Child Welfare Placement Compact Has More Checks and Balances

Nancy Traver
March 1, 1998

The ICPJ is not the only interstate compact to draw criticism in recent years. Another compact, this one called the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC), provides for out-of-state placement of children for adoption or for others who have not been adjudicated.

Like the ICPJ, the ICPC is an agreement between the 50 states and U.S. territories. The American Public Welfare Association serves as secretariat for the ICPC.

Betsy Rosenbaum, director of family and child welfare services at the APWA, explains that the ICPC is a system of state laws, rather than one federal law. “This is an important step in addressing interstate issues. It’s a bridge, if you will, between two states. It allows you to carry out your laws in other states.

The compact was written in 1960 by administrators in the Northeast, she says, who were concerned about the movement of kids across state lines. “Regulations between states before the ICPC were haphazard and unenforceable. They simply didn’t work. There was dumping and the situation was not very healthy for kids,” she said.

Under the ICPC, sending states ask receiving states to complete home studies and detailed assessments before a child can be moved. But there are some who say it is this assessment and its built-in delays — that weakens the system. And they say there are no penalties for failure to follow the compact.

The compact also applies to parents who are attempting to place their children in what are known as “wilderness camps” in another state. Before the child is transferred, the receiving treatment home or camp must be a licensed facility.

Dave Pitkin, director of Skyland Ranch, a camp for young recovering substance abusers in Washington State, tells of a mother in Modesto, Calif., who was trying to place her son in the camp in 1994. It took 11 days to complete the necessary paperwork. In that time, the boy committed a crime and entered the juvenile justice program in California. Says Pitkin, “The system is too slow, too bureaucratic. There’s no motivation for the sending state to act quickly. The paperwork just sits on someone’s desk.”

Skyland Ranch was charged with a number of minor health and safety violations by the state’s human services department. Today, Pitkin opens his ranch to recovering adult substance abusers.

Compact administrators say the ICPC’s requisite investigative work has saved some children from being placed with adults who could have abused or neglected them. Says Ann Lundeen, ICPC administrator from Washington, “The compact serves the purpose. It’s real valuable, much more so for children who are adopted or those placed back with their parents.”

She noted that her state’s regulations call for six months of monitoring after a placement; under the ICPC, receiving states must perform six months of home studies in compliance with Washington’s requirements.

But other cases have drawn criticism.

  • In Boston, an 11-year-old girl whose father allegedly paid his friends to rape her was to be sent to Antigua to live with the mother who abandoned her at birth. The interstate compact would have provided for the placement. Law enforcement officials complained that the plan would have provided for no follow-up, no supervision and no guarantee of counseling. The placement was halted when a state senator intervened.
  • In New York, a 10-year-old girl was finally returned home from Florida to her father, after a year of waiting. Compact administrators complained that the process of moving her was mired in bureaucracy. Her home study was delayed for months.
  • In New York, authorities attempted to stop a man suspected of sexual abuse from adopting more children. They were powerless to act when officials in Ohio and Pennsylvania violated the ICPC and sent two children to his home.
  • In Florida, a treatment home for autistic children went unlicensed by the state for years because it imported children from other states, under government contracts. It accepted no children from Florida. Former employees reported the children there were mistreated.

Rosenbaum acknowledged “there are problems with the compact and it’s not 100 percent fail safe.” Like the ICPJ, the ICPC deals with children who have much more serious emotional problems now than in 1960 when the law was drafted, she noted.

A step was taken last year to speed up adoptions and speedy placements of hard-to-place children, under a bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton. The Promotion of Adoption, Safety and Support for Abused and Neglected Children Act rewards states that increase the number of adoptions with a bonus of $3,000 for each safe adoption of foster children and a $6,000 bonus for each adoption of children with special needs. The bill also provides health insurance for all children adopted with special needs.
Under the bill, states must initiate proceedings to terminate parental rights after a child has been in foster care for 15 of the previous 22 months. States may not postpone or deny adoption while looking for an in-state placement when a suitable out-of-state adoption is possible. States are required to make criminal records checks for prospective foster or adoptive parents.

Traver, Nancy. "Child Welfare Placement Compact Has More Checks and Balances." Youth Today, March/April 1998, p. 13.

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