Foster Care:

HHS Could Better Facilitate the Interjurisdictional Adoption Process

HEHS-00-12: Published: Nov 19, 1999. Publicly Released: Nov 19, 1999.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO provided information on interjurisdictional adoption issues, focusing on the: (1) number of foster children who are available and waiting for an adoptive home to be identified; (2) actions taken by state and county child welfare agencies and nonprofit organizations to improve the adoption process when prospective adoptive families and foster children live in different jurisdictions; and (3) actions taken by the federal government to improve the adoption process when prospective adoptive families and foster children live in different jurisdictions.

GAO noted that: (1) at any given time about 1.5 percent of foster children--about 8,000--are legally available for adoption and waiting for an adoptive home but have no prospects for adoption; (2) this number is small because, of those foster children who are adopted, about 78 percent are adopted by their foster parents or relatives; (3) virtually all of the remaining foster children who are waiting for adoptive homes are among the most difficult to place due to their older age, need to be placed with siblings, or other special considerations; (4) because these children are hard to place, they are likely to be candidates for adoptive placement across jurisdictions; (5) public child welfare agencies have directed their efforts toward the initial step in the interjurisdictional adoption process--recruitment of prospective adoptive families--and have done less to improve the other steps in the adoption process because they are largely beyond their legal authority to change; (6) for example, these agencies are using traditional recruiting methods in new ways, as was the case in two of the three states GAO visited; (7) these states enter into contracts with other states to conduct recruitment activities in geographic areas outside the public child welfare agency's jurisdiction; (8) the agencies also use Internet web sites, which can be accessed from anywhere in the nation, to reach beyond their borders to recruit prospective adoptive families and publicize waiting children; (9) nonprofit organizations that are working to improve interjurisdictional adoption processes have targeted their efforts at those steps in the adoption process that correspond to their professional interests; (10) such interests include nationwide recruitment of adoptive homes for hard-to-place waiting foster children as well as issues related to improvements in the use of homestudies and the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) process; (11) the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) leadership could facilitate improvements in the interjurisdictional adoption process, much of which is outside the legal authority of individual public child welfare agencies; and (12) HHS has developed plans to address problems in the interjurisdictional adoption process and implemented some actions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHHS continues to maintain its position that there is no need to create a public strategy paper (i.e., widely available action plan) and does not intend to develop such a document. However, according to agency officials, DHHS continues to make progress in implementing a three-pronged strategy--namely, through discretionary grant activities; assisting the Secretariat of ICPC to enhance technology, implementation, and management of ICPC; and supporting technical assistance and training through its resource centers--to facilitate the in jurisdictional adoption of foster children. In particular, DHHS awarded a 3-year discretionary grant in FY1999 to the Secretariat of the ICPC to improve implementation, identify barriers, and develop and implement solutions to improve ICPC operations. Among other activities, the grantee is in the process of working on barriers related to homestudies and training in ICPC processes for judges, attorneys, placement agencies, and parents.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should develop and make widely available an action plan to address areas that would facilitate the interjurisdictional adoption of foster children. The plan should critically assess planned and ongoing activities by HHS and others and, at a minimum, should include strategies to encourage collaborative partnerships among governments and others to promote standardization of homestudies and additional training on ICPC and its process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HHS continues to maintain its position that there is no need to create a public strategy paper (i.e., widely available action plan) and does not intend to develop such a document. However, according to agency officials, HHS continues to make progress in implementing a three-pronged strategy--namely, through discretionary grant activities; assisting the Secretariat of ICPC to enhance technology, implementation, and management of ICPC; and supporting technical assistance and training through its resource centers--to facilitate the injurisdictional adoption of foster children. In particular, DHHS will award a grant for the development and implementation of a national adoption internet photolisting service by September 30, 2000, to the National Adoption Center. Plans are for the site to debut in 2002. In addition, among activities to be conducted under a FY1999 3-year discretionary grant, the Secretariat of the ICPC will work on technology enhancements for both the national and state-to-state efforts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should develop and make widely available an action plan to address areas that would facilitate the interjurisdictional adoption of foster children. The plan should critically assess planned and ongoing activities by HHS and others and, at a minimum, should include strategies to provide technical assistance to states on the effective use of adoption web sites to recruit adoptive families for hard-to-place foster children.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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