Administration Erases LGBT Questions From Foster Care Data Collection

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President Donald Trump’s administration froze Obama-era rules on new foster care data, and have narrowed them down in a final rule issued late on Friday.

Late Friday the Trump administration finalized a one-third reduction in the amount of data the government must collect about youth in foster care and their parents, sparking an outcry from advocates who charge that the changes are politically driven and will be bad for already-vulnerable kids.

The announcement of the new policy, which slims down Obama-era data-collection rules on this population, marks the formal implementation of the Trump administration’s 2019 proposal to reduce the number of data points to be collected from 273 to 181. The new data collection requirements will become official Tuesday when it’s published in the Federal Register.

The biggest changes made to the original Obama plan include a dramatic reduction in the amount of data points about Native American youth involved in child welfare, and the elimination of all data collection about the sexual orientation of youth in foster care and their parents.

Other data points going by the wayside pertain to mental and physical health care, and educational achievement, although some information on these will continue to be collected. The administration projects that the decreased number of data points will reduce the cumulative cost to states for collecting new information from $89 million to $43 million. 

Christina Wilson Remlin, lead counsel for Children’s Rights, blasted the change, which came despite meeting with administration officials to urge them not to proceed with the plan to drop all questions dealing with the sexual orientation of foster youth, as well as their biological and adoptive parents and guardians. 

“Stripping sexual orientation data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System is a huge mistake that will harm the children we serve,” Remlin said, adding that “thorough and accurate data are critical” to children’s well-being. ”This latest onslaught against facts puts politics over the best interests of children and makes LGBTQ youth and their outcomes invisible.”

The administration acknowledged in the final rule that individual commenters and national advocacy organizations had pressed for inclusion of the sexual orientation information, but said the input from state and local child welfare agencies “generally acknowledged” that reporting this information to a national database “would not enhance their work with children and families.”

Advocates for Native American youth did not offer an immediate reaction. The Indian Child Welfare Act, known colloquially as ICWA, became law in 1978, when child welfare systems were removing about one-third of Native American children from their families. The Obama administration’s plan was the first attempt to include data that spoke to the effectiveness of that law. 

“It is unclear how well state … agencies implement ICWA’s requirements because of the lack of data,” wrote the Obama administration in its 2016 proposed plan. Even in states with large Native American populations, “there may be confusion regarding how and when to apply ICWA.”

The Trump administration announced in 2018 that it would reconsider the Obama rules. The delay infuriated Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who said he would hold up confirmation of top child welfare official Lynn Johnson until a timeline was set. 

“For all those people watching [at HHS], while I’ve seen you do good work, I won’t clear you with my support unless there is a timeline to get this rule out,” Wyden told Johnson during her 2018 hearing. The proposed plan that will become final this week was issued a year later, in April 2019. 

The Trump administration said in its final rule that states will have two full years to start reporting the new data elements, which means the decision to freeze the Obama rules delayed the process by six years. 

Chuck Carroll is a freelance journalist and editor working with The Chronicle. John Kelly also contributed to this article.

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