Federal agencies administer a number of programs that can help improve the health and safety of the nation’s children.
There are a number of indicators that can gauge the well-being of the nation’s children—including family, physical and social environments, health, and education. Federal agencies administer a number of programs that can help address these indicators and help children grow up in safe and healthy environments. But some of these programs face challenges that need to be addressed.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services helps states recruit and retain foster families, including providing technical assistance with their recruitment programs, guidance and information, and funding. However, HHS should seek feedback from states on whether they need information on effective ways to work with private providers to recruit and retain foster families.
- The Attorney General's April 2018 "zero tolerance" memo on prosecuting immigration offenses prompted federal officials to increase the rate of family separations, placing considerably more children in custody. In June 2018, a federal judge ordered reunifications. However, the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services had no advance notice and had not planned for reunifications.
- The COVID-19 pandemic will have serious effects on children who depend upon school lunches.
- The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided funding to help states assist with child welfare activities. However, child welfare agencies may face challenges with how they use these funds, as well as their ability to stay connected to families and children during the pandemic.
Other federal programs have had successes with improving the health and well-being of children.
- Young people who leave foster care at age 18 are often ill-prepared to live on their own. To assist them, 26 states use federal funds to extend foster care to age 21. Some states also help prepare these young people to live independently by offering training in areas like financial literacy and daily living skills.
- A number of federal grant programs are working to help 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. Overall rates of Native American juvenile delinquency declined from 2010-2016.
- The Centers for Disease Control has awarded grants to universities and others to help reduce childhood obesity in low-income families. These grants have helped lower body mass index and incorporate more fruits and vegetables into the diets of participating children.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture 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.