About the Law

Description of the Law

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 became Public Law 110-351 on October 7, 2008.  Experts hail it as the most significant and far-reaching reform to federal child welfare policy in more than ten years. The new law aims to promote permanency and improved outcomes for children in foster care through policy changes in six key areas: 1) support for kinship care and family connections, 2) support for older youth, 3) coordinated health services, 4) improved educational stability and opportunities, 5) incentives and assistance for adoption, and 6) direct access to federal resources for Indian Tribes.  

Support for kinship care and family connection

The Act provides new support for relatives caring for foster children.  This includes a state option for federal reimbursement under Title IV-E for guardianship assistance payments; requirements for state to provide relatives with notice of the placement of a related child in foster care; codification of existing federal guidance permitting flexibility in foster care licensing for relatives; requirements for states to make reasonable efforts to keep siblings together in foster care; and grants to support family connections. 

Support for older youth

More than 29,000 children "age out" of the foster care system each year without achieving permanency through reunification, adoption, or guardianship.  Under prior law, Title IV-E reimbursable foster care (and adoption assistance payments) could not be made after a child turned 18.  In addition, foster care payments could only be made on behalf of children in "a foster family home or child-care institutions." 

Fostering Connections includes provides new supports and services to promote permanency and improved wellbeing of older youth in foster care.  These include a state option to continue providing Title IV-E reimbursable foster care, adoption, or guardianship assistance payments to children after the age of 18; a requirement that personal transition plans for youth aging out are developed within 90 days prior to youth exiting foster care; extending eligibility for Independent Living Program services to children adopted or placed in kinship guardianship at age 16 or older; and extending eligibility for education and training vouchers to children who exit foster care to kinship guardianship at age 16 or older (those adopted after age 16 were already eligible).

Ensuring improved outcomes for foster youth in education and health

Under prior law, states were required to maintain case plans for children in foster care that contained, "to the extent available and accessible," the health and educational records of the child, including the names of providers, the child's grade level performance, the child's school records, assurances that a child's placement in foster care took into account proximity to the child's school of origin, a record of the child's immunizations, known medical problems, medications taken, and other relevant health and educational information.  

Education:  The Fostering Connections Act builds on prior law by adding a new requirement that case plans ensure the educational stability of the child in foster care and by also requiring Title IV-E state plans show that each child receiving a Title IV-E foster care, adoption or guardianship payment is a full-time school student, or is incapable of attending school due to a documented medical condition.

Health: The Fostering Connections Act builds on prior law by adding a new requirement for states to develop a plan for the ongoing oversight and coordination of health services for children in foster care.

Incentives and assistance for adoptions

In 2006, more than 50,000 children were adopted from foster care. However, this represented less than half of the children that were "free" for adoption.  Since 1997, the federal government has provided states with incentives to increase the number of children adopted from foster care. In 1996, Congress also enacted legislation to promote the adoption of foster children in the U.S. through the provision of a nonrefundable tax credit.  The Act promotes increases in adoption in several ways.  These include de-linking adoption assistance eligibility from criteria related to the now defunct Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program; extending and expanding the Adoption Incentives program; and requiring states to inform prospective adoptive parents of the federal adoption tax credit available to support the adoption of special needs children.

Access to federal assistance for Indian Tribes 

Under previous law, Indian Tribes could not access federal Title IV-E funds to administer their own foster care or adoption assistance programs, but instead had to have an agreement with a state government to access IV-E funds.  More than half of the federally recognized tribes currently do not have such an agreement.  The Act offers new federal supports to Tribes and protections for American Indian children.  Effective 10/09, subject to HHS approval, Indian Tribes or Tribal consortia are permitted to directly operate Title IV-E programs.  Tribes are now also eligible to receive direct allocations of federal funds from the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program.  The Act allows states and Tribes to continue to operate or create Tribal/state agreements to administer the IV-E program.  In addition, the Act requires HHS to provide technical assistance and implementation services to Tribes seeking to operate Title IV-B and IV-E programs or enter into cooperative agreements with States under the new provisions of the Act.  Finally, HHS is authorized to make one-time grants of up to $300,000 to Tribes that apply for funding to assist in developing a Title IV-E plan to implement a Title IV-E program directly.

Increased federal reimbursement for training of workforce (Sec. 203). 

The Act expands the availability of federal Title IV-E training dollars by allowing states to seek enhanced reimbursement (75 percent rate) for costs associated with training private agencies (prior law allowed reimbursement at the administration rate of 50 percent), which are defined as "state-licensed or state approved child welfare agencies providing services," as well as court personnel, attorneys, guardian ad litems, court appointed special advocates, and prospective relative guardians as well as foster and adoptive parents.   Funding for this provision is phased in over 5 years.