HR 4980 in its earliest version extended the Adoption Incentive program that awards funding to states that increase the number of adoptions from foster care. The bill extends the authorization by three year through 2015 (fiscal year 2013 is about to end in a few days). It also creates a new target of adolescents to be adopted (a group that remain in care longer without adoption). In addition the incentive is extended to successful subsidized kinship placements. Finally the bill shifts the awards to be based on “rates” rather than actual numbers in an attempt to benefit states that have a reduced foster care population but are still making significant progress in moving children into adoption.
The bill extends the family connections grants by one year to 2013. The competitive grants fund four programs including kinship navigator programs, family finding programs, family group decision making and family-based drug treatment. The original bipartisan House bill adopted last October would have renewed the grants for three years but money to pay the cost was lost when the Senate failed to act last year and the budget agreement used the same savings for that deal.
The legislation also directs HHS to come up with a formula that will help capture the savings states are realizing as the Title IV-E adoption assistance program gradually expands to provide federal funds for all special needs adoptions. The expansion is the result of the 2008 Fostering Connections to Success Act and by the time infants and toddlers are phased in for coverage in three fiscal years, the states stand to realize several hundred million a year in savings.
The bill also includes new state plan requirements that result in the bill’s name. It adds state plan requirements for states to have policies, screening and services for victims of sex trafficking. It also directs states to locate and respond to children who have run away from foster care including plans to report their absences. In addition it includes sex trafficking data in the adoption and foster care analysis and reporting system (AFCARS).
Other AFCARS changes include tracking placements of foster children in a child care institutions, the number of children in the placements and their ages, the number of children classified as “another planned permanent living arrangement (APPLA), the types of institution children are placed in including group homes, residential treatment, shelters, or congregate care settings, the extent of any specialized education, treatment, counseling, or other services provided in the settings; and number of children in foster care who are pregnant or parenting.
The legislation also established a “reasonable and prudent parent standard’ for the child’s participation in age or developmentally appropriate extracurricular, enrichment, cultural, and social activities and it requires states to assure foster parents or an individual in a care facility has the training and ability to exercise their judgment that will allow children participation in these type of activities. It directs states to provide training to foster parents to meet this standard. The legislation limits to children age 16 or older the option of being placed in a planned permanent living arrangement (APPLA) and requires documentation and determination requirements for an APPLA status and gives children age 14 and older authority to participate in the development of their own case plans, in consultation with up to two members of the case planning team.
The new legislation will also require agencies to provide foster children leaving foster care (unless in foster care less than six months) with a copy of their birth certificate, Social Security card, health insurance information, copy of medical records, and a driver’s license or equivalent state-issued identification card.
Finally it allows a subsidized guardianship to continue with a new guardian if the current approved guardian becomes disabled or deceased. It also amends the relative notices provision in the law to include notice to parents of an adopted sibling when a child is removed from parental custody.