Family Finding Success Stories

Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008

Working to Improve the Lives of Nebraska's Children
by Natalie G. Nelsen, Guardian ad Litem, Holdrege

On October 7, 2008, the Fostering Connections Act was signed into law. The Foster Connections Act is designed to help children and youth in the foster care system by promoting permanent families for them through relative guardianships and adoptions and by improving education and health care. The Act has six key areas of focus to improve outcomes for youth. It is important to note that many of the requirements of the Act are tied to eligibility for Title IV (E) funding, and many of the resources made available through the act are only available if the child is IV(E) eligible.

Promoting Family Connections and Enhancing Support for Relative Caregivers
1.) Within 30 days of a child’s removal from the home, the Department must exercise due diligence to identify and provide notice to all adult relatives of the child. The Act does provide an exception to the notice requirements where there is “family or domestic violence.”
2.) The Act allows for case-by-case waivers of non-safety licensing standards for relative placements.
3.) The Act gives states the option to use federal IV-E funds for kinship guardianship payments for children cared for by relative foster parents who are committed to caring for these children permanently when they leave foster care. The children must be eligible for federal foster care maintenance payments while in the home of the relative and must reside with the relative for at least six consecutive months in foster care to be eligible for the kinship guardianship assistance payment.
4.) The Act authorizes a new grant program for activities designed to connect children in foster care with family. Funds can be used for: (a) kinship navigator programs, (b) intensive family-finding efforts, (c) family group decision-making meetings for children in the child welfare system with special attention to children exposed to domestic violence, or (d) residential family substance abuse treatment programs.

Promoting Sibling Co-Placements and Visitation
1.) The Act mandates that reasonable efforts be made to place siblings together unless contrary to a child’s best interests.
2.) If placement together is not an option, the act requires that reasonable efforts be made to maintain sibling connections through visitation.

Improving Outcomes for Older Youth
1.) The Act provides for continuation of federal support for youths in foster care, guardianship, or adoption assistance to age 21.
2.) The Act requires that the Department develop a transition plan at least 90 days prior to discharge. This plan is in addition to, not in place of, the independent living plan that the Department is required to develop for all youths ages 16 and older.
3.) The Act allows federal reimbursement for a “supervised setting in which the individual lives independently” for youth 18 to 21 years old.

Education and Health Care Access
1.) The Act requires that children in foster care remain in their original school when they enter or change placements, unless remaining in that school is not in the child’s best interests. The Act provides federal support for transportation to enable children to remain in their original school.
2.) If remaining in the same school is not in the child’s best interests, the Act requires that the child is immediately enrolled in a new school with all education records of the child provided to that new school.

Strengthening Adoption
1.) The Act increases incentives in current law to promote the adoption of children from foster care. The act also permits states to receive an additional payment if the state’s adoption rate exceeds its highest recorded foster child adoption rate since 2002.
2.) By “de-linking” a child’s eligibility for federal adoption assistance payments from the outdated AFDC income requirements, the Act increases the number of children with special needs who can be adopted with federal support.
3.) The provisions of the Act mandating sibling placement together, also extend to adoptive placements, provided that it is in the children’s best interests.

Indian Tribe Related Provisions
1.) The Act provides that tribes can apply to the Department of Health and Human Services to administer Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance programs, and to receive direct funding from DHHS. In the absence of this direct receipt of funding, States are required to negotiate IV-E agreements with the tribes in good faith, if requested by the tribe.
2.) All Indian children placed by Indian tribes who are operating through the Title IV-E program pursuant to an HHS approved plan or through a tribal-state agreement are eligible to receive IV-E foster care maintenance or adoption assistance payments, if they otherwise meet Title IV-E criteria.