CWLA 2009 Children's Legislative Agenda
Achieving Permanency For Children And Families
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Foster Care and
The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA; P.L. 105-89)
was enacted in 1997 to ensure safety and expedite permanency
for children in the child welfare system. One of its
primary missions was to ensure children did not remain in
foster care for too long, and instead became part of permanent
and safe families.
States enacted new legislation and promulgated regulations
to expedite permanency, consistent with ASFA.
Generally, jurisdictions moved toward holding permanency
hearings sooner, often practicing some type of concurrent
planning, and establishing a more expedited track for filing
petitions to terminate parental rights when reunification
was not possible or appropriate. The length of time before
deciding on a permanency plan was also reduced. The most
positive and obvious outcome was an increase in the number
of legalized adoptions with annual numbers of adoptions
increasing by 57% between 1998 and 2001, from 37,000 in
1998 to more than 50,000 in 2001.
Reunification is the first permanency option state and
local child welfare agencies consider for children entering
care. Yet, in many ways, it is the most challenging.
In 2006, while 49% (248,054) of the children in care
had a case plan goal of reunification with their parents
or other principal caretaker, 53% (154,103) returned to
their parents' or caretakers' home. In 2002, reunification
was at 56%.
Successful permanency through reunification requires
many things, including skilled caseworkers, readily available
support and treatment resources, clear expectations
and service plans, and excellent collaboration across
Perhaps as a result of ASFA, some jurisdictions have
noted additional practice improvements, with an increased
use of family-based approaches and interventions, including
family group conferencing, family mediation, and Family-to-
Family and other neighborhood and local agency-based foster
care approaches. These approaches stress non-adversarial,
collaborative efforts to achieve permanency for children.
Family preservation services also can be effective if
implemented in a planned way. These programs are comprehensive,
short-term, intensive services for families. Services
are delivered primarily in the home and designed to prevent
unnecessary out-of-home placement of children.
A recent update of research on the Homebuilders family
preservation model showed some promising findings.
Conducted by the Washington Institute for Public Policy,
the update looked at that body of research that found family
preservation to have no overall effect. The Institute pulled
out those programs that followed the Homebuilders model
and found significant savings and impact, with a savings of
$2.59 for each dollar spent.
Role of Foster Care in Permanency
Foster care refers to children in the child welfare system
who are placed away from their homes when their parents
or other primary caregivers are unwilling or unable to provide
care and safety. Although the child welfare system's primary
concern is the well-being of children and maintaining
them in their own homes, out-of-home placements must be
used when the risk of abuse and neglect makes it impossible
for children to remain safely with their families.
Residential group care encompasses an array of services
for children with pronounced special needs. Residential
services are highly flexible and provide for varying lengths
of stay, based on individual needs. Length of stay may range
from a short respite due to tense family situations, to longterm
therapy for problems such as drug or alcohol addiction.
Although long-term stays in family-like, community based
group homes best serve some children's needs, residential
group care is usually a temporary placement. Many
children in residential care have emotional or physical conditions
that require intensive, on-site therapy; others receive
services from day treatment programs in their communities.
Family foster care should be a planned, goal-directed
service in which the temporary protection and nurturing of
children take place in the homes of agency-approved foster
families. Most children in family foster care return safely to
their birth families. The needs of the child in family foster
care for treatment services should be met within a family
foster care setting when this arrangement is in the best
interests of the child. A growing number of children in out-of-
home care require treatment services to meet their individual
medical and behavioral needs. Some needs may be
met by services such as day treatment, but for children in
family foster care whose treatment needs would in years
past have required group care or residential treatment, the
services inherent in treatment foster care have become a
critical component in a comprehensive service system.
Treatment foster care, also known as therapeutic foster
care, combines the benefits of the protection, support, and
nurturing of a family foster care setting with the benefits of
treatment services provided by specially trained, highly
qualified, and intensively supervised foster parents.
Foster care is a critical service in the child welfare
system for vulnerable children and their families. As is the
case in other parts of our nation's child welfare system, this
one service cannot address all the challenges as we confront
child abuse and neglect. It represents one part of a
comprehensive system of support, from prevention to early
intervention services to reaching the goal of permanency for
children, including reunification, adoption, or kinship care,
along with the accompanying services and supports for each
of these families.
On September 30, 2006, 510,000 children were in foster
care, with an average stay of 15.5 months. Over the course
of a year, nearly 800,000 children will spend time in foster
care. In 2006, 303,000 children entered foster care, and
289,000 exited care. That year, 9% of those in care—
26,428 young people—left care because they aged out: They
turned 18 and were thus too old to be covered by federal or
state foster care programs.
The challenges to making foster care into what it should be
are numerous. The most glaring deficiency in foster care
and in strengthening permanency is financing. The current
requirements condition a child's eligibility for federal foster
care funding on whether the child was removed from a family
that would have been eligible for the now nonexistent Aid
to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) cash assistance
program as it existed on July 16, 1996. As CWLA
indicated in its annual study, "In 1998, well over half of
the children entering foster care—55% by our analysis—
qualified for federal assistance. In 2006, slightly more than
42% qualified—a 23% decline."
This decline in federal funding gradually shifts the cost
of foster care more to the states and private agencies that
serve these children. Title IV-E foster care is intended as a
federal matching program in which expenses are shared with
states, but over time the erosion of eligibility means the federal
government is becoming less of a partner. That means
less support not just for foster children and families, but also
less for caseworker support. Ultimately, state budgets may
pull from other child welfare areas, such as prevention and
family support, to make up for a shrinking pool of funds.
The ultimate goal of better-funded foster care is a new
casework model for child welfare services that is grounded
in best practice and supported largely by more resources in both Title IV-B and a more flexible IV-E federal funding
source. We need to strengthen a system that will result in
more skilled workers, trauma-based care and services,
lower and redefined casework responsibility, and treatment focused
foster care services.
The need exists to recruit more foster parents and provide
greater support through better foster care maintenance
rates and more casework support. The recent report Hitting
the M.A.R.C. documents a diversity of rates and methodology
in how they are set. National rates generally were found to
be 36% below what was calculated as minimum adequate
rates. Inadequate rates affect the ability to recruit and
retain skilled families, likely increase financial stress, and
directly affect the quality of care.
Successful family reunification requires some of the
same services used to implement a successful family
preservation approach: small caseloads; access to services,
including health, mental health, and substance abuse treatment;
counseling; and sound best practice. Support for
reunification is limited. Only one federal funding source,
Title IV-B part 2, Promoting Safe and Stable Families
(PSSF), allocates a portion of its $370 million for reunification
services. Other reunification services may have to be
drawn from other programs or sources, including some of
the case management costs that may be drawn from the
administrative costs under Title IV-E foster care. Once a
child has been reunified with his or her family, access to
aftercare may be limited since Title IV-E funds provide for
support only when a child is in foster care, not after.
- The new Administration should include increased technical
assistance and training to states in strategies to
recruit more foster parents.
- Following the lead of at least one state, and consistent
with April as Prevent Child Abuse Month, May as
Foster Care Month, and November as Adoption Month,
Congress and the new Administration should declare a
month in honor of Reunification.
- Congress and the new Administration should eliminate
the current eligibility link between Title IV-E foster
care and the Aid to Families with Dependent Children
(AFDC) program. Federal eligibility should extend to all
children in foster care. If it is not possible to cover all
children at once, eligibility can be phased in, allowing
full coverage based on the age of the child, or when
children enter care, similar to the phase-in of adoption
assistance under the Fostering Connections Act.
- Congress and the new Administration should strengthen
current funding dedicated to reunification services.
Although regulations through PSSF require at least 20%
of funds be designated for reunification services, there is
little information on how these dollars are spent or allocated,
or if 20% of funding is truly going to reunification.
Congress and the new Administration should extend
Title IV-E funding to aftercare follow-up services. With
this added flexibility, funding linked to outcome-based
data and new research could lead to evidence-based
- Congress and the new Administration should provide
funding to research and analysis of best reunification
- Congress and the new Administration should require
State plans to include a description of the methodology
used to set foster care reimbursement rates.
Kinship Care and
Although ASFA recognized placements with relatives or
legal guardians as permanency options for children in foster
care, the federal government failed to make funds available
on a continuing basis to help those relatives care for
Through 2008, states working with private agencies
have used a variety of sources to fund subsidized guardianship
placements for children. Some states have received
federal funding through a Title IV-E child welfare waiver to
provide support for guardians of children who have been in
foster care previously. States also rely on other sources of
federal funding to support these placements, including
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the
Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). Other states have
relied exclusively on state and local funds.
Kinship care is a situation in which an adult family
member, such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or other relative,
provides a caring home for a child who is not able to
live with his or her parents. The practice is not new, but it
is growing partly because repeated studies and CWLA Best
Practice Guidelines have demonstrated the value of placing
children with relatives when appropriate. The financial
difficulties many relatives experience, however, threaten
Kinship care and subsidized guardianship programs
allow qualified relatives or nonrelatives to step in and
provide care which they may not have been able to provide
otherwise because of the financial burdens such a
role requires. Additionally, these relative placements may
offer emotional and cultural benefits to children who cannot
return safely to their parents and for whom adoption
is not appropriate.
Recognizing the successes some states and agencies
have accomplished in the increased use of kinship care,
Congress in 2008 changed the funding structure of Title IV-E, allowing states the option of extending these funds to
kin families. The Fostering Connections Act is not as expansive
as some of the earlier kinship care legislation, but it
makes some significant improvements in the use of Title
IV-E funds. States must still have the same foster care
(nonsafety) licensing requirements in place, but the new
law strengthens legislative and federal intent that states
can suspend nonsafety and health licensing to facilitate and
support kinship care. The new law also requires a child to
be IV-E eligible and in state custody, and the possibility of
adoption and reunification must be ruled out. The law also
changes the nature of some of the case planning and, hopefully,
the provision of support services.
The Fostering Connections Act also includes several
other improvements that have been a part of earlier kinship
legislation. All states will be required to have in place a
notification process for relatives when a child comes in to
care. The law establishes a new mandatory fund of $15
million in Family Connections Grants. These funds, at least
in part, will go to encourage the development and expansion
of kinship navigator programs. These programs,
intended to support kin families of all backgrounds and
economic makeup, are growing in popularity. Under the
expanded use of Title IV-E training funds, states will be
able to use these funds for kin parents.
The Family Connections Grants can also be applied to
family-finding models. Many jurisdictions used these initiatives
as a tool to find relatives of children in care. Through
the use of modern technology, including the Internet, some
programs have shown great success in matching foster children
with extended family members.
- The new Administration should act quickly to provide
guidance and, if needed, regulation to facilitate the
states ability to convert their current kinship programs
to Title IV-E kinship programs.
- The new Administration should issue regulations and
guidance that are flexible and encourage states to use
their waiver authority in the application of licensing
requirements, adhering to the health and safety of the
child while assisting in kinship placements.
- Congress and the new Administration should follow
through with the total elimination of the Title IV-E
eligibility link to the July 1996 Aid to Families with
Dependent Children (AFDC).
- Congress should follow the progress and expansion of
kinship navigator programs and family finding programs
that result from the Family Connections Grants and
determine whether or not the success of these efforts
demand significant increases in funding.
from the Childwelfare System
Adoption has long been a vital service for children who need
families, bringing children whose birth parents cannot or
will not be able to provide for them together with nurturing
adults who seek to build or add to their families. Although
approximately 3% of the U.S. population is adopted, adoption
touches the lives of many more people. In fact, a recent
survey indicates 47% of adults have been touched by adoption
in some way.
CWLA published the first professional standards to guide
adoption agencies in 1938. Since then, families choosing to
adopt have become increasingly diverse. A growing number
of foster families, families of color, older individuals, families
with children, two-parent working families, single parents
(both male and female), gay and lesbian couples, families
with modest incomes, individuals with physical disabilities,
and families of all education levels, religious persuasions,
and from all parts of the country now adopt. These
individuals and families have one important characteristic
in common, however: They are willing and able to make a
lifelong commitment to protect and nurture a child not born
to them by providing that child a safe and loving family.
CWLA's focus has been the adoption of children from the
child welfare system. More than 124,000 children in the child
welfare system are classified as "waiting to be adopted." In
many states, that means parental rights have been terminated.
In other states, the process may be somewhat different,
and parental rights have not been ended, but the state
has determined that the child cannot be reunified with the
birth parents and the route to permanency is adoption.
Of the children waiting to be adopted from foster
care, a disproportionate number are from minority populations.
National statistics generally follow the data from
the most recent year available, 2006: 32% were black
non-Hispanic, 38% were white non-Hispanic, 20% were
Hispanic, 4% were mixed race non-Hispanic, 2% were
Native American or Alaska Native non-Hispanic. This disproportionality,
or overrepresentation, of certain ethnic or
racial groups can be more pronounced in certain parts of
the country. For example, a state with a greater Native
American population will show greater disproportionality
than the national data indicates.
The Title IV-E Adoption Assistance program is the primary
federal support for adopting children from foster care.
In FY 2009, the federal government will provide a projected
$2.2 billion for adoption assistance payments, services, and
administrative costs associated with placing children in
adoptive homes. In 2009, adoption assistance payments will
assist an average of 427,000 children a month.
Currently, children's eligibility for Title IV-E Adoption
Assistance is linked to the outdated 1996 AFDC eligibility
standards. Congress changed this requirement in 2008, with
the reforms enacted through the Fostering Connections Act.
This new law will slowly repeal the link to AFDC and tie
eligibility to federal funds to a child's special-needs status.
Adoption Incentives is another adoption program first
enacted as part of ASFA in 1997 to promote greater permanence
for children. The Adoption Incentive Program is
designed to encourage states to finalize adoptions of children
from foster care, with incentives tied to the number
of adoptions of special-needs children in foster care.
In 2006, the median age of children waiting to be adopted
was 8.2 years. Of these children, 4% were younger than 1
year, 33% were ages 1–5, 25% were ages 6–10, 29% were
11–15, and 8% were 16–17. Between 2002 and 2005, 27
states reduced the percentage of older children (ages 9–18)
waiting to be adopted, although most were by small percentages.
The percentage of older children waiting to be adopted
ranged from a state low of 26% to a high of 62%.
The Fostering Connections Act extends the Incentive
Program again and adds a smaller adoption incentive for
states that increase their adoptions above a certain rate.
This was enacted to address those states that may have
falling foster care caseloads and fewer children available
for adoption. These states may still have more adoptions,
but the actual numbers may not demonstrate that. The
new law also expands the incentive for both special needs
and older-child adoptions; an increase in the number
of older-child adoptions results in an $8,000 incentive
Other smaller adoption programs include the Adoption
Opportunities Program, which provides discretionary grants
for demonstration projects that promote special-needs and
minority adoptions and provide post-adoption services.
Funding for this initiative has generally remained at the $27
million mark since 2003. Examples of Adoption Opportunities
recipients include the National Resource Center on Special
Needs Adoption and the National Adoption and Foster Care
Most federal adoption support has been targeted
toward promoting adoptions. As time passes and the number
of adoptive families increases, there is a corresponding
need to address, through post-adoption services, some of the challenges that may surface in later years for
these families. The most common post-adoption services
include support groups, crisis intervention, child and family
advocacy, adoption searches, case management, family therapy,
mental health treatment, respite care, and targeted
case management. Some adoption agencies also provide
chemical abuse treatment, day treatment, and intensive inhome
supervision, indicating a strong commitment to making
adoption placements work.
An important backdrop to the issue of adoptions from
foster care is the overrepresentation of children of color.
Key to this debate is the enactment of the Multiethnic
Placement Act (MEPA) in 1994. The debate in 1994 was
that children were being denied placements due to a heavy
reliance on policies that took into account the racial and
ethnic makeup of the prospective adoptive family. MEPA
prohibited the use of a child's or prospective parent's race,
color, or national origin to delay or deny the child's placement,
and required diligent efforts to expand the number of
racially and ethnically diverse foster and adoptive parents.
MEPA was amended two years later to clarify its intent.
CWLA firmly believes the best interest of the child must
be paramount in any decisions that surround placement and
services. The CWLA Standards of Excellence for Adoption
Services highlight certain key principles, including:
The Evan B. Donaldson Institute conducted a study in
2008, Finding Families for African American Children,
which criticized the impact of MEPA, arguing its enforcement
can interfere with best practices and the best interests
of the child. The study also concluded that those parts
of the law that require diligent recruitment of minority parents
had not been enforced.
- When consistent with the child's best interest, the agency
providing adoption services should honor the birth parents'
request that a family of the same race or ethnic
background adopt the child. The child's adoption, however,
should not be denied or delayed if the agency is
unable to recruit adoptive parents of the child's race or
culture and adoptive parents of other cultural or racial
groups are available.
- All children deserve to be raised in a family that respects
their cultural heritage.
- In any adoption plan, the best interests of the child
should be paramount.
- All decisions should be based on the needs of the individual
child. If aggressive, ongoing recruitment efforts are
unsuccessful in finding families of the same race or culture
as the child, other families should be considered to
ensure the child's adoptive placement is not delayed.
- Assessment and preparation of a child for a transracial/
transcultural adoption should recognize the importance
of culture and race to the child and his or her experiences
and identifications. The adoptive family should
demonstrate an awareness of and sensitivity to the cultural
resources that may be needed after placement.
The challenges MEPA seeks to address cannot be met
without a comprehensive approach to the challenges we
face in the child welfare system, but there can be clearer
instruction and guidance to states and agencies to assist
in minority family recruitment. In addition, guidance and
enforcement from HHS should not hinder innovation in
recruitment and placement. Certainly, agencies or state
child welfare systems should not fear serving the best
interests of children and prospective families due to HHS's
interpretations of MEPA.
- In issuing guidance and regulation implementing the
new adoption provisions, the new Administration
should encourage states to reinvest any Maintenance
of Effort (MOE) funds generated by phasing out the
Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) link
in post-adoption services.
- The new Administration should focus special attention
on assisting states in developing and implementing
strategies to recruit more minority families for adoption
and clarify that the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA)
does not discourage such efforts.
- The new Administration should focus greater attention
on efforts and strategies that will facilitate the adoption
of older children.
- Congress and the new Administration should reauthorize
and increase funding to the Adoption Opportunities
program, and place a greater emphasis on spending
appropriated dollars on proposals and programs that
will extend post-adoption services and advance the
recruitment of minority parents.
- In extending the adoption tax credit, Congress and the
new Administration should examine ways in which this
tax benefit can focus more of its target audience on
lower-and middle-income families adopting.
Children in Care
Schools should serve as a source of stability for a child in
foster care. A child placed in foster care may have to move
to a new neighborhood or area, which can mean that a foster
child has to adjust to a new home as well as a new
school. While some foster children may be best served by
remaining in the same school despite being moved out of
that district, this may not always be an option for the child
and foster parent. In other instances this option may exist,
but the services that would make this possible--such as
transportation or covering the cost of individual transportation--
are not available.
In 2008 Congress began to address these challenges
with the enactment of the Fostering Connections Act. The
new law now requires that the case plan of a child in foster
care takes into account the suitability of the current educational
setting, and ensures that the child welfare agency
coordinate with the local education agency so that the child
remains in the school he or she is enrolled in at the time
of the foster care placement. In cases where it is not in
the best interest of the child to remain in that same school,
there must be an assurance by the child welfare agency and
the local education agency to provide immediate and appropriate
enrollment in a new school, with all of the educational
records of the child provided to the new school.
- The new Administration should provide flexible guidance
and regulation that will strengthen the use of foster
care maintenance payments to address the transportation
costs of those foster children living in one
school district but who continue to travel to their old
- The new Administration and Congress should include in
the reauthorization of the elementary and secondary
education act (No Child Left Behind Act) language similar
to the directive to local child welfare agencies: that
the local education agency work with the child welfare
agency to assure foster children remain in their current
schools when in the child's best interest, or provide
immediate enrollment in a new district when that is in
the child's best interest.
- As part of the reauthorization of the No Child Left
Behind Act, Congress and the new Administration
should assure that the reauthorization of the
McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act includes
a broader definition of homeless children to include
children in foster care.
- When Congress and the new Administration reauthorizes
the No Child Left Behind Act, the local education
agency should be directed to work in coordination with
the child welfare agency on assurances that a specialneeds
adoptive child will have access to immediate
school enrollment when health and other treatments
may require a temporary relocation from their home.
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