The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report, “Child Welfare: More Information and Collaboration Could Promote Ties Between Foster Care Children and Their Incarcerated Parents” in response to a request by Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Charles Rangel (D-NY). The report covers available data on the number of children in care with incarcerated parents, policies and agency strategies for improving these families’ connections, and recommendations for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to improve assistance to agencies working with this population.
The report acknowledges that while the number of children in care with an incarcerated parent is not currently counted, it encompasses, at a minimum, 8% of children in care. Therefore, GAO recommends that HHS consider incorporating a data element regarding children’s family circumstances into the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). GAO also recommends that HHS more centrally organize web-based information on this topic and provide additional resources on promising practices. As a foundation, policies and services identified in the report, include among others, timeline extensions for permanency decisions, cross-agency protocols and training, liaison staff positions, transportation assistance and comfortable visiting environments for children, and virtual communication tools for visits and to enable parents to participate in court procedures.
The report included recommendations for the DOJ to include activities that would assist in the sharing of promising practices between agencies. It is also recommended that DOJ direct the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to develop protocols for corrections agencies to answer caseworkers questions, direct their requests, facilitate parental participation in child welfare processes, and where possible designate a liaison for these activities.
HHS and DOJ have agreed to the recommendations and remain committed to working together within the Federal Interagency Reentry Council. While the data is unclear about the size of the population affected by involvement in both agencies, the report makes clear that the agencies’ relative collaboration makes a big difference to affected families.