Most administrators we spoke with described significant changes in their states as a result of ASFA, although a few administrators mentioned that their state had enacted similar legislation prior to ASFA and reported few changes after enactment of the federal law. Administrators described legislative changes to bring their policy, procedures, and reporting structure into compliance with ASFA and working at the county and local levels to implement new provisions. A number of people also told us that their states had passed legislation instituting timelines and had established policy and practices to facilitate faster permanency, such as concurrent planning, prior to the passage of ASFA.
Administrators reported a new impetus for permanency and meeting the new timelines. Many discussed moving backlog cases out of the foster care system by changing the goals to adoption and proceeding with TPR. As a result, there was a good deal of discussion about the expansion of adoption and how that has prompted the need for adoption expertise, increasing adoptive services and the size of adoption units, and budget changes to address adoption needs. Administrators reported changes ongoing in their states to focus on obtaining an increased number of adoptive parents (to meet the needs of TPR cases), efforts to use foster families as adoptive homes, broadening the geographic area for adoptive home consideration, and promoting adoption through state web sites.
Recognizing the need to make permanency decisions sooner, some administrators reported programmatic and administrative changes utilized to expedite permanency. A number of administrators spoke about changes to engage relatives in cases sooner, particularly in the case-planning process, and also reported a significant increase in the use of guardianship and kinship care arrangements as permanent and temporary placements for children.
Administrators mentioned the use of concurrent planning as a tool for permanency planning. Often, a child is placed with relatives in anticipation of custody or adoption at a later date, or the child is placed with foster parents who are prepared to take a child into their home on a permanent basis (often referred to as Fost-Adopt homes). Agency staff prefer these types of arrangements because it limits the number of placements the child must undergo prior to permanency. Some administrators noted that their states had begun concurrent planning on cases prior to ASFA, but that there has been a greater acceptance of the practice since ASFA implementation. Administrators also reported expanding the responsibilities of foster parents to have them work with birth parents for reunification purposes. In this role, foster parents can act as mentors to birth parents. However, this relationship can act also as an impetus for birth parents to give up rights to their child, believing that the foster parents would provide a better life for their child.
Administrators also said that ASFA has compelled their agencies to coordinate and collaborate with other agencies to expedite permanency for children, specifically discussing their work with service providers and the courts. One administrator believed that ASFA, by expediting permanency for children drifting in the system, placed an increased caseload burden on the courts. Another administrator said that the court had gotten quicker at expediting cases through the system.
There were a few brief comments about changes in services as well. Most comments on services seemed to focus on adapting family-driven services to meet expedited permanency requirements. One administrator mentioned that ASFA's push for permanency had compelled more intensive services to families in the state; another referred to training of staff to do a good family assessment early so that they could adequately address needs and services for families and expedite permanency. However, one administrator did say that in her opinion, ASFA had compelled her state to change from services being family-driven to child-driven.