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
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 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
B. Active Recruitment Efforts for Adoptive Families
3. Has an individualized recruitment plan been developed for the
4. Has child-specific media recruitment been done, and if not, why
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
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
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 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
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.
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 to the myriad cross-jurisdictional barriers may require revision
of policy, practice, and prevailing attitudes. Potential areas for change
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
3. Develop clear policy, and funding, to support use of specialized
out-of-state placement resources for children who cannot be placed within
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.
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
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