The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is planning to delay the collection of new data on foster youth and families until fiscal 2022, and also plans to reconsider the new rules set up for that process by the Obama administration in December of 2016.
The news prompted the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), to withhold his support for President Trump’s top child welfare official unless HHS reconsiders.
“I need to be clear that your nomination isn’t going forward with my support unless there is a commitment to get this done, with a timeline,” Wyden said, at the hearing to consider ACF nominee Lynn Johnson.
Youth Services Insider has learned that ACF has introduced both of those plans in the Federal Register. Both pertain to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), the federal process for collecting and disseminating child welfare data.
It is a two-part plan to push back, and possibly overhaul, the Obama plan to add data elements on issues such as disrupted adoptions and guardianships, victims of sex trafficking, and sexual orientation. The first proposed change would postpone the compliance data for states until Oct. 1, 2021. Per procedure, there would be a 30-day public comment period on this.
In October, ACF told Youth Services Insider that it expected new data elements to be added in the summer of 2020:
Since the AFCARS final rule was published during fiscal year (FY) 2017, the Children’s Bureau at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) started counting the two full fiscal years beginning on October 1, 2017 (FY 2018). This means that the first official report period reflects October 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020, making the first due date for data files no later than May 15, 2020.
ACF is also opening up the process to new changes on what will be collected, meaning it could remove or add to the elements described in the Obama administration’s rules. The planned notice for Thursday would invite agencies to comment on what data elements are “overly burdensome for state and tribal title IV-E agencies and explain why.”
The notice will also ask states to comment on the “utility, reliability and purpose” of AFCARS data points, and to note which elements may be better examined in a case review approach instead of in national data collection.
Wyden characterized ACF’s plan as “starting from square one,” which he called “indefensible.”
“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 the hearing.
Wyden wrote a letter to HHS in February voicing concern about plans to delay the process.
This is the first update to AFCARS data collection since 1993. It includes, among other things, new requirements written into a 2014 law authored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Hatch, who is retiring, is currently the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
The Obama administration finalized the AFCARS rules in December of 2016 with just weeks left in the former president’s tenure in office. They took effect in January of 2017.