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Home > Practice Areas > Adoption > Other Links and Resources

 
 

Implementing Two Key Provisions of ASFA

Reasonable efforts to ensure permanency and overcoming geographic barriers

Ann Sullivan, Fmr. Adoption Services Director,
Child Welfare League of America

The Adoption and Safe Families Act [ASFA] stipulates that agencies must now make "reasonable efforts to ensure permanency" for children in care and overcome "jurisdictional barriers" to adoption. Why were these provisions included in the legislation? What steps can states take to meet these two separate, but related, requirements of ASFA?

Reasonable Efforts to Ensure Permanency

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, PL 96-272, set the expectation that agencies would make reasonable efforts to prevent out-of-home placement of children, and make reasonable efforts to reunify children with their biological families.

ASFA Requirements

ASFA simply extends the concept of reasonable efforts to the next step for children in the child welfare system. It states that, for those children who are clearly not going to be reunified with their birth families or live with kin, a state must now articulate the actions it will take to ensure that these children are adopted or achieve some other form of permanency.

This expectation is an important aspect of ASFA. When we look at the large number of children in care who are stuck in the system, it is apparent in too many cases that the children are not going home, and yet they are not receiving the services necessary to secure a permanent family for them. States will now be required to specify in their state plan what they will do to ensure that these children are connected with life long families. At a minimum, documentation must include child-specific recruitment efforts such as the use of state, regional and national exchanges including electronic exchange systems.

While federal regulations to implement this provision of ASFA have not been developed as yet, agencies that want to move forward with compliance with this aspect of ASFA might wish to review their practices in relation to the following categories of activities that would generally lead to a child be assured of receiving an adoptive family:

A. Exploration of all currently available adoptive resources

1. Have all relative resources been identified and approached to determine their interest in adopting the child?

2. Have the foster parents been asked about their interest in adopting the child?

B. Active Recruitment Efforts for Adoptive Families

3. Has an individualized recruitment plan been developed for the child?

4. Has child-specific media recruitment been done, and if not, why not?

5. Has the child been made visible to other public and private adoption agencies within the state?

6. Has the child been listed on state, regional, and national adoption exchanges?

7. Are agency funds available to purchase services from specialized adoption agencies in other states if needed?

C. Effective Education of Prospective Adoptive Parents and Post Adoption Supports

8. Does the agency have an effective program for preparing both children and prospective adoptive families for adoption?

9. Has information about available adoption subsidy and other benefits been provided to all prospective adoptive families?

10. Does the agency have a range of services available either directly or through referral to community resources to support adoptive families following adoption?

These very basic activities will increase the likelihood of all waiting children receiving the life long families they need. One goal of ASFA is to ensure that such sound casework activities become incorporated into the way agencies operate.

Geographic Barriers to Adoption

Barriers to the adoption of children exist, both within any given state and across state lines. ASFA recognizes that such barriers exist and that corrective action must be taken so that a child is not denied permanency simply by an accident of geography.

ASFA requirements

ASFA mandates that state plans contain assurances that the state will develop plans for the effective use of cross-jurisdictional resources to facilitate timely adoptive or permanent placements. A state must not deny or delay the adoptive placement of a child when an approved family is available outside the relevant jurisdiction. States that violate this provision can incur financial penalties. ASFA also requires the Government Accounting Office to examine inter-jurisdictional adoption procedures and policies and make recommendations as to how to facilitate timely and permanent adoptions of children across state and county jurisdictions. HHS has not yet issued regulations to implement these provisions of ASFA.

Intrastate barriers.

Intrastate barriers may be present either within the public agency or between public and private placement agencies. Local offices within a public agency are often resistant to placements across county or regional lines. When a jurisdiction has recruited a number of families, they often tend to hold onto them in anticipation of needing these families for children within their jurisdiction in the future.

Staff who have done the work to recruit and prepare a family often question why they should they give this resource to another jurisdiction. Also, if another county places with the family, the county that recruited the family is in the position of providing post placement services and responding to any crises that occur. To compound the problem, the county that placed the child usually gets the "credit" for the placement on statewide reports and the county that recruited and prepared the family and provides the post placement services gets none. This situation is especially problematic when future staff allocations are assigned to counties on the basis of the number of children placed without recognizing that at least an equal amount of work is needed to recruit, prepare, and support adoptive families.

A second type of geographic barrier within a state can be between the public agency and private child placing agencies. Often the public agency has many children waiting for adoption, but hasnít developed mechanisms to use families that have been prepared by private agencies as adoption resources for these children. Frequently, it is very difficult for private agencies to even know the number or characteristics of the children who need adoptive families. For example, if there is a state exchange, often only representative children are listed rather than all children waiting for families.

The public-private coordination of resources may be a geographic barrier, but it also may be a reflection of other barriers related to trust and communication between the public and private agencies. In addition, a barrier may exist because of the public agencyís inability to pay for services. For example, payment of a placement fee often becomes a barrier because a private agency needs to be reimbursed for services provided, but the public agency doesnít have the capacity to do so.

Interstate barriers

Often there are multiple barriers to placing children across state lines. Public agencies frequently have polices against out-of-state placements or no affirmative policy in place to support such placements. Interstate placements are often not even considered because no mechanism is available to pay for the costs associated with such placements. For example, if a child from Pennsylvania is to be adopted by a family in Arizona, which agency will pay for the family to travel to Pennsylvania for pre-placement visits, and which agency will pay for the worker to accompany the child to Arizona for placement?

If a public agency child is to be placed with a private agency in another state the payment of placement fees becomes another obstacle. What funding can be used to reimburse the private agency for services provided to recruit and prepare a family and to provide those services needed following placement? Even when public funds are available for out-of-state adoptions, the issue often is whether the fee schedule is realistic in relation to the actual costs. If it costs a private agency $13,000 to prepare and support the adoption of a special needs child and the state of origin will pay only $8,000 maximum for such a placement, the private agency loses $5,000 for every placement made and has to increase its fund-raising efforts just to stay even financially. Given those circumstances, private agencies of necessity limit the number of out-of-state placements they are willing to do.

Other geographically related barriers add to the complexity of cross-jurisdictional placements. Examples include ICPC requirements regarding completion of home studies and approval for placement and difficulties in the provision of services under Medicaid when two states are involved. These challenges must be overcome if children are to have the greatest possible opportunity to be placed with a family who will be able to meet their needs.

  Solutions

Solutions to the myriad cross-jurisdictional barriers may require revision of policy, practice, and prevailing attitudes. Potential areas for change are:

Policy

1. Within public agencies, give "credit" in statewide reporting and allocation of resources to those jurisdictions doing the work of recruiting, preparing and supporting adoptive families as well as the jurisdiction preparing and placing the child.

2. Develop fair and equitable contracts between public and private agencies to maximize the use of in-state placement resources for children needing adoption.

3. Develop clear policy, and funding, to support use of specialized out-of-state placement resources for children who cannot be placed within a state.

4. Negotiate a cost-sharing plan between states to pay for the necessary pre-placement visits and placement-related costs

5. Seek priority within ICPC for timely processing of requests involving the adoption of children across state lines.

Practice

6. Develop mechanisms to encourage public agency use of families recruited and prepared by private agencies, such as allowing private, licensed child placing agencies to list appropriate families on the state exchange.

7. Require that all children be listed on a state exchange if they havenít been matched with a family within 30 days of becoming legally free for adoption.

8. Encourage quarterly meetings of public agency staff from various parts of a state to meet to discuss specific waiting children and family resources; have a similar mechanism for public and private agency staff to meet to discuss specific children and families

9. Use technical assistance from such organizations as ICAMA, which is housed at the American Public Human Services Association to iron out cross-state Medicaid snags

10. Feature all waiting children on such internet resources as "Faces of Children" operated by the National Adoption Center unless there is a specific reason not to do so.

Attitudes about Cross-Jurisdictional Placements

11. Facilitate the development of trust and respect between public and private agencies through meetings, joint training, and recognition of excellence in service.

12. Ensure that everyone understands that "we all win" when a child is adopted: the public and private agencies who fulfill their respective missions, the taxpayers because of the cost savings inherent in adoption, the adopters who get to build their families through adoption, but most of all the child who "wins" when everyone in the child welfare system ensures that a child who needs an adoptive family is adopted.


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