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Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, PL 105-89

Congress reached an agreement November 13, 1997, on foster care and adoption reform legislation and passed the "Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997." November 19th, the bill was signed by the President, Public Law 105-89 (HR 327, amending HR 867).

The act includes, in Section 305, a three year extension of Subpart 2 of Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, formerly known as the the Family Preservation and Support Services Act and now renamed as "Promoting Safe and Stable Families."

In extending Subpart 2 of Title IV-B, Congress also extended for three more years the federal grant program to improve the courts' handling of child abuse and neglect cases. Section 305(a)(2) of the bill extends the $10,000,000 annual set aside for the court improvement grants through federal fiscal year 2001. Section 305(a)(3) extends the program itself (set forth in Section 13712 of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, 42 U.S.C. 670 note) for the three additional years.

 

SUMMARY OF AMENDMENTS

Adoption Promotion Act of 1997 - Amends the Social Security Act to provide that in cases of aggravated circumstances (including abuse, abandonment, and torture), the States are not required to first make reasonable efforts to retain children in their own homes as a prerequisite to placing a child in foster care.

(Sec. 3) Requires a State to initiate or join proceedings to terminate parental rights for children under age ten who have been in foster care under State responsibility for 18 months.

(Sec. 4) Directs the Secretary to make adoption incentive payment grants to States for the number of foster child adoptions and special needs adoptions that exceed the base number of such adoptions for the fiscal year. Authorizes appropriations.

Amends the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 (Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act) and the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, with respect to enactment of appropriations to the Department of Health and Human Services for adoption incentive payments, to prescribe cap adjustments (up to a ceiling of $15 million) for new budget authority. Sets forth congressional procedural guidelines for making such adjustments.

(Sec. 5) Provides for earlier status reviews and permanency hearings, notice of reviews and hearings, and opportunity to be heard for foster parents and pertinent relatives.

(Sec. 7) Mandates State documentation of the steps taken to find and finalize permanent child placement.

(Sec. 8) Requires the Secretary to: (1) report and make recommendations to specified congressional committees on the extent to which children in foster care are placed in the care of a relative (kinship care); and (2) establish an advisory panel to review such report.

(Sec. 9) Authorizes use of the parent locator service in termination of parental rights proceedings.

(Sec. 10) Instructs the Secretary to: (1) develop a set of outcome measures to assess the performance of States in operating child protection programs; and (2) to report annually to the Congress on the performance of each State on each outcome measure.

(Sec. 11) Increases from 10 to 15 the authorized number of State child protection demonstration projects, and mandates that at least one of such projects approved after October 1, 1997, address kinship care.

(Sec. 12) Prescribes guidelines for technical assistance to help States and local communities reach their targets for increased numbers of adoptions and alternative permanent placements for children in foster care (including development of programs that place children into pre-adoptive families without waiting for termination of parental rights).

(Sec. 13) Instructs the Secretary to report to certain congressional committees regarding the scope of substance abuse in the child welfare population, and the outcomes resulting from the services provided to such population.

(Sec. 14) Modifies the eligibility criteria for Independent Living Services. (Sec. 16) Expresses the sense of the Congress that, to the greatest extent practicable, all equipment and products purchased with funds made available under this Act should be American-made.

(Sec. 17) Amends the Social Security Act to provide that State plans for foster care and adoption assistance may include, at State option, procedures for criminal records checks and checks of a State's child abuse registry for any prospective foster or adoptive parent, or employee of a child-care institution before a child's placement.

(Sec. 18) Expresses the sense of the Congress that the States should have in effect laws and procedures for a chronically ill or near-death parent to designate, without surrendering parental rights, a standby guardian for the minor children, whose authority would take effect upon the parent's death, mental incapacity, or physical debilitation (with the parent's consent).

 

REASONABLE EFFORTS

The new bill redefines "reasonable efforts" to (a) emphasize children's health and safety, (b) require states to specify situations when services to prevent foster placement and reunify famliies are not required, and (d) reaffirm certain specific situations of severe inflicted harm to children (already specified in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act) where reasonable efforts to preserve families are not required.

 

SAFETY LANGUAGE ADDED TO CASE PLAN AND REVIEW REQUIREMENTS

Federal statutory language concerning case plans and six month reviews is amended to ensure that the issue of child safety is specifically addressed.

 

DEADLINES FOR TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS

States are required to initiate or join termination of parental rights proceedings for children who have been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months. In certain cases, states are required to initiate such proceedings upon placement (i.e., where the parent committed murder, involuntary manslaughter, or felony assault resulting in serious bodily injury of a sibling). Exceptions to this requirement include (a) at the option of the state, the child is cared for by a relative, (b) the state agency has documented that there is a compelling reason that filing a termination petition is not in the best interest of the child, and (c) the state has not delivered services it deems necessary for the child's safe return, in cases where reunification efforts are required (see above).

Note: In calculating whether 15 months have passed since the child's entry into foster care (and a termination petition is therefore required), the state is now to refer to the earliest of the following two dates: the date of the first judicial finding that the child has been subjected to abuse or neglect or 60 days after the child is removed from home.

Thus, for example, if the adjudication of child abuse or neglect takes place one month after the child's removal from home, the state will have 16 months after the child's removal to file a termination petition (or join a termination proceeding filed by others) after the child's removal. (Of course, this time limit will not apply if an exception applies, as described in the above paragraph.) For example, if the adjudication takes longer than 60 days from the child's removal, the state would have 15 months plus 60 days after the child's removal from home to file or join in the termination petition. State legislatures are expected to enact authorizing amendments in their next legislative session. The bill specifies a transition period to put this requirement into effect.

 

NOTICE AND OPPORTUNITY TO BE HEARD FOR FOSTER PARENTS, PREADOPTIVE PARENTS, AND CARETAKER RELATIVES

States are required to provide notice and the opportunity to be heard -- to foster parents, preadoptive parents, and relatives caring for children -- in all reviews and hearings. This does not require, however, that foster parents, preadoptive parents, and relative caretakers be made parties to the review or hearing.

 

CASE PLANS TO ADDRESS AGENCY EFFORTS TO ACHIEVE PERMANENCY

Where the permanency plan for a child is adoption or placement in another permanent home, case plans are to document steps the agency is taking to secure such permanent home.

 

EARLIER AND MORE DECISIVE PERMANENCY HEARINGS

In place of the current requirement that states hold "dispositional" hearings within 18 months after placement of the child in foster care, the bill (a) renames the hearing a "permanency" hearing, (b) tightens the statutory language to require that the hearing includes a decision whether to return the child home, initiate termination proceedings, or place the child in another permanent living arrangement, and (c) requires that the hearing take place within 12 months of the child's "original placement."

Note: The 12 month period begins to run not from the time of the child's actual removal from home, but rather from the earliest of the following: a judicial finding of abuse or neglect OR 60 days after the child's removal from home. The 12 month period for the permanency hearing begins to run at the same time the 15 month period for initiating termination of parental rights proceedings begins to run.

 

TIME-LIMITED FAMILY REUNIFICATION SERVICES

Services to reunify families funded under Subpart 2 of Title IV-B of the Social Security Act are to extend no more than 15 months after placement. (The time period begins to run at the same time as the time period for termination petitions and permanency hearings.) These services include counseling, substance abuse treatment services, domestic violence services, temporary child care and related services including crisis nurseries, and transportation for such services.

 

ADOPTION AND SAFE FAMILIES ACT OF 1997

Title I: Reasonable Efforts and Safety Requirements for Foster Care and Adoption Placements

(Sec. 101) Amends existing law to emphasize the paramount concern of a State plan for foster care and adoption assistance shall be the health and safety of the child. Efforts to preserve and reunify the family shall not include certain parents if they pose a serious risk to a child's health or safety. State courts should exercise their discretion to protect the health and safety of children in individual cases and not use this new law as an excuse.

(Sec. 102) Includes the safety of the child in State case planning and review system requirements.

(Sec. 103) Outlines the conditions under which a State should terminate parent's rights and initiate selection of a qualified adoptive family for certain children in foster care or under State responsibility.

(Sec. 105) Allows the Federal Parent Locator Service to be used by child welfare services for enforcement of child custody or visitation orders.

(Sec. 106) Requires States to include criminal record checks for prospective foster and adoptive parents in developing plans for foster care and adoption assistance.

(Sec. 107) Requires States to document their efforts toward adoption or placement in another permanent home in a case plan.

 

Title II: Incentives for Providing Permanent Families for Children

Would award an adoption incentive grant to an incentive-eligible State who meet specified criteria relating to the number of foster children and special needs children, including State health insurance coverage based on assistance agreements.

(Sec. 201) Would financially assist States, local communities, and the courts reach their targets for increased numbers of adoptions and alternative permanent placements for children in foster care.

(Sec. 202) Requires a State plan to use cross-jurisdictional resources to effect timely adoptive or permanent placements for waiting children. Denies Federal assistance eligibility where a State has impeded the placement of a child for adoption outside of the jurisdiction with responsibility for handling the case.

Instructs the Comptroller General to study and report to the Congress on improved procedures to facilitate the interjurisdictional adoption and permanent placement of children.

(Sec. 203) Directs the Secretary to:(1) develop a set of outcome measures for rating State placements for adoption and foster care, and to report annually thereon to the Congress; and (2) develop a performance-based incentive payment system. Title III: Additional Improvements and Reforms - Authorizes up to ten State child welfare demonstration projects in each of FY 1998 through 2002. These projects would be designed to address: (1) delays to adoptive placements for children in foster care; (2) parental substance abuse problems; and (3) kinship care. Requires all State demonstration project to provide health insurance coverage for certain children with special needs. Requires the Secretary to consider the effect of a State demonstration project upon specified court Orders concerning the State's non-compliance with certain Federal requirements for child welfare services and foster care.

 

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