Senators introduce bipartisan bill to improve nationwide foster care and adoption standards


The bipartisan National Adoption and Foster Care Home Study Act could help change the adoption and foster care process nationwide. The bill, S. 684, sponsored by Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), exists “[t]o establish a national, research-based, and comprehensive home study assessment process for the evaluation of prospective foster parents and adoptive parents and provide funding to States and Indian tribes to adopt such process.”

Lankford hopes to help bring some hope and stability to children caught in a sometimes broken system:

Foster children go through a lot of instability, disappointment, and even trauma, so we must step up and better care for the thousands of kids in our foster system. I’m glad to work with these foster advocates, and join this bill to help encourage successful standards, and provide greater uniformity and transparency in the foster care system. To address many of the poor outcomes associated with the foster care experience, and to prevent the ‘age out’ crisis, we must work together to provide permanency and families for these children. Oklahoma leaders and government leaders must be committed to making sure that all foster children have a stable environment to grow and thrive.

To accomplish the tasks, the Act will “create a national standard and database to achieve greater uniformity and transparency to ensure quality foster care placements.” The bill will amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). It will direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services “to create a voluntary national home study standard and database within the Adoption Opportunities Program.” This will include:

  • “The development of an evidence-based National Adoption and Foster Care Home Study assessment standard and demonstration program.
  • “The development and deployment of a National Home Study Database to allow foster care and adoption agencies across the nation to access through a secure system information about prospective families, providing a more efficient matching of foster and adoptive children to prospective families.
  • “The independent evaluation of the National Adoption and Foster Care Home Study methodology and National Home Study Database deployment.”

It’s a bold effort to help improve frustrating situations that prospective foster and adoptive parents discover in their process to help a child have a family. Each state has different requirements, and when adopting across state lines, often families have to remain in the state where the adoptive child was born until court hearings have  been held, which can be a costly and prohibitive expense when it comes to parents’ jobs or other children at home in the other state. Likewise, a family who has been licensed in one state to foster could have an easier time if they moved. For example, the act mandates:

[A] State or Indian tribe shall agree to recognize as valid all home study reports listed in the database described in subsection (c), including such reports filed by other States or Indian tribes.
Having the intrastate information recognized would conceivably streamline the process to foster or adopt.
And the databases will also help the neediest children to find a placement. New York’s Gillibrand notes:

Thousands of children enter New York’s child welfare system and wait to be placed with a foster or for adoptive family every year, but our outdated child welfare system can’t keep up with the need and ends up preventing many children from finding loving and stable families to welcome them in. The National Adoption and Foster Care Home Study Act would update our child welfare system, so that these children can be better matched to families who will meet their needs, take care of them, and protect them. Boys and girls who live in the child welfare system are some of the most vulnerable among us, and Congress has a responsibility to help them grow up and reach their potential just like any other child has the opportunity to do.

While there are no guarantees that the approval of this bill will drastically change the system, the senators recognize that there must be action to help streamline these processes and cut the red tape that keeps children from finding loving homes.

Meanwhile, Representatives Steve Russell (R-OK), Jared Huffman (D-CA), and Karen Bass (D-CA) have introduced a companion version of the National Adoption and Foster Care Home Study Act in the House of Representatives.

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