Better Federal Program Administration Can Contribute to Improving State Foster Care Programs

HRD-84-2: Published: Aug 10, 1984. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the implementation, by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and selected states, of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act to determine the guidance which HHS has given to the states and how HHS has determined whether states have complied with the act's requirements.

During the initial year of implementation, much confusion existed among the states reviewed about how to implement the requirements and what constituted an acceptable inventory of children in care or a case review system. In addition, some states had not made all of the required improvements to receive the authorized incentive funds. This confusion resulted from inadequate HHS guidance on how the act was to be implemented. States had no formal guidance until 3 years after the act's passage, and the final regulations failed to give specific guidance and allowed the states maximum flexibility in interpreting the requirements. Furthermore, HHS permitted states to certify their own eligibility for incentive funds. HHS compliance reviews found four states ineligible for fiscal year 1981 incentive funds they had already received. Five other states withdrew their certifications in anticipation of being found ineligible. In addition, the criteria HHS uses to determine eligibility for incentive funds are less demanding than the law requires and do not ensure that all of the improvements and safeguards mandated by the act are adopted by all of the states. HHS could find a state in compliance even if none of its cases included all of the required elements to receive incentive funds. GAO believes that the HHS position that only 13 of 18 elements must be implemented is not consistent with the legislative intent.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The report contains the GAO legal interpretation of what the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act requires. HHS disagreed with the interpretation of the act and refuses to issue regulations implementing the act in accordance with this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should revise the program regulations to provide additional guidance to states as to what is required to implement section 427 of the act. At a minimum, the regulations should require that: (1) the appropriateness of and necessity for a child's current placement be recorded on the inventory; (2) the data in the statewide information systems be readily available at the state level; (3) case plans, periodic reviews, and dispositional hearings contain all the elements and make all the determinations specified by the act; (4) a dispositional hearing be other than court proceedings dealing with the custody or other issues related to the child's initial placement; and (5) subsequent dispositional hearings be held within a time period established by HHS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: HHS does not intend to revise its regulations in accordance with this recommendation. As a result, this recommendation is not applicable.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct that: (1) compliance review guidelines conform to the provisions in the revised regulations and contain specific criteria that HHS can use to ensure that each state has fully implemented section 427; and (2) states wishing to receive section 427 incentive funds, including those that have previously certified, be required to certify their compliance under the HHS revised regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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