Section 1. Short Title; Table of Contents
Section 2. Clarification of the Reasonable Efforts Requirement
States would not be required to make reasonable efforts to reunify a family in "aggravated circumstances" as defined in State law and in which a court has confirmed that a child has been subjected to such aggravated circumstances. Examples of aggravated circumstances are cases of abandonment, torture, chronic abuse or sexual abuse. Reasonable efforts would also not be required when parents' rights to a sibling have been involuntarily terminated or when the parents have murdered or committed manslaughter of another child. In determining the reasonable efforts to be made, the child's health and safety must be the paramount concern.
Section 3. States Required to Initiate or Join Proceedings to Terminate Parental Rights for Certain Children in Foster Care
States would be required to file a termination of parental rights petition with the court in the case of a child under the age of 10 who has spent 18 out of the past 24 months in State foster care, with 3 notable exceptions; (1) the child is in the care of a relative, (2) there exists a compelling reason against moving to adoption, and (3) services have not been provided.
Section 4. Incentive Payments to States for Adoption
A per child incentive would be awarded to each State that increases its annual number of finalized adoptions from the foster care system above a base year. States would be eligible for $4,000 for each foster child with a finalized adoption, and an additional $2,000 for each special needs adoption. Funding for the adoption incentive program would be provided through a mandatory capped entitlement of $108 million over 5 years.
Section 5. Earlier Status Reviews and Permanency Hearings
The timetable for initial hearings for children removed from their homes would be shortened to 12 months. The hearing would be strengthened by the listing of the expected permanency outcomes including whether and when the child would be returned home or placed for adoption.
Section 6. Notice of Reviews and Hearings; Opportunity to be Heard
Foster parents and relatives providing foster care would be notified of reviews and permanency hearings regarding child placement and would be given the opportunity to be heard at these proceedings.
Section 7. Documentation of Reasonable Efforts to Adopt
States would have to document steps taken to find and finalize an adoptive or other permanent home for the child including placement in the custody of another fit and willing relative.
Section 8. Kinship Care
An Advisory Panel on Kinship Care would be appointed. The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services would prepare an initial report on kinship care which would be submitted to the panel. Based on the report and other information, the panel would submit recommendations to the Secretary that include suggested legislative changes in kinship care. Based on her initial report the panel's review of the report, the panel's recommendations, and other information and considerations, the Secretary would submit a formal report to Congress that would include legislative recommendations by November 1, 1998.
Section 9. Use of the Federal Parent Locator Service in Termination of Parental Rights Proceedings
The Federal Parent Locator Service would be authorized to be used by State child welfare agencies for the additional purpose of locating noncustodial parents to inform them of the termination of parental rights proceedings.
Section 10. Performance of States in Protecting Children
The Secretary, after consultation with several organizations, would develop a set of outcome measures that could be used to assess the performance of States in operating child welfare programs. Based on these outcome measures, the Secretary would develop a rating system that, beginning on May 1, 1999, and annually thereafter, she would use to prepare and publish a State report card evaluating the performance of every State. The report would include an analysis of the reasons for high and low performance by States, and recommendations for how State performance could be improved.
Section 11. Authority to Approve More Child Protection Demonstration Projects
The Secretary's authority to grant waiver projects would be expanded from 10 States to 15 States. These waivers would be limited to a duration of not more than five years, would have to be cost-neutral, and would have to include a rigorous evaluation,
Section 12. Technical Assistance
The Secretary would be authorized to spend $10 million annually for fiscal years 1998-2000 to provide technical assistance to States to promote adoption. The technical assistance would have to support the goal of encouraging more adoptions out of the foster care system when adoption promotes the best interests of children.
Section 13. Coordination of Substance Abuse and Child Protection Services
The Secretary would submit a report to the Committees on Ways and Means and Finance on the coordination of substance abuse intervention and child protection services. The report would have to be based on information from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Administration for Children and Families. The report, which would be due one year after enactment, would address the extent and scope of the problems of substance abuse in the child welfare population and similar issues.
Section 14. Effective Date
The amendments made by this Act would take effect on October 1, 1997. State plans under Title IV-B and IV-E of the Social Security Act would not be considered as failing to comply with the Act's provisions until after the close of the first regular session of the State legislature that begins after the date of enactment.