The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) collects case level information on all children in foster care for whom the title IV-E agency has responsibility for placement, care or supervision and on children who are adopted under the auspices of the agency’s public child welfare agency.
AFCARS was created, in part, due to concerns raised about the lack of national information available on children in foster care, their families, foster care settings and adopted children. In 1986, Congress amended title IV-E of the Social Security Act (the Act) by adding section 479, which requires the Federal government to institute a foster care and adoption data collection system. In response to the law, requirements for States to report adoption and foster care data to a Federal system (known as AFCARS) were implemented under Federal regulations at 45 CFR 1355.40. The AFCARS collects case level information on all children in foster care for whom the State child welfare agency has responsibility for placement, care or supervision and on children who are adopted under the auspices of the State’s public child welfare agency. The data required by AFCARS is information that would normally be collected during the course of a social worker’s assessment, planning, and service provision, so that additional information does not need to be collected solely for the purpose of meeting AFCARS requirements.
ACF uses AFCARS data for a number of reasons, including:
- responding to Congressional requests for current data on children in foster care or those who have been adopted;
- responding to questions and requests from other Federal departments and agencies, including the General Accounting Office (GAO), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the DHHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), national advocacy organizations, States, and other interested organizations;
- short and long-term budget projections;
- trend analyses and short and long-term planning;
- targeting areas for greater or potential technical assistance efforts, for discretionary service grants, research and evaluation, and regulatory change;
- determining and assessing outcomes for children and families.
Additionally, the AFCARS data are used specifically in the:
- Adoption Incentives Program;
- Child Welfare Outcomes Report;
- Child and Family Services (CFS) Reviews;
- Title IV-E Eligibility Reviews; and
- Allotment of funds in the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP).
States are required to submit AFCARS data semi-annually to ACF in accordance with 45 CFR 1355.40.1These data submissions are subject to a minimal number of edit checks, as listed in Appendix E of 45 CFR 1355. These edit checks are only able to determine substantial compliance for:
- the timely submission of the data files,
- the timeliness of data entry of certain data elements, and
- whether the data meets a 90% level of tolerance for missing data and internal consistency.
As such, these edit checks are an important first step to quality data. However, substantial compliance does not inform us whether or not a State’s information system satisfies all of the requirements in the Federal regulations, or if the State is submitting accurate and reliable data to ACF. This explains why in the past a State may have been penalty free yet still needed to improve its AFCARS data for accuracy, reliability and quality. For example, the edit checks cannot assess the data to determine whether the State submitted data on the correct foster care population for the correct time period required by the regulations. Also, the edit checking utility cannot determine if the State has correctly coded information to the AFCARS values.
Complementing the AFCARS reporting is Federal support for the development of SACWIS. At the same time that the final rule on AFCARS was issued, regulations at 45 CFR 1355.50-56 were published implementing section 474(a)(3)(C) and (now revised) provided funding for Federal fiscal years (FFY) 1994 – 19962 for development of SACWIS to support the States’ programs under titles IV-B and IV-E of the Act. Enhanced funding at a 75% match rate was made available to the States for the planning, design, development, and installation of statewide child welfare systems. In order to qualify for SACWIS funding, States’ systems must, among other things, meet the AFCARS requirements in 45 CFR 1355.40. States that develop a SACWIS with enhanced Federal funding must not collect the AFCARS data from a separate information system once the SACWIS is operational.
1AFCARS report periods are based on the Federal fiscal year. Report periods are October 1 - March 31 (data are due by May 15) and April 1 - September 30 (data are due by November 14). 2The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-193) extended enhanced funding through FY 1997.
AFCARS Training & Technical Assistance
As a part of its ongoing commitment to meeting its goals, the NRC-CWDT is pleased to offer technical assistance around AFCARS. In addition to giving Title IV-E agencies a better understanding of its child welfare practice, the AFCARS data are used for a number of purposes by the Federal government. Those uses include the Annual Child Welfare Report to Congress, the data profile related to the Child and Family Services Reviews, and funding allocations for the Chafee Independent Living Program and the Adoption Incentive Program. NRC-CWDT can work with each State or Tribe to meet its specific needs.
The NRC-CWDT is pleased to offer a wide range of technical assistance and products to improve the collection, reporting, data quality and use of AFCARS data. To inquire about technical assistance, please contact us at email@example.com or call at: 703-263-2024.