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Study: Federal Government Not Enforcing Child Welfare Laws

Study: Federal Government Not Enforcing Child Welfare Laws

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Child welfare laws enacted by Congress may have been drawn with the best intentions, but a new study finds that states are not fully complying with those federal requirements, and the federal government is not enforcing them.

The report, "Shame On U.S.," said this lack of compliance is hurting kids and families. It was compiled by The Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law.

"We were seeing a lot of the problems in the system," Christina Riehl, the institute's senior staff attorney, told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday. "We were seeing that over and over again, and we didn't see improvements."

The report, which was released last week, states that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services "infrequently and inadequately" exercises its oversight powers of foster care youth. In the U.S., more than 400,000 children live in foster care, and 2,000 children die each year from abuse or neglect.

The study found that "not one state was found to be in full 'substantial conformity' with federal laws designed to ensure the safety and well-being of abused and neglected children."

One local example cited in the report: foster care children in San Diego aren't getting placed in homes fast enough.

"We see regularly kids that aren't achieving some of the requirements that they're supposed to achieve," Riehl said. "We see here, in San Diego, children end up staying at juvenile hall or Polinsky (Children's Center) longer than they really need to based on their individual needs because there's no home-based environment. So the beds are missing and the kids are staying in group-care settings that just aren't appropriate."

The total annual cost of child abuse and neglect in the U.S. was estimated to be more than $80 billion, according to the report.

Despite these findings, a January report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that the number of victims of child abuse has dropped from 680,000 in 2012 to 679,00 in 2013.

The advocacy group is asking the federal government to toughen its oversight and enforcement, and revise its evaluation programs, among other suggestions.

San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency referred KPBS to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for comment on this report.

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