Although the new Congress can repeal all regulations issued since early June 2016, the Administration continued to issue key guidance on human service programs through HHS.

On Wednesday, December 14, HHS published final regulations for the updated Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) regulations and requirements.  AFCARS data reported by states annually helps to build a profile of the “child welfare” population by producing annual numbers on children in out-of-home (foster) care, adoptions and youth aging out to name a few items.  The AFCARS requirements have not been updated since 1993.

The final regulations are scheduled to take effect on January 13, 2017 and are the result of some requests for comments first in 2008, then after a delay caused by the enactment of the 2008 Fostering Connections to Success Act, additional proposals and commentary in 2015 and early this year.

The new AFCARS will require data on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). This will be significant because there has been very limited information in terms of American Indian/Native American children within the child welfare system. Calling ICWA “the gold standard” of child welfare, many national organizations praised the idea of collecting more accurate data on Indian children. HHS highlighted the new proposals as giving us a greater ability to understand how ICWA is implemented and a better understanding of the number of American Indian/Native American children in child welfare and give us a better understanding of disproportionality as it applies to Indian populations within child welfare.

Also in December, HHS issued a CMS Information Bulletin, on how states can extend Medicaid coverage to young people up to age 26 if they aged out of foster care and then later move to another state.

The purpose of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS) Informational Bulletin is to emphasis again that states can pursue a Medicaid demonstration project under section 1115 of the program to provide Medicaid coverage to former foster care youth who aged out of foster care under the responsibility of another state.  According to the bulletin, 14 states cover former foster care youth who were in Medicaid and foster care in any state.

HHS has also released a long-awaited revision of child support enforcement.  Revisions that many advocates and states wanted.  The final rule will make Child Support Enforcement program operations and enforcement procedures more flexible, more effective, and more efficient by recognizing the strength of existing State enforcement programs, advancements in technology that can enable improved collection rates, and the move toward electronic communication and document management. This final rule is intended to better serve families. It will improve child support collection rates because support orders will reflect the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay support, and more noncustodial parents will support their children and that is good for the child welfare population.

Another long-awaited rule was for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act based on changes made with the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act of 2008. The rule establishes program performance standards for Runaway and Homeless Youth grantees providing services to eligible youth and their families. Revisions have been made to the rule regarding additional requirements that apply to the Basic Center, Transitional Living, and Street Outreach Programs, including non-discrimination, background checks, outreach, and training. This rule makes changes to the proposed rule published on April 14, 2014, and is in response to public comments recommending ways to improve the rule.