had less contact with mandated reporters (such as teachers) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic also delayed child welfare hearings. Federal funds were provided to states to assist with child welfare activities and officials in most areas reported providing assistance, such as formula and diapers. Child welfare agencies also expanded and may continue virtual services.
- COVID-19 affected the availability of child care for families, particularly early in the pandemic (the percentage of open child care providers increased throughout 2020). Most states reported financial problems for child care providers resulting from temporary closures and decreased enrollment, and planned to use COVID relief funding to address these challenges.
Foster Care: Further Assistance from HHS Would be Helpful in Supporting Youth's LGBTQ+ Identities and Religious Beliefs
Child Welfare: HHS Should Facilitate Information Sharing Between States to Help Prevent and Address Maltreatment in Residential Facilities
Youth Homelessness: HUD and HHS Could Enhance Coordination to Better Support Communities
Military Families: Additional DOD Actions Could Better Support Military Foster and Adoptive Families
Federal Low-Income Programs: Use of Data to Verify Eligibility Varies Among Selected Programs and Opportunities Exist to Promote Additional Use
Child Care: Subsidy Eligibility and Receipt, and Wait Lists
Unaccompanied Children: Actions Needed to Improve Grant Application Reviews and Oversight of Care Facilities
Child Care Facilities: Federal Agencies Need to Enhance Monitoring and Collaboration to Help Assure Drinking Water is Safe from Lead
Native American Youth: Agencies Incorporated Almost All Leading Practices When Assessing Grant Programs That Could Prevent or Address Delinquency [Reissued with revisions on Aug. 27, 2020.]
Medicaid: Additional CMS Data and Oversight Needed to Help Ensure Children Receive Recommended Screenings
Child Nutrition: Observations on USDA Actions to Improve Program Integrity and Address Improper Payments