On March 15, HHS published in the Federal Register two notices in regard to a delay in the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting Systems (AFCARS).

In the first notice, the Children’s Bureau is proposing to delay the AFCARS implementation rule (finalized in 2016) by two years. Comments for this proposed delay are due by April 16, 2018.

AFCARS, as anyone in the child welfare world understands, results in the annual reports that tell how many children are in foster care, waiting to be adopted, adopted from care and several other statistics and information around length of stay and status. Constructed in a more primitive digital era in 1993 (which resulted from a 1986 Congressional directive) it has not been updated since. As a result, regular reports and information paint a broad picture of the children in care but is lacking in many areas such as a child’s long-term history in care, a clearer picture of subpopulations including children in institutional settings, children covered by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), education, health histories, linkage to juvenile justice, sexual identity, sibling placements and additional adoption information.

States have been locked into a single inflexible federally funded Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) while at the same time there has been a need to get better and more complete information on children in care. As a result, there have been several attempts since the original implementation to update and improve the data and the data elements including in this century in 2003 and 2008 with an update further delayed. In 2015 HHS proposed to update both the AFCARS data along with an update to the SACWIS technology. The technology was updated by allowing changes in the information system with the new rule for a Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS)which should help states in collecting data and tracking services. It provides and allows much more flexibility in the use of information systems and technology. In regard to AFCARS, the Obama Administration collected comments in 2015 with a final implementation published in December 2016. That final implementation and revision in AFCARS also would include first time and clearer information on ICWA and ICWA implementation.

This first Federal Register announcement is asking about a two-year delay in implementation. That would mean delay further the current requirement for states to start to collect information on April 1, 2019 with the first new data available around March 2020, both timetables would be delayed by two years meaning the first reports would not be until 2022. Comments are due by April 16, 2018 on the delay.

At the same time HHS issued a second notice that asks more refined questions in terms of how the AFCARS regulations as publish in December 2016 might be altered. The comment focus on the state burden and the necessity of the information. The deadline for commentary on this proposed rule is June 13, 2018.

HHS has asked a series of specific question that could potentially allow them to do away with much of the new reporting requirements in regard to health, education, ICWA, gender and institutional settings information.

The issue is likely to be raised in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday when Lynn Johnson will be up for confirmation before the Senate Finance Committee her responsibilities include overseeing the Children’s Bureau and all the child welfare programs.