U.S. Is Set to Closely Track

Welfare Agencies for Child Abuse The federal government will closely monitor state child welfare agencies for the first time, holding them accountable if children are abused or neglected in foster care and making sure permanent foster homes are found quickly.

New rules that take effect in March give the Department of Health and Human Services much broader monitoring responsibility over state agencies that provide foster care, adoption and family services to low-income children.

Instead of reviewing case files, which it had done in the past, the department will do on-site reviews. The department will seek extensive information about instances of child abuse in foster care homes and efforts to recruit adoptive parents and interview children, parents and foster parents.

HHS will also monitor states' adherence to new rules barring discrimination against adoptive or foster care parents seeking to adopt children of another race.

The department can withhold as much as 14 percent of a state's federal funds each year if agencies are doing a poor job ensuring child safety and haven't corrected problems. However, the penalties won't be taken from money that goes to foster families caring for children.

The rules, announced yesterday, underpin new foster care and adoption laws that put child safety ahead of family preservation. The laws were passed because of concerns over cases of gross abuse and neglect in foster care homes supervised by state agencies.

More than 540,000 children are in foster care--many removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect. Most return to their parents, but more than 100,000 stay in foster care. Many of these children need special assistance in finding homes because they are older or have disabilities.

The costs are shared by the federal government and the states. Last year the federal share was estimated at $4 billion, with states paying $3.5 billion.

HHS will review agencies in 10 states this year and an additional 17 states in 2001. States out of compliance must correct problems within two years.

High Court Expands Review of States

And Federal Disabilities Law The Supreme Court yesterday expanded its review of whether state employees are protected by a key federal anti-discrimination law, the Americans With Disabilities Act.

In a brief order, the justices added an Arkansas dispute to a Florida case granted review Friday. The two cases will be argued together in April, and a decision is expected by July.

At issue is whether Congress exceeded its power by giving all state employees the right to sue in federal court over the ADA. Depending on how broadly the justices choose to rule on the law and states' 11th Amendment immunity from being sued in federal courts, the court's ruling could determine whether anyone can invoke the ADA to sue a state over alleged bias based on a disability.

In a Jan. 11 decision, the justices barred all state employees across the nation from going into federal court to sue over age bias, whittling away more of the federal government's power over states.