Last week, CWLA submitted our comments on the implementation of an Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) update. The Administration had frozen the 2016 final rule that updated AFCARS data requirements. In the interim they asked for additional comments and issued an updated notice of proposed rulemaking in mid-April. The revisions eliminated a number of new data elements regarding the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), health care tracking of children and youth in care, almost all data on LGBTQ on parents, children and youth in the child welfare system and some of the education tracking data.

CWLA emphasized the importance of revising the AFCARS data since it has not been updated since its inception in 1993. In our comments we said,

“This new AFCARS data offers an opportunity to inform how policies enacted in recent years regarding foster care placements, human trafficking, health care status, ICWA and most importantly implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act are changing the outcomes of families and children.”

The comments did acknowledge some improvements due to what has been left over from the 2016 rule saying that including first time data on the Indian Child Welfare Act is long overdue. CWLA is also pleased with the inclusion of new data on adoption dissolutions but those new elements were mandated by Congress in 2014. CWLA, also highlighted the need for some of the elements that they had removed in the April announcement including greater information on health screenings of children and youth in foster care, the entire removal of the LGBTQ reporting requirements for youth and children and potential foster and adoptive parents and some of the education elements.

Much of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) motivation, according to their revised notice of proposed rulemaking, was due to the cost. The ACF calculation indicates that the changes will total more than $87 million in new costs with states absorbing half that cost. Whether that is significant considering no revisions for the past 25 years and perhaps decades into the future, CWLA urged HHS to
“include in its coming budget request to Congress similar funding support as existed in the 1990s when implementation was offset with a 75 percent match in Title IV-E federal funding. That would mean that the projected total cost submitted in the April 19, NPRM of $87 million, (with the states absorbing half the cost at $43 million) would be reduced to $21 million in state costs.”

The AFCARS report include not just the annual statistics on the number of children in foster care and number of adoptions but various important other data including entries and exits, the breakout by age group for each of these categories, the placements situations, circumstances contributing to a child’s removal and the ethnic, racial and tribal breakouts of the child population.