Foster Care:

Challenges Faced in Implementing the Multiethnic Placement Act

T-HEHS-98-241: Published: Sep 15, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 15, 1998.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the implementation of the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994, as amended by the interethnic adoption provisions in 1996, focusing on the: (1) actions taken by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the California Department of Social Services, and two of that state's larger counties, Alameda and San Diego, to implement the act; (2) actions taken by these agencies to implement the 1996 amendment to the act; and (3) challenges all levels of government face to change placement practices.

GAO noted that: (1) HHS and the state of California initiated a variety of efforts to inform agencies and caseworkers about the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994; (2) HHS issued guidance to the states and began a range of technical assistance efforts, including training for state officials and efforts to ensure that state laws were consistent with the act; (3) these actions were a joint effort of HHS' Children's Bureau and the Office for Civil Rights; (4) the state revised its state law and adoption regulations and collaborated with county child welfare officials to develop a strategy to implement the act; (5) the two California counties GAO reviewed trained their caseworkers on the provisions of the act; (6) in contrast, when implementing the 1996 amendment, HHS and the state of California were slower to take action and provided less help; (7) as a consequence, HHS has done little to address casework practice issues--a step necessary for successful implementation--and the state has yet to make formal changes; and (8) all levels of government face three significant challenges in changing placement practices: (a) agencies need to continue changing long-standing social work practices; (b) agencies need to translate legal principles into practical advice for caseworkers; and (c) agencies need to develop information systems to monitor compliance with the amended act's restrictions in race in placement decisions.

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