Grassley has worked during the last year as a senior member of the Finance Committee to help develop this reform bill. Grassley said his main goal has been to build incentives for states to increase adoptions and to break down the incentives in the existing system that lead to long-term, extended foster care at the expense of children who need permanent homes. Congress last sought major changes to the foster care and adoption system in 1980.
"The reform bill on its way to the President's desk will eliminate geographic restrictions facing adoptive families, encourage creative adoptive efforts and outreach, and ensure health care coverage for adopted special needs children," Grassley said. "With this legislation, Congress has said long-term foster care is not a solution for a child who needs a home. The bill takes the critical first steps toward complete reform of a broken-down system. It lays the cornerstone for continued improvements on behalf of the countless children left in limbo each year in the foster care system."
Grassley said he was inspired to seek substantive reform by children in the system today, whose comments were shared with him by the Iowa Citizen Foster Care Review Board. One child wrote, "Don't leave us in foster care so long." Another said, "Tell us what's going on so we don't have to guess. Tell us how long it will be before we're adopted and why things seem to take so long." A third child in foster care wrote, "It is scary to move from home to home, find us one good family where we can feel like a real member of the family."
Specifically, Grassley said he advocated and secured the following provisions in the comprehensive Adoption and Safe Families Act, which President Bill Clinton is expected to sign.
The bill prohibits discrimination by individual states and localities against parents located in another state or locality. "There is a mismatch between the location of children ready to be adopted and families willing to adopt," Grassley said. "Above all, these children need loving homes, and a state line should not get in the way of their well-being."
The bill requires states to make reasonable efforts to place each child who will not return to his or her original family in a permanent adoptive family. The vast majority of children waiting to be adopted are categorized as having ?special needs.' This includes older children, those with physical disabilities or special medical needs, and even children with a large number of siblings also in the foster care system. "Adoption organizations are finding homes for children and keeping waiting-lists for parents all over the country who are eager to adopt children regardless of their special needs. One adoption agency has a waiting-list of 100 families who are willing to adopt a child with Down's Syndrome, for example," Grassley said. "No child should be considered ?unadoptable.'"
The bill renames this program to the Promoting Adoptive, Safe, and Stable Families Program and increases federal funding by $50 million annually to support new adoption promotion and time-limited family reunification services. "To help ensure that new adoptive families are healthy and stay together, we will provide post-adoptive services and respite care. It's a proven approach. In states where post-adoption services are offered, the number of adoptive families that have trouble staying together is significantly lower," Grassley said.
The bill requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to recommend to Congress within six months a new incentive system based on state performance.
The bill establishes for foster and pre-adoptive parents the right to be given notice of custody hearings and the right to testify on behalf of the children in their care. "These parents have been in charge of the children 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so they are in one of the best positions to know the children's problems and represent the children's concerns. It is an important change to make as we seek to better represent the children's best interests," Grassley said.
Between 1985 and 1995, the number of children in foster care nationwide increased 80 percent, from 276,000 to 494,000. Since 1982, approximately 20,000 children nationwide have been adopted each year from the foster care system. Today, 500,000 children remain in foster homes indefinitely. The federal government plays a significant role in this process. Between $5 billion and $12 billion is spent each year for foster care through federal welfare and health care programs.
"Congress must continue to work for additional reforms to improve the lives of the half- million children waiting in foster care each year. We must strive to dramatically limit the amount of time a state can let a child spend in foster care by removing the financial incentives to keep children in foster care. A permanent, happy and loving home must be our goal for each and every child in America," Grassley said.
According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, Iowa ranked 13th best in the nation for its foster-care adoption rate in 1996, as nearly 44 percent of the state's eligible foster children were adopted.