Bipartisan Bill to Test Uniform Home Study Standard

A group of lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have put forth the National Adoption and Foster Care Home Study Act, which would set up a demonstration grant project to help a few child welfare systems operate under a uniform standard for deciding which foster and adoptive homes were acceptable.

“To address many of the poor outcomes associated with the foster care experience, and to prevent the ‘age out’ crisis, we must work together to provide permanency and families for these children,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), in a statement about the bill’s introduction. “Government leaders must be committed to making sure that all foster children have a stable environment to grow and thrive.”

The act would amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) to include the demonstration program, which includes the following:

Standards

Participating systems would use a uniform set of questionnaires, analysis and home study reports to gauge the appropriateness of a foster or adoptive home candidate. Presumably, since it is not prescribed in the bill, this uniform process would be established by the Administration on Children and Families (ACF), the division of the Department of Health and Human Services that manages federal child welfare programs.

Youth Services Insider‘s bet is that the template will either be identical to or resemble the methodology established by a California-based nonprofit called the Consortium for Children. The organization is a major supporter of the bill and offers a model called the Structured Analysis Family Evaluation (SAFE) process; click here for details on that process.

There are child welfare systems in 11 states that have implemented the SAFE process: Nevada, Calif., N.J., Colo., Utah, Tenn., Wisc., N.M., R.I., Texas and Okla.

Database

ACF would establish a “secure national database” that housed the home study reports generated by practitioners who used the established uniform model. States, or entities that states granted permission to, could use this database to find prospective foster and adoptive parents.

All participants would agree that the findings of the home study report filed into the database were valid.

There is no price tag attached to this act; it is submitted with “such sums as necessary” language, which sort of kicks the decision to ACF. There is a requirement that the uniform process used be evaluated periodically by an independent entity.

It is a small step, but perhaps one that could yield results down the road. Assuming ACF works with stakeholders to come up with a quality uniform procedure, a control study down the road might prove the hypothesis of advocates behind this bill: that a uniform, adhered-to practice for gauging safety will reduce wait times to find homes, improve the stability of placements, and drive down abuse in foster homes.

The House bill was introduced by California Democrats Jared Huffman and Karen Bass with Steve Russell (R-Okla.). The Senate bill will be led by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Lankford.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1158 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.