The Latest on Federal Adoption and Foster Care Legislation

During the perpetual polar vortex of congressional cooperation that marked 2013, it looked like both chambers and parties had come to some consensus on a few legislative changes to adoption, foster care, and child support enforcement.

Still on track? Kind of. Youth Services Insider made a few background calls to find out where things stood in early 2014. Here’s the latest:

As we reported in late 2013, the Senate Finance Committee issued a piece of legislation called the Supporting At-Risk Youth Act, which tied adoption incentives in with child support enforcement.

The bill would also forbid IV-E reimbursement for youths under 16 who were designated for long-term foster care, as opposed to adoption, guardianship or reunification. That element was drawn from a broader foster care reform bill written by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

The Senate Finance committee marked up and passed a single bill that included all of that, but it was reported out as three different bills: one on adoption incentives, one on child support, the other with the pieces of Hatch’s plan.

Then the guy in charge at Finance, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana), went and got himself nominated by the president to serve as ambassador to China. So the fate of these bills is in the hands of the likely incoming chairman, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

The full House has already passed adoption incentives legislation (unanimously) and a child support enforcement bill. And right before the holidays, the House Ways and Means Committee circulated a draft bill that includes language on foster care reform that is nearly identical to what Baucus pulled in from the Hatch legislation.

The committee is still seeking public comment on the bill, which you can provide by emailing

If the House can translate the draft and public feedback into a bill that passes, both chambers will have legislation lined up for negotiation in 2014. It could all be rolled into one bill, or it could move on separate tracks. Insiders couldn’t predict which was more likely, other than to say that there is a strong desire to get the adoption incentives component done by summer.

Three of the biggest things that will require hashing out between the House and Senate versions of these bills:

Incentive levels: The House version pays for a new $1,000 incentive grant pegged to guardianship arrangements by eliminating the higher incentive for special needs children, and lowering the award for adoptions of children under eight. The Senate slightly boosts the special needs carve-out, and creates a $4,000 guardianship incentive.

Counting failed adoptions: The Senate’s Supporting At-Risk Youth Act includes a requirement that within 12 months of the bill’s passage, the Department of Health and Human Services would be required to “promulgate final regulations providing for states to collect and report information regarding children who enter foster care because their adoptions or foster child guardianships disrupt or are dissolved.”

No such caveat in the House-side legislation.

Normalcy: The House’s yet-to-be named draft bill would require states to designate an authority responsible for establishing the rules and guidelines for a “reasonable and prudent parenting standard.” Further, each foster home or group care facility would need to have at least one person who is designated to “apply the reasonable and prudent parent standard.”

California and Florida have recently moved legislation on normalcy, the policy word used to describe curbing liability concerns that prevent foster youth from accessing normal youth activities and events. The bill marked up by Senate Finance does not include normalcy language, but Hatch’s broader foster care bill does.

To be continued!

Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle Editor-in-Chief John Kelly

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at