On Tuesday, February 3, the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) and Voice for Adoption sponsored a briefing on a current pilot project that is speeding up child welfare placements across state lines. The National Electronic Interstate Compact Enterprise (NEICE) pilot project, is being funded by the Children’s Bureau to test out a new data transfer system for the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)

The ICPC, housed under the umbrella organization of APHSA, has been in effect for more than a half century and is a voluntary agreement between the 50 states on how they will handle placements when a child needs to be placed across state lines. Because home studies, case planning and training may be required and because states may differ in their process, these placements can frequently take months or even years to complete.  Those challenges have caused many, especially in the adoption community, to call for reforms and federal oversight into a compact that has been state driven. Children are delayed from a successful adoption (or needed foster care and kinship placements) due to the ICPC delays and there have been past federal legislative efforts to incentivize the process.

The National Electronic Interstate Compact Enterprise is a 17-month pilot to improve efficiency in the administration of the ICPC.  It uses an electronic web-based system that has cut down on the time it takes to make placement decisions.  It was started less than two years ago in November 2013 with a grant by the Children’s Bureau to APHSA and their affiliate, the Association of Administrators for the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children. The funding for the project is through the Partnership Fund for Program Integrity Innovation grant administered by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at a small amount of grant funding of $1.25 million. The NEICE system is based on the web-based Interstate Compact System (ICS) developed by the state of Florida.

The briefing focused on the advancements made by the six states that are a part of the pilot: Florida, Indiana (both featured at the briefing), Nevada, South Carolina, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. The project allows the states that are participating to convert their systems into electronic data that can communicate across interstate lines. Anita Light, APHSA, provided some of the preliminary results for some states, giving examples of dramatic decreases in the time it took to gather information on children and potential placement settings.  One example cited how more than 100 children in one of the pilot states were placed within 3 to 4 weeks compared to a more typical placement timeline that might stretch between six to 12 months. Examples cited by APHSA and the two states present indicated that there were are also significant savings in cost items as basic as elimination of paper records and postage costs—costs that were reduced because the states all shared the same system for communicating and were not required to use a paper-driven process.  Associate Commissioner, Children’s Bureau, Joo Yeung Chang discussed the decision to grant the funding and the Bureau’s positive feelings toward the initial results.  The impact can be felt not just in adoptions but also in finding foster care and kinship care placements.  That can be critical when a relative may live many states away such as an example provided with a relative in Texas and a child needing placement living in Oregon.  The process can also assist when special residential treatment is only available in another state.

Nicole Dobbins, Voice for Adoption, discussed that, despite all the positive news about the potential savings, the real impact and the real winners in such improved practice are the children waiting to be adopted or being placed across state lines for services.

Anita Light indicated that an expansion to all fifty states would likely cost $3 million with the state paying the in-state costs.  A $3 million price tag shouldn’t be a real problem within a $4 trillion federal budget but it is a total that can be a major hurdle when it comes to funding for anything child welfare.