June 25 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that aims to strengthen the child welfare system nationwide by improving its foster care and adoption programs.
The order signed Wednesday by the president in the Oval Office directs Health and Human Services to create "robust" partnerships between its state and local partners, to improve federal oversight of key statutory child welfare requirements and to increase resources for caregivers and those under their charge.
Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary, described the executive order in a statement as prescribing three "bold reforms" to build brighter futures for American children in its foster program and was a continuation of previous Trump administration efforts.
"President Trump's executive order demonstrates how his administration has prioritized placing each of America's foster kids with the loving, permanent family they deserve," he said. "Since the president took office, we have focused on promoting adoption unlike any previous administration, and we've begun to see results."
The bill was signed as some 430,000 children are in the U.S. foster care system, of which nearly 124,000 are eligible for adoption, according to Health and Human Services.
Of those waiting to be adopted, 50 percent have been in foster care for two or more years, the executive order said, adding nearly 20,000 youth age out of state care each year without the support of a family, putting them at higher risk of homelessness, incarceration and unemployment.
Government statistics show that 40 percent of such youth experienced homelessness, 50 percent were unemployed at age 24, 25 percent experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and 71 percent were pregnant by age 21.
However, the department and its Administration for Children and Families have worked to reduce those figures, Health and Human Services said, stating the number of children and youth entering state care has been on the decline. According to preliminary estimates, it said some 250,000 youth and children entered state care in fiscal year 2019, representing a 9 percent drop from 2016.
Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families, said their goal is to help children by improving the welfare system, calling Trump's executive order "monumental action."
"These strong actions support vulnerable children and youth nationwide by advancing measures to reduce child abuse and neglect, encouraging family preservation and strengthening adoption and other forms of permanence for American kids," Johnson said in a statement.
First lady Melania Trump was on hand for the signing Wednesday, the White House said, stating she is an advocate of supporting child welfare to improve the lives of children in foster care.
"With more than 400,000 children in foster care, there is a critical need for these children to have safe, stable homes," she said in a statement. "It is my hope that this executive order will provide reforms, which directly improve the child welfare system and further establish this administration's commitment to the health and safety of children throughout the country."