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Step 4 - Determination of Substantial Conformity

Following the on-site review, the state and Administration for Children and Families (ACF) will determine jointly whether the state is in substantial conformity with the IV-B and IV-E state plan requirements. ACF will examine quantitative indicators from the self-assessment and data indicators and the qualitative observations from the case reviews and interviews when determining whether a state is in substantial conformity. Preliminary findings will be issued at the exit conference from the on-site review.

Four sources of information are used to determine substantial conformity:

  1. The state's Adoption Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS) and National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Systems (NCANDS) data for foster care, adoption and child protective services is compared to national standards;
  2. Narrative information on outcomes and systemic factors;
  3. Case Specific qualitative information and family interviews on outcomes; and
  4. Interviews with non-case-specific state and local community representatives on outcomes and systemic factors.

In order for a state to be determined in substantial conformity: 

Determination of substantial conformity for Outcomes 

  • For outcomes with data indicators, a state must meet both the national standard (75th percentile) and substantially achieve the outcomes in 90% of the cases during the on-site review with a tolerable sampling error of 5% and a confidence coefficient of 95%; and
  • For outcomes with data indicators, the outcome must be substantially achieved in 90% of the cases reviewed with a tolerable sampling error of 5% and a confidence coefficient of 95%; and
  • For the second review, the state must substantially achieve all of the outcomes in 95% of the cases with a tolerable sampling error of 5% and a confidence coefficient of 95%. The Secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) may change the national standard for conformity if appropriate.

The state must also have implemented the following Child and Family State Plan (CFSP) requirements and assurances:

  • Design of services that assure that safety and protection of children and the preservation and support of families;
  • Permanency provisions in sections 422 and 471;
  • Recruitment of potential foster and adoptive families;
  • Abandoned children policies;
  • Compliance with Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA);
  • Cross-jurisdictional resources for timely adoptive or permanent placements;
  • Reasonable efforts requirements.

For systemic factors, the self-assessment and interviews with stakeholder will determine conformity with the state's delivery of services. Reviewers will rate the state's performance, using a Likert-type scale, during interviews with IV-B stakeholders (See mandated and additional stakeholders in Step 3). Systemic factors will be rated on a scale of 1-4 and the state must be rated at least a "3" to be determined to be in substantial conformity.

The review team must ensure that the combined information obtained from all the stakeholder interviews adequately addresses the three outcome areas and the seven systemic factors. State-specific issues may also be addressed in the interviews, if specific state issues are identified in the self-assessment process. Below are the outcome and systemic factors that will be discussed and the identified stakeholders who will be interviewed regarding the factors:


  • Safety Outcomes and Indicators - All
  • Permanency Outcomes and Indicators - All
  • Child and Family Well-Being Outcomes - All

Systemic Factors 

Statewide information system - Must identify the status, demographic characteristics, location and goals for every child in care for at least the last 12 months. State and county agency staff will be interviewed.

Case review system - State and county agency staff, selected external stakeholders, e.g., foster parents, court, attorneys, advocates, Foster Care Review Board (FCRB) members will be interviewed.

  • Written case plan, which is developed with the parents, that includes:
    • Least restrictive, most family-like setting appropriate to the needs of the child and in close proximity to parents and is in the child's best interest;
    • Visit by the caseworker or a caseworker in the state of residence if the child is placed out of state;
    • Documentation of the steps taken to make or finalize an adoptive placement or other permanent placement when a child is not able to return home;
  • Periodic review at least every 6 months by a court or administrative review;
  • Permanency planning hearing at least every 12 months;
  • Process for termination of parental rights (TPR); (They will be monitoring the use of compelling reasons on cases where TPR petitions have not been filed); and
  • Provide foster parents and relative caregivers with notice and an opportunity to be heard at the hearing.

Quality assurance system - State and county staff will be interviewed. The state has implemented standards to ensure that children in foster care are provided quality services that protect the safety and health of children and is operating an identifiable quality assurance system identified in the CFSP that:

  • Is in place in the jurisdictions within the state where services included in the CFSP are provided;
  • Can evaluate the adequacy and quality of services provided under the CFSP
  • Can identify the strengths and needs of service delivery system;
  • Provides reports to Agency administrators on the quality of services evaluated and needs for improvement; and
  • Evaluates measures implemented to address identified problems.

Staff Training - State and county agency staff, local external stakeholders will be interviewed. A training program that:

  • Supports goals and objectives for CFSP;
  • Addresses services provided under IV-B and the training plan under IV-E;
  • Is provided to family preservation, children's protective services (CPS), foster care, adoption and independent living staff soon after they are employed;
  • Provides ongoing training; and
  • Provides short-term training for current or prospective foster parents, adoptive parents and staff of child caring institutions (CCIs).

Service Array - State and county agency staff and external stakeholders will be interviewed. Agency has an array of services that includes:

  • Services that assess the strengths and needs of children and families that are used to determine necessary services provided to them;
  • Services that meet the needs identified to create a safe home environment;
  • Services that enable children at risk of removal to remain safely with their families while assuring their well-being;
  • Services to help children achieve permanency either through return home, placed for adoption or with a legal guardian or other permanent living arrangement, and provides post-adoption services;
  • Accessible services to all families in the state; and
  • Individualized services to meet the needs of children and families.

Agency Responsiveness to the Community - State and county agency staff and external stakeholders will be interviewed. The state engages in ongoing consultation with individuals and organizations at the state and county level responsible for implementing the CFSP and other major stakeholders in the services delivery system including, at a minimum, tribal representatives, consumers, service providers, foster care providers, the juvenile court and other public and private child and family agencies; and

  • Develops annual reports of progress and services delivered;
  • The Agency's goals and objectives in the CFSP reflect consideration of the major concerns of the stakeholders; and
  • Services are coordinated with services or benefits under other Federal or federally assisted programs serving the same populations.

Foster and adoptive parent licensing, recruitment and retention - State and local agency staff, selected external stakeholders, e.g., foster parents, court, service providers will be interviewed. The Agency has:

  • Established and maintained standards for foster home and CCI that are in accord with recommended standards of national organizations;
  • The standards are applied to every licensed foster home or CCI receiving funds under IV-E or IV-B;
  • Complied with the safety requirements for foster care and adoptive placements, criminal history checks;
  • An identifiable process for diligent recruitment of potential foster and adoptive families that reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of children in foster and adoptive homes; and
  • Developed and implemented plans for cross-jurisdictional resources to facilitate timely adoptive or permanent placements.

The rule defines the process for resolving discrepancies between the self-assessment and the on-site review process. The states may submit more information regarding conformity to ACF or a subset of the larger sample of cases will be selected to review (up to 150) to determine substantial conformity only in the areas where they were not in substantial conformity. During this second case review, the state must also meet a 90% compliance rate with a tolerable sampling error of 5% and a confidence coefficient of 95%.