Earlier this week, while reporting on the confirmation of new Administration for Children and Families (ACF) leader Lynn Johnson, Youth Services Insider speculated that perhaps an agreement had been reached, or assurances had been made, about a timeline to finalize new child welfare data collection.
It appears that has happened, as new rules are now poised to take effect in 2020. But actual public reporting of the new data could be as much as five years away, and it also appears that the Trump administration plans to make some revisions to the original plan for an update to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).
In 2016, the Obama administration finalized AFCARS rules that would for the first time require states to track information related to, among other subjects, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), the disruption of adoptions and guardianships, education stability and sexual orientation.
In March, the Children’s Bureau, a division of ACF, announced that it would delay finalization of the new AFCARS rules until 2021. It then put out a request for feedback from the public about the Obama plan for the data, suggesting that things could drag beyond 2021 depending on the responses.
This drew the ire of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, who withheld support for Johnson until the administration agreed to speed things up. Johnson made it through the committee confirmation vote without Wyden’s support in July, but he voted for her on the Senate floor in August.
On August 21, just days before the Senate approved Johnson, ACF announced in the Federal Register that the implementation of a final rule would only be delayed until October 1, 2020, a year less than the March announcement. ACF also announced that a notice of proposed rule making, which would include any changes to the Obama plan, be released by May of 2019.
It is worth noting that we could be waiting well after the 2020 date for states to actually collect and report on the new data elements. In October of 2017, YSI asked ACF what year we’d actually see the new data reflected in annual AFCARS reports. The answer was the first reporting on the new data would be due “no later than” May of 2020.
If you pace that out, an October 2020 start would mean it could be 2023 before we see numbers on these new subjects.
Now, the likelihood is that if changes are made to the Obama-era 2016 plan, it will be to reduce the number of new data elements, not add more. Our guess would be that the likeliest changes are a reduction in the number of ICWA elements, and possible elimination of the questions about sexual orientation.
In that circumstance, it is hard to imagine why states would need another two-year prep time to get ready for new data points that they have known about now since 2016, with fewer of those data points required.