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Fostering Connections Judicial Guide

Heidi Redlich Epstein, JD, MSW
Director of Kinship Policy, American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law

Summary: The author offers a summary of the new publication, Judicial Guide to Implementing the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.

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The American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the National Center for State Courts are pleased to announce the release of a new publication, Judicial Guide to Implementing the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. The guide was a collaborative effort by key national organizations designed to assist judges in implementing the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act— Public Law 110-351 (Fostering Connections).

As a judge working with families to ensure successful reunification and speed permanency, you know that implementation of Fostering Connections in your jurisdiction is essential. Fostering Connections is a federal law designed to promote permanent families for children and youth in foster care. This law encourages maintaining family connections, supporting youth transitioning from foster care, ensuring health and educational well-being for foster youth, and providing many Native American children important federal protections and support for the first time by allowing tribes to directly administer their local programs authorized by Title IV-E of the Social Security Act.

To enable this law to fulfill its purpose, it is critical for courts to provide judicial oversight regarding the implementation of Fostering Connections at every hearing and at each stage of the case. The active role of judges hearing dependency cases can make the difference between Fostering Connections effectively enabling foster children to benefit from the reforms in this law and states failing to comply with the law. If judges fulfill this oversight role by regularly asking questions, they create an expectation of compliance for all parties and as a result practice continues to improve, as was the intent of this important law. Finally, as a major stakeholder in the child welfare system, courts can play a role in convincing the state agencies and legislatures of the need to take advantage of the law’s optional provisions and help reinforce the need for proper implementation and training.

This practical guide contains an analysis of the barriers faced by courts as well as implementation strategies to overcome these barriers. For each section of Fostering Connections, the Judicial Guide provides:

  • An overview of the law
  • Judicial considerations for successful implementation
  • Questions to ask from the bench to help ensure compliance with the law and best practice
  • Resources from national experts to direct further reflection and analysis

It is important to note that while the brief overviews in each section are limited to what is required under Fostering Connections and the relevant guidance issued, the judicial considerations and questions to be asked from the bench are not. The considerations and questions focus on implementation of Fostering Connections but also touch on issues that, though not required by Fostering Connections, are important for judges to consider when applying best practice principles in addition to the requirements. Keep in mind that Fostering Connections, like ASFA, amends the Social Security Act, therefore the provisions should be read in the context of that law. See the complete text of Fostering Connections.

Many of the provisions of Fostering Connections took effect on October 7, 2008, the date of the law’s enactment, and were required to be implemented immediately. Other provisions however, have become available to states as options or take effect over time. See a complete list of provisions and an implementation timeline. 

The Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau, issued a “Program Instruction” on July 9, 2010. This document emphasizes the importance of the court’s role in oversight and implementation of Fostering Connections and reinforces the best practices advocated within the Judicial Guide. Generally, guidance is persuasive federal authority to assist states with the implementation of law.

In some circumstances, the requirements and options under Fostering Connections enhance and complement existing state policies and practices. In other situations, these federal requirements may necessitate changes in state policy and/or practice, including those of the courts. Therefore, it is important to consider how Fostering Connections interacts with existing laws and policies, such as the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), recognizing that a number of provisions in Fostering Connections are federal requirements that must be implemented.

Judges, attorneys, child welfare agency personnel, CASA and other child welfare stakeholders are encouraged to carefully review this Judicial Guide and read referenced resource materials to assist with meaningful implementation of this significant law.

 

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