In passing the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (H.R. 6893) in October 2008, Congress increased the ability of state and local child welfare agencies to improve the well-being of vulnerable children.
The Act tackles several of the very important issues documented earlier this year in our paper, Multi-Problem Youth: A Growing Concern and with which several Stoneleigh Foundation Fellows are grappling. In particular, the law provides a particular emphasis on kinship care arrangements and on meeting the multiple and complex health and education needs of children in foster care through cross-system collaboration. In particular:
- Dr. David Rubin’s research has shown the positive effects of kinship care on child well-being and Rubin presented his results on Capitol Hill in June 2008. Under the new law, it is easier for states to place children with relatives and states may now use foster care funds for kinship guardianship payments. Rubin’s work will continue to be important in helping the child welfare system understand what policies and practices yield the best outcomes for children in foster care.
- Christine Dougherty’s project seeks to make child well-being–particularly physical and mental health–a component of child welfare system concern and family court review for every child in every case. As a result of the new law, states are required to coordinate and collaborate with the state medical assistance agency and other experts to plan for the ongoing oversight and coordination of health care services for any child in foster care. These services include screenings, continuity of services and sharing of medical information. Dougherty’s project will continue to be important in helping the systems incorporate these requirements into actual practice.
Other cross-system issues addressed in the Act:
- Youth Aging Out of Foster Care: the new law requires child welfare agencies to help youth develop a transition plan prior to the youth leaving foster care. The plan must include information relating to housing, health insurance, education, continuing support services, work force supports and employment services.
- Promoting Educational Stability: the new law requires child welfare agencies to improve educational stability for children in foster care by collaborating with local education agencies to ensure that children stay in their home school when possible, ensure immediate enrollment in a new school if that is necessary, ensure immediate transfer of school records, and provide funds to cover the cost of transportation to the school.
Federal legislation alone, however, will not be enough to have an impact. State and local governments must take steps to enact the legislation, but “the economic crisis threatens the ability of state and local agencies, both public and private, to take advantage of these opportunities. Many if not all states are or soon will be considering significant budget cuts. In the coming weeks, assessing how human services can be protected from budget cuts, at the very time when human need will increase, will be critical,” according to the Child Welfare League of America.
Our fellows will continue to play an important role at a time when funding may not meet the requirements necessary to implement the new legislation. Furthermore, several of the provisions will take several years to take effect. The provisions allowing states to extend foster care to age 21 begin at the start of FY 2011 (October 1, 2010). Other provisions are phased in until 2018. During this time welfare agencies will be taking steps to implement the new law, and our fellows will be able to contribute to those efforts.