Permanency Hearings for Foster Children

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-01-30.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States
GAO   GeneraIAccountingOfSCice

      Health, Education and Human Services Division


       January 30, 1997

       The Honorable E. Clay Shaw, Jr.
       Chairman, Subcommittee on
        Human Resources
       Committee on Ways and Means
       House of Representatives

       Dear Mr. Chairman

       Prom fscal year 1984 through 1995, the US. foster care population grew from
       an estimated 276,000 children to 494,000.’ In 1995, about 261,000 of these
       children were supported by federal funds through title IV-E of the Social
       Security Act at a total cost of almost $3.1 billion. The Congressional Budget
       Office estimates the federal foster care caseload will increase almost 26 percent
       between fiscal years 1996 and 2001, with an annual federal cost in 2001 of
       almost $4.8 billion.

       To prevent children from remaining in foster care indefinitely, fedeial law
       requires that a permanency hearing, which determines the future status of the
       child, must be held within 18 months after a child enters foster care. Options
       for the child’s future status can include, but are not limited to, reunifying the
       child with his or her family, continuing foster care for a specified period,
       placing the child for adoption, or continuing foster care on a permanent or
       long-term basis because of the child’s special needs or circumstances. This
       hearing must be held by a family or juvenile court or another court of
       competent jurisdiction, or by an administrative body appointed or approved by
       the court. Although the hearing must be held, the law does not require that a
       final decision on the status of the child be made. If a final decision is not
       made, additional hearings must be held at least every 12 months.

       ‘The American Public Welfare Association estimated these numbers on the
       basis of data voluntarily reported by the states; it designated the 1995 number
       as preliminary.
             GAO/HEHS-97-55R.         Permanency      Hearings   for   Foster   Children

As part of an ongoing review for you of state efforts to permanently place
foster children more quickly, we have developed a summary of state laws
regarding permanency hearings. You asked us to provide information on those
states that have changed their statutes to require that permanency hearings be
held earlier than required by federal law. To develop this information, we
reviewed pertinent state legislation and policies of the 50 states and the District
of Columbia and discussed those laws and state policies with state legal and
child welfare officials. State laws vary widely in the terms they use for various
hearings. In cases in which state law did not specifically identify a hearing as a
permanency hearing, we asked for further clarification from state officials. If
we determined that the state law was consistent with the federal requirement,
we treated the hearing as a permanency hearing. We did our work between
January 1996 and January 1997 in accordance with generally accepted
government auditing standards.

In summary, our analysis shows that 23 states require a permanency hearing to
be held earlier than the federal l&month requirement, with a majority of these
states requiring it within 12 months. In 2 of the 23 states, the shorter time
frame applies only to younger children. See the enclosure for information on
each of the 23 states.

We have verified this information with state officials.

As agreed with your office, we will make this correspondence available to
interested parties upon request. If you have any questions about this
information, please call me on (202) 512-7215. Other major contributors
included Gale Harris, David Bellis, SheUee Soliday, Julian Khrzkin, and Rathi

Sincerely yours,

Jane L. Ross
Director, Income Security Issues


2     GAO/HERS-97-55R'       Permanency      Hearimgs.for     Foster    Children
ENCLOSURE                                                                                ENCLOSURE

                                (AS OF DECEMBER 31. 1996)

    itate                                          State law citation

                     I12 months    I1995           IAriz. Rev. Stat. Ann., Section   8-515-C.
                                                    (West Supp. 1996)
    Colorado         6and18            1994         Colo. Rev. Stat., Section 19-3-702(l) (Supp.
                     monthsb                        1996)
    >onnecticut      12 months         1995         Corm. Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 46b-129(d),(e)
                                                    (West 1995)
    seorgia          12 months         1996         Ga. Code Ann. Section 15-11-419(j),(k) (1996
    Uinois           16 months         1993         705 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 405/2-22(5), (West
                                                    Supp. 1996)       -
    ndiana           12 months         1996         Ind. Code Ann Section 31-6419(c)(Michie
                                                    Supp. 1996)
    owa               12 months    1987             Ipwa Code Ann. Section 232.104 (West 1994:
    :ansas            12 months    1994”            Kan. Stat. Ann. Section 3&1565(b),(c) (1995)
                     112 months    11991           b Ch. Code Ann. arts. 702,710 (West 1995)
                                   1988                     Stat. Ann. Section 27.3178(598.19a)
                                                            Coop. Supp. 1996)
    !linnesota        12 months     1993            Minn. Stat. Ann. Section 260.191 Subd. 3b
                     I             I               I(West Supp. 1997)
    lississippi      112 months    j198Se          IMiss. Code Ann. Section 43-21-613 (3) (1993:
    Tew York         I12 months    11989           lN.Y. Jud. Law Section 1055(b) (McKinney
                                                   Isupp. 1997)
    Phi0             12 months     1989             Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Sections 2151.353(F),
                                                    2151.415(A) (Anderson 1994)
    ‘ennsylvania     6 months      1986             42 Pa Cons. Stat Ann. Section 6351(e-g)
                                                   l(West Supp. 1996)
    !hode Island     112months     11985           1R.I. Gen. Laws. Section 40-11-12.1 11990)

3                   GAO/REHS-97-j5R.          Permanency     Hearings     for   Foster     Children
ENCLOSURE                                                                           EtiCLOSURE
    South Carolina 12 months      1983         S.C. Code Ann. Section 20-7-766 (Law. Coop
                                               Supp. 1996)
    Utah            16 months     1995         Utah Code Ann. Section 783a-312(1996)
    Virginia        12 months’    1994         Va. Code Ann., Section 16.1-282 (Michie
    Washington      12 and 18     1994         Wash. Rev. Code Ann. Section
                    monthsg                    13.34.145(3),(4) (West Supp. 1997)
    West Virginia   12 months     1984h        W.Va. Code, Sections 49-6-5,49-6-8 (1996)
    Wisconsin       12 months     1981’        Wis. Stat. Ann. Sections: 48.355 (4); 48.365
                                               (5), 48.38 (West 1987)
    Wyoming         12 months     1995         Wyo. Stat. Ann. Section 146-229 (k) (Michie
                                               Supp. 1996)

“Generally, a permanency hearing must be held within the indicated number of months
after the child enters foster care.

bColorado law requires that for children under age 6, the permanency hearing must be
held within 6 months of the dispositional hearing. The time frame to hold the
permanency hearing was calculated by adding the days needed to conduct the
adjudicatory, dispositional, and permanency planning hearings. This expedited
procedures program will be implemented on a county-by-county basis and will be fully
implemented in the state by June 30,2004. For children aged 6 and older, the
permanency hearing is held within. 18 months of placement.

The year the law was enacted was provided by the Kansas Foster Care Manager, Children
and Family Services.

    dMichigan’s time frame to hold the permanency hearing was calculated by adding the days
    needed to conduct the preliminary hearing, trial, dispositional hearing, and permanency

    The year the law was enacted was provided by Mississippi’s Program Administiator,
    Foster Care Review Unit, Division of Family and Children Services.

    fvirginia’s time frame to hold the permanency hearing was calculated by adding the
    number of months required to file the petiqon to hold the permanency hearing plus the
    number of days within which the court is required to schedule the hearing.

    4               GAO/HEHS-97-55R.       Permanency    Hearings    for   Foster     Children
ENCLOSURE                                                                       ENCLOSURE

gWashington’s law requires the permanency hearing to be held no later than 12 months
after a child is placed in foster care for children 10 years old and under. For children
over 10, the permanency hearing must be held no later than 18 months after a child is
placed in foster care.

the year the law was enacted was provided by West Virginia’s Assistant Attorney
General assigned to Health and Human Services.

‘The year the law was enacted was provided by Wisconsin’s Foster Care Specialist,
Bureau for Children, Youth and Families.


5              GAOIHEHS-97-&R.        Permanency     Hearings    for   Foster    Children

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