• March 2000
  • Vol. 1, No. 1

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Final Rule Implementing Child Welfare Laws Aims to Improve Outcomes for Children and Families

New regulations that take effect this month significantly alter the process and tighten the standards by which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will evaluate State compliance with Federal child welfare programs.

The regulations explain how HHS will assess States' performance in serving children who are abused and neglected, children in foster care, and children awaiting permanent placements.

Improving Systems

HHS officials said the new regulations are designed to foster systems improvements in child welfare that will promote the safety, permanent placement, and well-being of children. In brief, the rule spells out how HHS will monitor States for:

  • Delivering child welfare services to children and families
  • Measuring the results of those services
  • Qualifying children for Federal foster care assistance
  • Implementing certain requirements of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA).

The rule also clarifies the way HHS will enforce the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA), as amended. MEPA prohibits discrimination in adoptive and foster placements.

Changing Practices

For State-level professionals, the new regulations will focus their attention and decision making on data regarding programs and on quality of service delivery to children and families. For front-line supervisors and workers, the new regulations will bring about significant changes in practice, including changes in how foster families are licensed and how children are qualified as eligible for certain programs.

Involving Stakeholders

HHS developed the regulations after extensively consulting with States and stakeholders and conducting pilot tests and focus groups. According to HHS, the intent of the regulations is to engage States as partners in evaluating and strengthening programs and improving outcomes for children and families by providing States with meaningful information on what works well in their systems and what does not. HHS said the regulations reflect the spirit of ASFA and MEPA by shifting the Agency's focus from only monitoring States' processes and paperwork to assessing results for children and families.

Reviewing States

Reviews of States' Child and Family Services programs will be conducted as a two-tier process, including a statewide assessment and an on-site review. Among the indicators of performance to be monitored by HHS are the length of time children spend in foster care, instances of maltreatment of children in foster care, the quality of systems for regularly reviewing the cases of children in foster care, and the recruitment of prospective adoptive parents.

The Child and Family Services reviews will evaluate qualitative as well as quantitative data. Sources of qualitative data will include interviews with children, families, foster and adoptive parents, court personnel, guardians ad litem, and other key stakeholders identified by States.

Reviews of States' Federal IV-E foster care programs will entail a primary review and, for States found not in compliance, a secondary review. Review teams will include both Federal and State representatives and will focus on States' eligibility determinations and payments for children receiving Title IV-E foster care maintenance payments.

Ensuring Accountability

In the Child and Family Services reviews, States will have an opportunity to make program improvements in areas determined not to be in substantial conformity before Federal funds are withheld. However, penalties will be assessed if the States fail to correct the areas of non-conformity, and the amount of the penalties gradually increases for continuous failure to make corrections over time. In the Title IV-E foster care eligibility reviews, immediate disallowances are taken on cases determined to be ineligible, but States determined not to be in substantial conformity also have the opportunity to implement program improvement plans to address areas of non-conformity.

Implementing ASFA, MEPA

The rule implements certain ASFA provisions aimed at speeding permanent placements of children who enter foster care, such as provisions related to terminating parental rights and family reunification.

Reviews related to implementation of MEPA will take place on a case-by-case basis. States that are found to have discriminated against an individual will immediately be assessed a penalty as provided for in the law. If HHS determines that a State has a policy or practice that violates the law, the State will have 6 months to correct the policy or practice or face penalties.

The regulations also address other entities, such as private agencies that receive Federal funding, that can be assessed penalties for violations of MEPA.

The regulations take effect March 27, 2000. The final rule was published in the January 25, 2000, issue of the Federal Register. For a free copy of the new regulations, contact the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (http://www.childwelfare.gov) at 888-251-0075 or the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information (http://nccanch.acf.hhs.gov) at 800-FYI-3366. The final rule is available online at the Children's Bureau website (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb) along with an executive summary and a press release.

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