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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2000
Contact: Michael Kharfen
(202) 401-9215

HHS Issues Final Child Welfare Regulations to Improve Services
and Outcomes for Children


HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala today announced important new regulations that will improve outcomes for abused and neglected children, children in foster care, and children awaiting adoption.

The regulations will hold states accountable for services to at-risk children with a new, results-oriented approach in federal monitoring of state child welfare programs. The final rule will also guide states in the implementation of recent new laws including the Adoption and Safe Families Act and the Interethnic Adoption provisions passed as part of the Small Business Job Protection Act. Under a new federal review process, states will be measured for the first time on the quality of services provided to, and outcome results for, at-risk children. States will also be subject to tough new penalties as well as being given the opportunity to undertake corrective action plans.

"With this regulation, we are taking a real step toward ensuring that vulnerable children will be able to live safely, in permanent and loving homes," said Secretary Shalala. "This regulation demonstrates a critical and significant shift in holding states accountable for children's safety and permanency while promoting their well-being."

Under the regulation, states will be assessed for compliance with federal requirements for child protective services, foster care, adoption and family preservation and support services under titles IV-B and IV-E of the Social Security Act. Those services cover the investigation of families where children are at risk, placements and supervision of children in foster care, development of child permanency plans for court hearings, reunification with birth families when safe, and adoption. The reviews will be in two areas: outcomes for children and families in terms of safety, permanency and child and family well-being; and the administration of state programs that directly affect the capacity to deliver services leading to improved outcomes. Federal staff will work with states to develop plans for making improvements in programs before assessing penalties and withholding funds. However, if a state remains in non-compliance, a financial penalty based on the extent of non-compliance will be assessed.

The final regulation being issued today reflects a consensus between Congress and the Clinton administration that the former review process for states focused too narrowly on paperwork. HHS launched an extensive consultation process with states and stakeholders to develop a new process that will better assess how states are performing and pilot tested reviews with states. The new review process will contain accountability of quality services provided to children, the use of quantitative and qualitative statewide data indicators to measure outcomes for children. The measures include the length of time it takes for children in foster care to move into a permanent home, instances of maltreatment of children in foster care, and the quality of systems for regularly reviewing cases of children in foster care and the recruitment of prospective adoptive parents. Reviews will also include interviews with children, parents, foster parents and service providers.

"We are confident that the new approach to monitoring in this regulation will strengthen the timeliness and quality of decision-making for children and families," said Olivia A. Golden, HHS assistant secretary for children and families. "For the first time, hold the states accountable for the results that we and they care so much about accomplishing for children and families. This regulation definitely puts the emphasis where it belongs: on safety and permanent homes for children."

The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, based on President Clinton's Adoption 2002 proposal, made the most sweeping changes in the child welfare program since it was established. The regulation implements several of the law's requirements regarding states' efforts to achieve safety and permanency for children. First, the rule clarifies that states have broad flexibility to define circumstances in which "reasonable efforts" are not required to preserve or reunify a child with the birth family because of safety concerns. Second, for children in foster care, states must obtain a court order at least every 12 months showing that the state made reasonable efforts to develop a permanent plan for reunification or legal guardianship or adoption. Third, the regulation provides guidance for states on filing petitions for termination of parental rights for certain children in foster care and makes clear that no groups of children may be exempt from the requirement. Under the law, states must begin termination of parental rights proceedings for a child in foster care 15 months of the previous 22 months. Finally, the rule requires states to conduct criminal record checks for prospective foster or adoptive parents, or otherwise document the safety of a child's placement.

The Interethnic Adoption provisions, passed as part of the Small Business Job Protection Act in 1996, prohibit discrimination based on race, color or national origin in the placement of children for foster care and adoption. As clarified in the new regulation, states that are determined to have discriminated against an individual will be assessed a penalty immediately, consistent with the law. If an individual was not discriminated against but HHS finds that a state policy or practice is in violation of the law, the state has six months to correct it before the penalty takes effect.

"The provisions of this regulation allow the federal government to hold states accountable with the use of federal funds, while emphasizing positive outcomes for children and families," said Patricia Montoya, commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families. "A strong state-federal partnership approach to implementing these laws is the best way to achieve improved lives for our most vulnerable citizens."

The effective date of the final rule is March 25, 2000.

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