Foster Care:

States' Early Experiences Implementing the Adoption and Safe Families Act

HEHS-00-1: Published: Dec 22, 1999. Publicly Released: Dec 22, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA), focusing on: (1) how states have responded to ASFA regarding legal, administrative, and other changes that social workers may need to make in their day-to-day practice of handling child welfare cases; (2) the status of states' implementation of the two provisions related to making timely permanency decisions for those foster children who are unable to safely return home; and (3) the actions the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has taken to assist states and monitor the implementation of these two provisions.

GAO noted that: (1) in response to the passage of ASFA, states enacted their own enabling legislation and developed administrative policies and procedures; (2) states also are making changes in social work practices to implement the two foster care provisions; (3) by July 1999, all states had laws that mirrored the federal legislation or were more stringent than federal law, some states had legislation already in place before passage of ASFA; (4) states also promulgated policies and regulations, and took other administrative actions to implement changes to state law; (5) in three states, some changes in social work practice occurred both before and after ASFA was enacted; (6) preliminary data suggest that some states have made progress in making more timely permanency decisions about children who cannot safely return home within a reasonable time, other states have lagged behind; (7) in implementing the provision on not requiring efforts to prevent a child's removal from home or to return a foster child home, most states reported that courts are considering whether efforts to preserve or reunite the family should be required when there are egregious circumstances; (8) child welfare agency officials anticipate that few children will be affected by this provision because such cases are rare; (9) regarding the position on terminating parental rights, 27 states were on schedule to meet the mandated timetable for reexamining cases and determining whether adoption would be appropriate for children already in foster care when the law was enacted; (10) twelve states had begun proceedings to terminate parental rights for over a third of the cases reexamined; (11) sixty percent of the reexamined cases were exempted because terminating parental rights was not in the child's best interest or the child was under the care of a relative; (12) HHS has continued numerous actions to assist states and monitor implementation of these two provisions by: (a) offering technical assistance on the states' statutory changes needed to implement the act; (b) continuing to make available HHS' National Resource Centers to help state and local child welfare agencies change social work practices; (c) publishing instructions to guide states' administrative procedures; and (d) reviewing states' legislation to ensure conformance with the federal law; and (13) HHS plans to use a new, results-oriented monitoring approach consisting of child and family services program reviews that focus on child outcomes, relating to safety, permanency, and well-being, and cover key elements of the provision on terminating parental rights.

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