Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) Frequently Asked Questions
What is AFCARS?
AFCARS is the only Federal national data set that collects case level information on all children in foster care and children adopted with the involvement of the title IV-E (child welfare) agency. The statute requires us to regulate this national data collection system to provide comprehensive case level information. Specifically, we must collect demographics on foster/adopted children and biological/foster/adoptive parents, the number of children entering/exiting foster care and awaiting adoption, and information on placements and permanency plan goals.
Who reports AFCARS and when do they report?
Title IV-E agencies report AFCARS data to the Children’s Bureau two times per year, in May and November. The data submitted reflects the child’s experience as of the end of the 6-month report period.
What is reported in AFCARS?
For children who are in foster care, title IV-E agencies report when and why the child entered foster care, demographics on the child and the individuals from whom the child was removed, characteristics on foster care placements, the child’s most recent case plan goal, and the reason the child exits foster care (for instance, the child was reunified or adopted). For children who are adopted, title IV-E agencies report on the child’s special needs, demographics on the adoptive family, and the adoption subsidy, if applicable.
How does the Children’s Bureau use AFCARS data?
AFCARS data allows the Children’s Bureau to draw national statistics about the foster care population and adoption population. AFCARS data is also used to develop budgets, to calculate payments for the Adoption Incentive Payments program, the Child Welfare Outcomes Annual Report, and to monitor States through the Child and Family Service Reviews (CFSR) and for the title IV-E review samples.
Why do we need to revise AFCARS?
AFCARS provides a fundamental understanding of a child’s foster care and adoption experience. However, the existing AFCARS regulation does not fully support our current data needs to understand a child’s entire experience in foster care and how it affects a child’s outcome. Additionally, the field of child welfare has changed significantly since AFCARS was first implemented in 1993 and there have been significant changes to the title IV-E program since then (for example, the Fostering Connections legislation provided for extensive changes to the title IV-E program, including a Federal guardianship assistance program and the ability for Indian Tribes, Tribal organizations and consortiums to operate title IV-E programs directly.)
What information do we propose to collect in this AFCARS NPRM?
- all children who are in foster care, including whether the child exits foster care to adoption or guardianship;
- children with title IV-E adoption assistance agreements or title IV-E guardianship assistance agreements; and
- new information in response to new provisions in title IV-E, including information on a child’s well-being, such as why a child changes schools, if the child is receiving timely health assessments, whether the child is receiving special education services and if a child has siblings who are in foster care with whom he/she may be living or siblings who exited foster care to adoption or guardianship.
In addition, we propose to collect certain historical data in a way that will permit longitudinal data analysis. This means that title IV-E agencies will report AFCARS data on the child’s experiences that cover the child’s entire foster care episode; not only the child’s status at the end of the six month report period as in the case with the current AFCARS.
What are the most important changes included in the NPRM?
The NPRM makes several important changes to the existing AFCARS regulations:
- Incorporate new requirements — The AFCARS NPRM will better support our current data needs to understand a child’s experience in foster care. Additionally, the NPRM will incorporate significant changes to the title IV-E program since AFCARS regulations were published in 1993, including extensive changes to title IV-E in the Fostering Connections legislation.
- Revised data structure — For the first time, we propose to require agencies to report historical information on children in out-of-home care allowing longitudinal analysis. This data combined with the proposed point-in-time data will provide comprehensive information on a child’s entire experience in foster care.
- Revised reporting populations — We propose to revise the reporting populations. For the first time, we propose to collect data on children with finalized title IV-E guardianship assistance agreements. Also, we propose that States collect information on children with finalized title IV-E adoption assistance agreements, rather than all children adopted and information on the foster care population similar to current practice.
- Data elements — We propose to keep and revise the vast majority of elements currently in AFCARS and add new data elements. The new data elements will allow us to obtain information about key provisions in Fostering Connections (e.g., educational well-being, timely health assessments, and transition plans). The new elements also will allow us to better understand the characteristics of children in foster care and provide better context for their outcomes.
- Penalty structure — We propose to apply the statutory penalty structure in law since 2003 to any title IV-E agency that is not in compliance with regulatory requirements.Department of Veterans Affairs
Why collect historical information for longitudinal analysis?
We believe the anticipated benefits of collecting historical information to conduct longitudinal analysis include:
- eliminating information gaps that exist in the current AFCARS data, which raise questions about the child’s experiences and make the data more difficult to analyze,
- collecting better information for the CFSRs or other Federal monitoring efforts, and
- increasing our ability to conduct sophisticated analysis on a child’s or groups of children’s experience in foster care.
What happens if a title IV-E agency does not report AFCARS data or reports poor quality data?
Currently, the title IV-E agency’s data must meet the data quality standards set in regulation, such as the information must be complete, must be submitted on time, and must be consistent. If a title IV-E agency fails to meet the standards, we provide technical assistance only and encourage agencies to correct and resubmit data. Under the proposed rule, we will still provide technical assistance to agencies and agencies must still resubmit data. However, the proposed regulation will implement the specific statutory penalty structure included in the law since 2003. If the agency does not resubmit or correct its data, we will apply the penalty provisions.
What penalty structure will be applied to AFCARS data?
The statute provides a specific penalty structure for AFCARS that applies to all title IV-E agencies. If the title IV-E agency submits data that does not meet regulatory standards, the NPRM proposes a 6 month opportunity for States and Tribes to correct and resubmit its AFCARS data. If the State’s or Tribe’s resubmitted data does not meet the regulatory standards, then the Children’s Bureau will apply a penalty amount of 1/6 of 1% of the State’s/Tribe’s title IV-E foster care administrative funds. An additional penalty of 1/4 of 1% is assessed for each subsequent report period the data is out of compliance.
Can the Children’s Bureau waive the penalty?
No. There is no flexibility in applying the penalty structure to all title IV-E agencies which has been in law since 2003.