Interstate Compacts, which are agreements between states, have existed since the founding of the United States; and, when adopted, they are protected by Article 1 Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution. They allow two or more states or jurisdictions, without involving the federal government, to work together more cooperatively than if there were no agreement on a matter that impacts the jurisdictions. The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) is just one of many Interstate Compacts that exist today.
The ICPC was intended to ensure protection and services for foster and adoptive children placed across state lines. It has 10 Articles and 12 Regulations, and unless all jurisdictions agree to adopt a new ICPC Article or to amend an existing Article, the current ICPC Articles cannot be changed. Changes to the ICPC do come, however, through regulations adopted by the Association of Administrators of the ICPC (AICPC) and by court decisions in individual states that interpret the ICPC. To help you understand how the ICPC process can work, I have included with this article a diagram of how it works in Virginia. While it is not necessarily the exact way it works in all jurisdictions, it is generally a fair representation of how the ICPC home study process should work in many states.
For the purposes of this article, I will talk about the ICPC process as it relates to the states, but know that all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and some other jurisdictions have adopted the ICPC. Since its adoption starting in the 1960, states in recent times have struggled with implementing it effectively. For those of you who were in foster care if there was an effort to move you from one ICPC state to another while you were in care, you were in all likelihood impacted by the ICPC.
The challenges with the ICPC home study approval process are too numerous to list in their entirety here but include such things as delays in entering and processing court orders, incomplete ICPC paperwork, paperwork that is lost or misplaced, lack of sufficient agency or court staffing, unequal movement of children between states, availability of services for the child and family, and from the point of view of many, inappropriate denials of placement. The list goes on. In summary, the ICPC continues to fail children and their families. Because of these delays many children unnecessarily wait unreasonable periods of time for a decision on whether they may move to a permanent placement in another state while the process in too many cases takes its time.
In recent years the AAICPC has met and reformed the ICPC regulations in order to help reduce delay and improve the efficiencies and effectiveness of the Interstate home study process. In addition families, courts, and national organizations have over the years urged improvements in the process. There is currently pending an effort to create a new ICPC that requires passage by at least 35 states before it can become effective. See www.aphsa.org/Policy/icpc_rewrite.htm.
The new ICPC has been available for adoption by the states since 2006, but since only 12 jurisdictions have passed it so far and it is currently pending consideration in only 2 other states as of April 2013, the likelihood of its being adopted and implemented in the near future is unlikely. To learn more about the new ICPC, you can read an article that I wrote about it for the January 2007 ABA Child law Practice, which can be found at icpc.aphsa.org/Home/Doc/Rideout_on_new_ICPC.pdf.
As in most similar situations, there are solutions for ICPC challenges that can, if people work together, resolve or minimize delays in permanency for children involved in the ICPC home study and approval process. One reason that the ICPC process is now an impediment to permanency is that child welfare has changed dramatically since the ICPC was adopted while the ICPC and how it has been implemented, until recently, has changed very little.
Now, thanks to the AAICPC and the leadership of Steve Pennypacker of Florida there are new regulations that allow the movement of certain younger children and sibling groups more quickly through the process. Also in an effort to impact the ICPC process, the federal government passed the Safe and Timely Interstate Placement of Foster Children Act of 2006, P.L. 109-239; and just recently the Children’s Bureau at HHS announced that it has funded a pilot effort to support the exchange the ICPC documents electronically to help reduce the time that it takes to complete home studies.
Historically, the courts in many states and jurisdictions had little or no ability to impact the ICPC process. In the mid-1990’s the AAICPC modified one of its regulations that allowed for expedited home studies of infants and toddlers, but until the recent changes to the ICPC regulations mentioned above, the delays in the ICPC home study process simply grew longer and more complicated.
The American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the Conference of Chief Justices have all urged change to the ICPC process with little success. Recently a new initiative has begun to enact the same or a similar statute in all ICPC states and jurisdictions that will allow for greater judicial involvement in the ICPC process when it is delayed that will, hopefully, help ensure speedier decisions for children. You will have a chance to read more about that effort next month and what you can do to help support it.