Foster Youth:

HHS Actions Could Improve Coordination of Services and Monitoring of States' Independent Living Programs

GAO-05-25: Published: Nov 18, 2004. Publicly Released: Dec 20, 2004.

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To improve outcomes for youth leaving foster care, Congress passed the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (FCIA), which increased the allocation of federal funds for independent living programs from $70 million to $140 million. This report reviews (1) how states' funding allocations changed to serve youth after FCIA, (2) the extent to which states have expanded services and age groups of foster youth served since the passage of FCIA and what challenges remain, (3) the extent to which states have used other federal and state programs to coordinate the delivery of services to foster youth, and (4) how the states and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have fulfilled the program accountability provisions of the law and assessed the effectiveness of independent living services.

The doubling of federal funding for independent living programs has resulted in most states receiving an increase in funds. Although some states had difficulty expanding their program infrastructure in the first 2 years of increased funding, the amount of funds states returned to HHS declined the second year. Differences in funding also appeared in the amounts available per eligible foster care youth. Following the passage of FCIA, 40 states reported in our survey expanding independent living services to younger youth, and 36 states expanded services to older youth, but gaps remain in providing some key services to youth. State differences in serving youth may have been caused by gaps in the availability of critical services, such as mental health services, mentoring, and housing, as well as challenges engaging youth and foster parents to participate in the program. Almost all states that we surveyed reported increased levels of coordination under FCIA, but linkages with other federal and state youth-serving programs were not always in place to increase services available across local areas. Despite some coordination efforts, states may not make full use of available resources. One of the barriers in linking program services reported by the 4 states we visited included the inconsistent availability of information on the array of programs that were operating in each state and local area. States and HHS have taken action to fulfill the accountability provisions of FCIA, but little information is available to assess the effectiveness of independent living services. All states submitted required plans and reports, but the absence of a uniform reporting format and lack of standard monitoring practices among HHS regional offices hindered assessments of state performance. HHS is developing an information system that may improve program accountability and reported that it expects to issue a proposed regulation in 2005.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is a member of the Federal Partnership that developed the Shared Youth Vision Partnership "to serve as a catalyst at the national, state, and local levels to strengthen coordination, communication, and collaboration among youth-serving agencies to support the neediest youth and their healthy transition to successful adult roles and responsibilities." Youth in or aging out of foster care are included in the definition of the neediest youth that the partnership is committed to serving. The partnership includes 9 federal agencies (DOD, Education, HHS, HUD, Justice, Labor, SSA, DOT, and the Corporation for National and Community Service); and 30 states have formally established Youth Vision Teams that mirror the federal partnership. Key milestones that the initiative has accomplished: formation of the federal partnership; federal sponsorship of several major communication and technical assistance forums to promote the Shared Youth Vision concepts and provide hands-on planning support for federal and state partnerships; awarding planning grants to 16 states and utilizing the experiences from the pilot states to expand the collaborative approach to 12 additional states for ongoing peer-to-peer information exchange; holding Community of Practice state conference calls; and implementing of the "Solutions Desk" (sponsored by ACF), which directly links Shared Youth Vision state-level partnerships with their Federal counterparts.

    Recommendation: To improve access to the array of services available to youth transitioning out of foster care and assist states in leveraging available resources, HHS should make information available to states and local areas about other federal programs that may assist youth in their transition to self-sufficiency and provide guidance on how to access services under these programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2007, Administration for Children and Families (ACF) reported that its Children's Bureau had developed a comprehensive checklist for all programs in the Annual Program and Services Report (APSR), and that ACF requested additional information from the states to help ACF better track their expenditure patterns and compliance with statutes. The embellished checklist is intended to ensure that states submit required information and that regional staff document receipt and acceptability of that information prior to approving APSR.

    Recommendation: To improve HHS's ability to monitor implementation of the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, HHS should develop a standard reporting format for state plans and progress reports and implement a uniform process regional offices can use to assess states' progress in meeting the needs of youth in foster care and those recently emancipated from care.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services


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