The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 is a United States federal law that was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 7, 2008. The Act seeks to improve the outcomes of children who are in the foster care system by providing incentives to states to keep siblings together and to increase adoptions. It also seeks to improve the lives of foster children by providing them with more permanent families, additional health care and educational opportunities, and greater access to services that meet their needs. The Act also provides incentives to states to provide financial assistance to relatives who become the legal guardians of children in foster care. Finally, the Act includes provisions to improve the quality of foster care, including increasing the training of foster parents and increasing the oversight of foster care providers.
Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008
The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoption 2008 Act (enacted as Public Law 110-351) was a Act of Congress in the United States sanctioned by the president George W. Bush on October 7, 2008. Previously, it was unanimously approved in both House of Representatives and not Senate. The law made numerous changes to the child protection system, mainly in Title IV-E of the Social Security Lawwhich covers federal payments to states for foster homes and adoption assistance. According to child welfare experts and advocates, the law brought about the most significant federal improvements to the child welfare system in more than a decade.
The new law made a number of changes to the child welfare system, which is primarily the responsibility of the States (The Federal government supports states through funding and legislative initiatives). The main changes include:
- Allowing all states the option of providing parental guardianship assistance payments or payments to related adoptive parents committed to permanently caring for a child who has lived with them for at least six months. This will help facilitate the transfer of children from state custody to the care of relatives in cases where a return home or adoption is not appropriate.
- Allow states to provide IV-E funded foster care for children age 21 and under, provided that such child is enrolled in school, in a vocational program, is employed, or is unable to fulfill these requirements due to a medical condition. This option helps facilitate a longer period of child support up to age 21.
- Require case plans to ensure foster care placements do not unduly disrupt the child’s education.
- Requiring states to develop a case plan for the oversight and coordination of health services for children in foster care, in conjunction with the state Medicaid agency and other experts.
- Requiring states to make reasonable efforts to keep siblings together in foster homes.
- Allowing, for the first time, tribes to receive federal funding to directly run their own child welfare programs (previously, tribes had to negotiate with states to receive IV-E funding).
- Gradually “unlinking” a child’s eligibility for outdated adoption assistance payments Assistance to Families with Dependent Children standards, which had not been updated for inflation since 1996, as the program no longer existed. As this provision costs money, the disengagement will take place over a period of nine years.
Economy and costs
According Congressional Budget Officethe new law will reduce deficits by $12 million between 2009 and 2018, while initially increasing direct spending by $323 million between 2009 and 2013.
In the House, Deputy Jim McDermott (D-WA) and former representative Jerry Weller (R-IL) were active in drafting the legislation and eventual approval. In the Senate, senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) were leaders on the bill.
California’s AB 12 Program
Having the largest population of foster homes in the United States, California was one of the first states to enact the Fostering Connections Act by enacting Assembly Bill 12 (AB 12, also known as the CA Fostering Connections to Success Act) in 2010. The law began to take effect in 2012.
All eligible foster youths are now eligible to participate in the AB 12 Extended Foster Care Program from their eighteenth birthday through their twenty-first birthday. Eligibility is determined by at least one of the following, as per federal requirements:
- Completion of high school or obtaining a GED
- Enrollment in a university, community college, or vocational education program at least part-time
- Participation in a job readiness training program
- Work at least 80 hours per month (20 hours per week)
- Inability to do any of the above due to a medical or mental disability
Those who participate in the AB12 program are considered non-minor dependents of the county in which they were placed in foster care. Foster youths can rejoin the program up to age 21 if they choose to leave earlier.
The AB12 program allows for two additional supervised independent living placements for non-minor dependents. Transitional Housing Placement Plus Foster Care (THP – Plus – FC) provides housing and services to promote independence, such as case management, assistance with transportation and job readiness training. Housing options in this type of placement include group homes and foster homes.
The second type of housing placement is the Supervised Independent Living Placement (SILP) and is the most popular with foster youth as it allows for greater independence. SILP placements can include apartments, rooms for rent in a house, university dormitories and single room hotels. These placements must be evaluated and approved by the county, except for university residence halls.
Challenges in the Implementation of AB12
If a non-minor dependent is placed out of state, sending and receiving agencies must go through a ten-step process in accordance with the Interstate Covenant on the Placement of Children. Even if a non-minor dependent is living in an out-of-state SILP placement, case managers are required to make monthly face-to-face visits with each juvenile. In addition, case managers are required to visit juveniles placed in another California county, and cases are not transferred from one county to another.
Having to travel substantial distances every month adds substantial travel costs and further pressure on the substantial caseloads that social workers have. The recommended number of cases a worker should handle under the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) has a maximum of 12-15 children, while some agencies already have workloads that can exceed 40 cases per worker.
Notable organizations that were involved at various stages of statute drafting and revision and lobbying Congress included:
- Alliance for Children and Families
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Bar AssociationCenter on Children and Law
- Casey Family Programs
- Center for Law and Social Policy
- Child Welfare League of America
- Children’s Defense Fund
- Court-appointed special counsel
- National Conference of State Legislatures
- Voices for America’s Children
Future of legislation
Since its signing in 2008, states have been moving to implement the various changes to the law and different states are at different stages of implementation. A Fostering Connections Resource Center was also created to help disseminate information about the law.
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