Fostering Connections for Nebraska’s Children

In June, I blogged about the long-term outcomes for children who “age out” of foster care and the opportunity presented by the new federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act to extend foster care to children up to age 21.  While a number of important provisions in the Act focus on improving outcomes for older youth, this new law also includes provisions addressing a broad range of critical issues for all foster children.

For instance, the new law requires the state:

  • To make reasonable efforts to place siblings together or to provide visitation or other interaction among siblings;
  • To work with local education agencies to ensure that children are able to remain in the school in which they are enrolled at the time of placement in foster care or to ensure the transfer of the child’s educational records to the new school; and
  • To coordinate with the state’s Medicaid agency, pediatricians, and others to develop individualized plans for oversight and coordination for health care services of children in foster care.

The Fostering Connections Act also targets several priority issues that Appleseed has been working on at the local level.  First, the new law requires the state to exercise due diligence to identify and provide notice to adult relatives of the child within 30 days of removal.  Last year, Appleseed released a Policy Brief on the importance of identifying potential relative placements for children early in the process and worked with Sen. Dubas to introduce LB 1070 which prompted HHS to clarify their policies on this issue.

Second, perhaps one of the most significant provisions of the new law “delinks” a child’s qualification for federal adoption assistance from outdated income eligibility guidelines.  Recently, Appleseed published an article on Nebraska’s low reimbursement rate for federal matching funds for foster care assistance.  The article advocated that this rate could increase if the federal government provided assistance to children, as the state does, regardless of income.  This new law took a first step by eliminating income eligibility for adoption assistance and we hope Congress will do the same for foster care assistance.

Click here for a summary other key provisions of the Act.

The Fostering Connections Act has been hailed as the most significant federal child welfare reform in over a decade.  Now, advocates here in Nebraska must work to guarantee that the law is fully implemented locally.  In the coming weeks and months, Appleseed will be working with the Legislature, HHS, and attorneys to do just that.  While the Act doesn’t solve all of the problems that need to be addressed at the federal level in terms of foster care reform, it does represent a significant improvement on many issues that advocates have been seeking to address for years.  Nebraska children shouldn’t have to wait any longer.

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