Chapter 1: Introduction
The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 had three goals: prevent unnecessary foster care placements; reunify children with parents whenever possible; and bring about the expeditious adoption of children unable to return home. The aim was to produce positive outcomes for both children and families. The context for these efforts idepends on oversight by the judicial system. Judicial oversight provides the legal framework for state intervention by reviewing the delivery of social services to families both before and after a child is removed from a home. While the Act redefined child welfare policy and legal practice, concerns remain about how to establish whether the law is implemented as intended. Each child must have a “plan” for permanency, and juvenile courts must make evidence findings of “reasonable efforts” to enable a child to be reunited with his or her family or achieve another permanency plan. The efforts must be properly recorded, and children must be returned home and/or have a permanency plan in place within twelve months of removal.
The State Court Improvement Program (CIP) was created in 1993 to distribute grants to state court systems for the purpose of conducting assessments of their judicial process of foster care and adoption. States use the assessments to develop and implement system improvement plans. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) authorized the CIP through 2001 and recommended timelines for achieving permanency. The Promoting Safe and Stable Families Amendments of 2001 reauthorized the CIP through 2006 and expanded the scope of the program to include improvements necessary “to provide for the safety, well-being, and permanence of children in foster care, as set forth in ASFA” and provide for the implementation of a corrective action plan based on the findings of the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) of the state’s child welfare system.
The Child and Family Services Review
The Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) is conducted by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Amendments to the Social Security Act in 1994 authorize HHS to review child and family service programs in each state to ensure compliance with federal requirements. The CFSR takes a two-prong approach. First, a statewide assessment of foster care data compares the state’s performance on key safety and permanency indicators to national standards. The second phase involves an on-site review of the state’s child welfare program by a joint federal-state review team. This phase involves the review of case records as well as personal interviews with families and children receiving services and community stakeholders (court personnel, case managers, service providers, foster families).
States that do not meet prescribed standards in all assessed areas are required to develop a Program Improvement Plan (PIP) to address their areas of weakness. Implementation of the plan is monitored by The Children’s Bureau. Penalties are imposed on states that do not achieve the required improvements.