Child welfare newsletter january2011

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January 2011


NCSL can help state child welfare systems develop strategies to safely reduce the number of children in foster care through:


One way states are working to safely reduce the number of children in foster care is by lowering the number of children who enter into state care to begin with. States are doing this by no longer requiring the relinquishment of parental rights in order to obtain mental health services for children and by defining child maltreatment more clearly.

Relinquishment of Parental Rights

In many states, parents must choose between securing the intensive mental health treatment their child needs and maintaining custody. When families are un¬insured or have exhausted their private insurance benefits, mental health providers and public child welfare agency staff often advise parents that relinquishing custody of their child to the state is the only way to obtain the intensive mental health services their children need. According to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, statutes in Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin prohibit the public child welfare agency from requiring re¬linquishment of parental custody in order to obtain mental health services for children.

Definitions of Child Maltreatment

State lawmakers can safely reduce the number of children entering foster care by ensuring that only children who require the protection of foster care enter care. This can be achieved by clearly defining “child abuse,” “child neglect,” “safety risk” and “safety threat” so that child wel¬fare agencies have specific guidance on what parental actions constitute child maltreatment. Oklahoma amended legislation (2009 OK HB 1734) regarding when a child can be taken into custody before a petition is filed to only when there is reasonable suspicion that “the child is in need of immediate protection due to an imminent safety threat or the circumstances or surroundings of the child are such that continu¬ation in the child’s home or in the care or custody of the parent, legal guardian, or custodian is an im¬minent safety threat to the child.”


President Bush signed into law the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (H.R. 6893/P.L. 110-351) on October 7, 2008. It helps connect foster children with their relatives, improves the health care and education coordination for foster children, supports permanent families through relative guardianship, and enhances adoption subsidies and supports to older youth in foster care.

Click here for information on Fostering Connections related bills that were introduced in 2010.
Click here for information on Fostering Connections related legislation that was enacted in 2009.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families has released its annual report on child abuse and neglect. “Child Maltreatment 2009” marks the 20th issuance of the report and shows a steady decrease in the number of victims of maltreatment for the third consecutive year. Data collected through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, a voluntary data collection system, show an estimated 763,000 children were victims of child abuse and neglect, at a rate of 10.1 per 1,000 children. Data from states continue to indicate the greatest proportion of children suffered from neglect. And, the 87,612 child victims younger than 1 year old, had the highest rate of victimization, at 20.6 per 1,000 children.

Click here to read the full report, “Child Maltreatment 2009.”


Nationally, in 2009, approximately 424,000 children lived in foster care. Although foster care is intended to serve as a temporary placement for children who have been abused or neglected until a permanent, safe family can be found, this does not always happen. In 2009, nearly 80 percent of the children leaving foster care at the age of 18 exited to emancipation and had no permanent family.

In response to the challenges older youth experience while in foster care, many states are working to move children to permanent homes as quickly as possible—primarily through reunification, subsidized guardianship or adoption. State officials continue to look for ways to address the problems facing older youth in foster care.

For more specific information on how states are reducing the number of older youth in foster care safely, click here to read the special edition NCSL December newsletter on the challenges and opportunities of serving older youth in the foster care system.

And, to read more on older youth in foster care, click here for the report, “The Transition to Adulthood: How States can Support Older Youth in Foster Care,” prepared by the National Governors Association, Center for Best Practices.



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