The House passed by voice vote last night a bill that could usher in significant reform of the federal role in the adoption of youths in foster care.
The bill, House Resolution 4980, is “expected to be taken up by the Senate sometime next week before Congress leaves for the rest of the summer,” according to the National Foster Care Coalition.
The bill was pre-negotiated by leaders in both chambers, and includes language from six separate bills filed by senators and representatives. The changes, if passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama, include:
New Adoption Incentive Awards
H.R. 4980 reauthorizes federal adoption incentives program, which awards states for exceeding certain benchmarks in the finalization of foster youth adoptions.
It replaces the old measurement – which compared current-year adoptions to a state’s performance in 2007 – with a formula that gauges expected adoptions for a year based on recent-year performance. The incentives are paid out based on how far states exceed the expected figure.
The new incentive structure in H.R. 4980 also offers higher incentives for finalized adoptions of older teens, and for the first time includes guardianship arrangements with kin as part of the incentive calculation.
Click here for a complete explanation of the new incentive structure.
Reining in APPLA
Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) is an allowable permanency goal. It was created in the 1990s as an exception for youths for whom there was little or no chance at family reunification or adoption. But recent data suggests that at least 10 percent of foster youth are designated for APPLA.
“We wanted it to be a last resort,” Sen. Chuck Grassley said at a 2012 roundtable discussion about permanency. “Over time,” it has become “an obstacle to reunification or adoption.”
H.R. 4980 would only permit APPLA for foster youths above the age of 15. For those older teens who are designated for APPLA, the legislation requires biannual reviews of their status. Caseworkers will need to demonstrate “unsuccessful efforts made by the state agency” to find another permanent option for the youth.
Tracking Adoption Disruption
H.R. 4980 requires states to track and report disruptions to finalized adoptions and guardianships, one of the biggest blind spots in research on the child welfare system. The few sample studies on the subject suggest that up to 30 percent of adoptions fail.
No method of tracking failed adoptions currently exists. The bill instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a method for collecting data on youths who “enter foster care under supervision of the State after finalization of an adoption or legal guardianship.”
States would also have to spend 30 percent or more of their incentive money on post-adoption and post-guardianship services.
John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.