Foster Care:

Children's Experiences Linked to Various Factors; Better Data Needed

HRD-91-64: Published: Sep 11, 1991. Publicly Released: Sep 11, 1991.

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Joseph F. Delfico
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on children's foster care experiences, focusing on the: (1) amount of time spent in care; (2) proportion of children that reenter care; (3) factors related to children's length of stay and reentry; (4) impact of recent societal changes on its analyses; and (5) status of federal and state efforts to develop a national foster care information system.

GAO found that: (1) a greater proportion of children whose length of stay was less than 1 year reentered care than the proportion of those staying 1 year or longer; (2) the median length of stay for children entering or leaving care in 1986 in the states and localities reviewed varied from 8 to 19 months; (3) children placed in institutions in the states reviewed generally stayed in foster care longer than those placed in foster family homes; (4) such factors as infrequent parental visits, incidence of aggressive behavior, and lack of parent/child counseling directly influenced length of stay; (5) children spend more time in care today waiting for services, reunification, or adoption due to such factors as a lack of caseworkers, shortages of treatment facilities and services for children and their families, and caseworkers' fear that abused children released from foster care may be abused again; (6) the lack of common definitions or methodologies nationwide, absence of data from states over the years, and collection of aggregate, rather than case-level data, all served to impede the development of a national foster care information system; and (7) although 1986 legislation required the establishment of a national information system by October 1, 1991, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has yet to promulgate related final rules due to its need to both assess the legal basis for sanctions against states failing to develop required systems or meet reporting standards and address several states' comments on the HHS report to Congress.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On December 22, 1993, HHS issued final regulations on data collection for Foster Care and Adoptions. These regulations specify the federal matching rate for administrative costs associated with the development and implementation of these data systems. These regulations also specify timetables for reporting data to HHS (May 15, 1995).

    Matter: To guide and spur development of nationwide foster care data for federal policy deliberations, Congress should consider: (1) reemphasizing to the Secretary of Health and Human Services the need for prompt issuance of regulations for improved state databases; (2) amending the timetable for states to implement automated data systems, basing the deadline on the date HHS issues final regulations; and (3) establishing a specific federal policy on funding these systems.


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