A bipartisan trio of senators are pushing a bill to provide funding and resources for onboarding every state to electronic data—sharing systems for interstate foster placements and adoptions.
The Modernizing Interstate Placement of Children in Foster Care Act would speed up interstate placements, giving children stable homes faster, according to sponsors Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Todd Young (R-IN), and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY).
Many state foster care agencies rely on outdated paper systems to process and approve foster care and adoption placements, both in-state and across state lines. While states spend thousands of dollars on copying and mailing, a child’s placement in a loving, stable home is delayed as forms are processed and sent back and forth by mail. In larger states, interstate placements done on paper can take as long as six months to a year to process.
The legislation incentivizes states to join the National Electronic Interstate Compact Enterprise, a cloud-based system that allows states to share information electronically between their databases. The nonprofit American Public Human Services Association, funded by a grant from the Office of Management and Budget’s Children’s Office, operates the NEICE.
Since 2013, in the six pilot states where NEICE has been implemented, placement times were reduced from 20 to 40 percent, depending on the type of placement. “That kind of result can certainly impact permanency outcomes,” said Anita Light, Director of Practice Innovation and Grant Development at APHSA. “The [paper] system is really archaic, which is why the NEICE is so wonderful,” said Light. “It eliminates all that paperwork.”
With the success of the pilot, APHSA’s grant was extended to a three-year, $3.6 million grant to get as many states as possible on board. The grant runs through May 2018 and covers APHSA’s development costs for extending the program to all 50 states, as well as the technical onboarding for each state. The proposed Senate legislation provides an additional $5 million for states’ IT development for switching to the system, as well as state licensing and training costs. Eventually, depending on funding, there will be an annual $25,000 licensing cost per state.
“Throughout the country, caseworkers often avoid exploring out of state placements because of the long delays in processing the paperwork. Our bill gives incentives to states to join the NEICE system and streamline the paperwork to make foster care placements and eventual adoption happen faster. The more we can do to give children safe, stable homes, the better. The increased displacement of kids due to parental substance abuse, including opioid abuse, makes this cause especially important,” said Sen. Grassley in a statement.
Grassley’s home state of Iowa is one of about 18 states that isn’t yet using the NEICE but plans to join. Currently 16 states already use the system, and about 12 more are considering joining.
In Nebraska, implementing the new system helped share data not only with other states but also among the state’s own staff, speeding up home study reports. Within six months of joining the NEICE, Nebraska went from completing 59 percent of home study requests within 60 days to completing 73 percent within the same timeframe. “By completing home studies more timely, children were approved to go to safe and nurturing homes in Nebraska much quicker,” Stacy Scholten, Service Delivery Administrator for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email.
Not every state has jumped on board. While the NEICE has already benefited several states, for some the cost and complication of switching to an electronic system are a hindrance.
Wyoming has not signed on to the program. With a relatively small 600 cases per year, the program may not be cost-effective, according to Maureen Clifton, of the state’s Department of Family Services. By comparison, Nebraska expects to have about 1,200 requests this year.
The Modernizing the Interstate Placement of Children in Foster Care Act requires a publicly available evaluation of the NEICE within one year of the funds being awarded. The Senate Committee on Finance must pass the bill before it goes to the full Senate for a vote.