Fostering Connections to Success Act: Improving Family Engagement

Scott TrowbridgeScott Trowbridge, JD, Staff Attorney, American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, Assistant Director for the National Child Welfare Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues

Summary:  The author summarizes provisions of the Fostering Connections to Success Act that encourage relative placement and provides links to information about the guide and other resources.

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Resolution of child welfare matters usually involves successful family engagement—be it engaging parents, relatives, or adoptive parents to rebuild or build a new family. Much of the 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act deals with improving connections for families involved in child welfare. While some provisions involve maintaining connections in education or between agencies and healthcare providers, many are designed to improve family engagement.

Highlights of the Fostering Connections Act and links to resources related to family engagement are provided below. For comprehensive information about the act, see the program instruction here or a comprehensive judicial guide here.

Judges can play a crucial role in family engagement. Though many of the provisions of the act are primarily written regarding what child welfare agencies must do, the court’s role in ensuring reasonable efforts can make the difference between the act being aspirational to being realized.

Obviously, to engage relatives, they must know that their relative is in care. The act added a notice requirement - “[w]ithin 30 days after the removal of a child from the custody of the parent or parents of the child, the state shall exercise due diligence to identify and provide notice to all adult grandparents and other adult relatives of the child.”[1]

Notice is “subject to exceptions due to family or domestic violence.”[2] No other exceptions are provided. There is no exception allowing an agency to refrain from notifying a relative at a parent’s request – previously the practice in some jurisdictions. As Julie Rosicky, executive director of the US branch of International Social Services, has noted, the act does not have an exception for family living outside the U.S.

The act allows jurisdictions to waive non-safety licensing requirements for relatives on a case-by-case basis. It also provides an option to use IV-E funds for a guardianship assistance program (GAP) for relative caregivers. Note that the federal legislation and program instruction left defining “relative” up to the states.[3] The ABA and its partners have several teams that provide technical assistance on these subjects: Permanency Barriers Project, the National Child Welfare Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues, and the Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center.

Fostering Connections also added provisions giving states the option of extending foster care to youth over age 18 and requiring transition plans for older youth exiting care.

The Bar-Youth Empowerment Project has publications on effectively engaging older youth in care. These include a set of frequently asked questions about Fostering Connections and sample state legislation. Available here.

The act requires efforts to keep children and youth engaged with their siblings. A previous article on this site by the Hon. Judge Len Edwards covers this in detail.

The act’s provisions should be understood in light of how they build upon the Adoption and Safe Families Act and other legislation, specifically in how permanency plans are established and achieved. The glue that holds notice, flexible licensing standards, youth involvement, and guardian assistance together is day-to-day casework, oversight by courts, and advocacy by attorneys and other advocates.

The National Resource Center on Permanency and Family Connections has numerous resources on family engagement that provide concrete tasks for agencies to improve their engagement of families. This has been tested and refined by the NRC in various jurisdictions. Their self-assessment tool is designed to help agencies assess how well they are engaging families. It includes questions about shared case-planning decision making and strength-based tools, and suggests including family-engagement elements into training for foster parents, agency staff, judges, and CASA volunteers. This self-assessment tool is currently being reviewed by the National Child Welfare Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues for adaptation for courts.

Attorneys share responsibility for engaging families. For children’s attorneys, the ABA model Standards of Practice indicate that a children’s attorney/GAL “should determine whether relatives, friends, neighbors, or other people known to the child are appropriate and available as placement resources.” Parents’ attorneys of course need to help engage their own clients, but should also consider discussing with clients whether helping engage relatives as placements or otherwise is in their interests.

Non-respondent parents deserve special mention. We sometimes talk about non-respondent parents “showing up” late into a case that proceeded in a different direction such as adoption, but we should recognize that this is often a failure on our parts to make the effort on the front end. A set of articles about legal representation of non-offending parents can be found here, and the Quality Improvement Center on Nonresident Fathers has resources specific to engaging fathers available here.

Family engagement touches most aspects of child welfare and all the important players. I encourage you to follow the links above. There is a lot available to hopefully prevent you from having to reinvent the wheel. 


 

[1] 42 U.S.C.A. § 671(a)(29).

[2] 42 U.S.C.A. § 671(a)(29).

[3] p. 14, http://www.fosteringconnections.org/tools/assets/files/ACYF-CB-PI-10-11-2.doc

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