GAO Issues Report on Foster Care Children with Incarcerated Parents

Last week the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report about foster care children with incarcerated parents. The report highlighted the deep gaps in knowledge about this population as well as the need for improved cross-system collaboration between child welfare and corrections. An analysis of federal data showed that in 2009 alone, at least 14,000 children entered foster care in the United States due to parental incarceration. However, because data on these children are maintained inadequately and inconsistently, the GAO noted that the number of foster children facing parental incarceration is likely significantly larger than this estimate.

The report explained that the lack of adequate data for these children leads to an inadequate understanding of the needs of children and parents seeking reunification. It is particularly unclear how the timelines for termination of parental rights under the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) impact children and families facing parental incarceration. The report highlighted some promising practices in states like New York and California that support family connections and reunification services for children of incarcerated parents, and called for increased attention to this issue as well as improved collaboration between child welfare and corrections.

The work that Stoneleigh Fellow Kathleen Creamer is doing in collaboration with the Philadelphia Department of Human Services and the Philadelphia Prison System is intended to address a number of the issues identified by the GAO report. Kathleen seeks to improve collaboration between DHS and PPS to better support families. She also seeks to improve policy and practice at DHS to ensure that family connections are maintained and families are provided appropriate supportive services when a parent is incarcerated. Finally, Kathleen is advocating for policy responses to ASFA timeframes that better serve the needs of families seeking reunification after parental incarceration.