Legislation introduced this month in both the House and Senate would amend the Adoption Incentives Program to encourage reunification and overall permanency outcomes for children – a goal strongly supported by the ABA.
S. 1511, introduced Sept. 17 by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and H.R. 3124, introduced the following day by Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), are pending in the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, respectively.
The Adoption Incentives Program, created as part of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 and most recently reauthorized in 2008, provides financial incentives to states for increasing adoptions from foster care.
In an Aug. 28 letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-Mich.), ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman commented on a draft version of the House bill and commended the committee for its “continued commitment…to encourage legal permanency for children in foster care.”
The ABA has policies dating back to 1988 supporting families in the child welfare system, as well as those families at risk of becoming involved in the system. In 2010, the ABA approved further policy urging “reform of the federal child welfare structure to increase the amount and flexibility of funding available for child abuse and neglect prevention, family preservation and support, family reunification, and family permanency supports.” The policy also urges lawmakers to support all forms of permanency, including parental reunifications and adoptions.
The legislation would amend the Adoption Incentives Program to base rewards to states on increased adoption rates rather than using just raw number of adoptions, a step that Susman said is an important improvement given the decline in overall foster care cases. Another improvement is expansion of the program to include payments to states that increase the rate of children reaching permanency through legal guardianship.
Susman recommended some revisions to the legislation, including incentive payments for increased rates of safe and stable family reunifications. He emphasized that foster care should be limited to necessary cases.
“Safe and stable reunification is the primary and most common permanency goal for children in foster care,” he wrote.
Although the most frequent permanency outcome for those children departing foster care is still reunification, Susman explained, reaching permanency through reunification is taking longer for these children. Reaching permanency through adoption, however, has “significantly sped up,” he said.
The ABA also supports measures to require children to reside in foster care for 90 days before reunification if a state is to receive incentive payments. “States should not receive reunification incentive payments for children who do not remain in their homes in safe and stable situations, that is, for at least six months without any repeat substantiated abuse or neglect,” Susman wrote.
He pointed out that in 2011 there were approximately 104,000 foster children waiting to be adopted. “With the help of effective and appropriate services and supports,” Susman explained, “many of these children could find safe and lasting permanency through family reunification.”