Detroit News, October 14, 2008
For many thousands of America's foster
children, prospects for a permanent home and stronger support
will be brighter under a new law that bridged Washington's
partisan divide and is touted as the most significant child
welfare reform in decades.
Its title is a mouthful -- the Fostering Connections to Success
and Increasing Adoptions Act. And it has raised some questions:
Will budget-strapped states embrace some of the options it
offers? Why didn't it include initiatives to help curtail child
neglect in the first place?
Nonetheless, the bill -- signed with little fanfare last week by
President Bush -- is widely viewed throughout the child welfare
community as a remarkable achievement by a Congress often
incapacitated by partisanship.
"This is a historic moment for foster children and families,"
said James Brown, president of the Child Welfare League of
America, calling it the most significant foster care legislation
The act is striking for its breadth. Among its major provisions,
• Provide more financial incentives for adopting children out of
foster care, especially older youths and those with special
needs. One example: Federal adoption assistance for
special-needs children will no longer be limited to those who
come from low-income families.
• Allow use of federal funds to assist children who leave foster
care to live as legal guardians of relatives -- a step that will
help an estimated 15,000 children. In the past, such "kinship
care" -- which experts view as preferable to foster care -- was
generally not eligible for federal aid.
• Allow direct federal foster care funding to tribal
governments, so more American Indian and Alaskan Native children
can receive services while staying in their own communities.
Previously, the tribes had to go through state agencies for this
• Allow states to provide federally subsidized foster care
services to young people up to age 21, instead of 18.
• Require child welfare agencies to make "reasonable efforts" to
keep siblings together when they enter foster care, and work
harder to ensure that foster children receive a stable education
and proper health care.
"It takes a comprehensive look at child welfare and what we can
do to improve it, rather than just Band-Aids," said Adam Pertman,
executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.
On any given day, more than 500,000 children are in the U.S.
foster care system, including 125,000 waiting to be adopted.
The bill envisions about $3 billion in new costs over the next
10 years. It won bipartisan support in part because
congressional budget analysts determined that savings -- for
example, less spending on foster care casework -- would offset
the added costs.
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