Adoption Incentives Could Be Reauthorized by 2014

Note: This article was updated on Dec. 12

The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill today that could usher in a reauthorization of federal adoption incentives before Congress breaks for the holidays.

The bill, called The Supporting At-Risk Youth Act, would also limit the use of long-term foster care and, for the first time, require states to track and report on failed or disrupted adoptions.

The bill was introduced by committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana), who circulated a draft bill on adoption incentives in early fall. This bill combines his framework with sections of a child welfare law introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and revisions to the Child Support Enforcement process and sections of other proposed legislation

“These proposals…will help foster a safer environment for our young people to put them on a path to leading happy, healthy, and successful lives,” said Sen. Hatch, in a statement released after the committee markup. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure these policies are enacted into law.”

Among the changes in the law:

New incentives: Would increase the adoption incentive for “special needs” children from $4,000 to $4,500, and would create a new, $4,000 incentive payment for completion of guardianship arrangements for foster children.

New calculation: Baucus would convert that incentive calculations to a system that gauged annual performance against the average performance in the three previous years.

Tracking failed adoption: Within 12 months of the bill’s passage, the Department of Health and Human Services would be required to “promulgate final regulations providing for states to collect and report information regarding children who enter foster care because their adoptions or foster child guardianships disrupt or are dissolved.”

Ending APPLA: The bill would prohibit federal reimbursement for foster youths under the age of 16 for whom the official permanency goal is Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA), the federal term for emancipation as opposed to adoption, reunification or a guardianship.

APPLA was established as an allowable permanency option under federal law in the late 1990s, and was meant to serve as a rare exception to plans for reunification or adoption. Instead, it has become the official goal for at least 10 percent and perhaps a quarter of the 400,000-plus children in foster care each year.

“We wanted it to be a last resort,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) at a roundtable discussion about APPLA last year. “Over time,” it has become “an obstacle to reunification or adoption.”

A bill to reauthorize adoption incentives has already passed the House, in a unanimous 402-0 vote in October that took many by surprise. That bill, which has bipartisan support, would cut the basic incentive grant and eliminate the “special needs” award while keeping the award for older youth and creating a new $1,000 award for guardianships.

Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, saw his APPLA restriction attached to the bill along with other sections requiring states to provide documentation and special case planning services for older foster youth at risk of becoming involved with sex trafficking.

Other sections of his bill, which would drastically limit federal expenditures on long-term group care for foster youth, were not included in this legislation.

Click here for a summary of the bill.

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Imprint

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