Kinship care provides a familiar face and a stable environment for children whose parents are unable to do so. Becoming a kinship caregiver is a selfless, life-changing decision. Across the country, thousands of children are in need of the chance to be raised by the people who know and love them. These supporters should be eligible for much-needed assistance from child welfare systems.
In communities that allow unlicensed placements, kin can safely care for children for years, yet may be ineligible for support and guardianship assistance based on current law and regulations. It does not have to be this way to ensure child safety. And the government just took a major step to help states leave their old ways behind and focus on prioritizing kin.
A new draft rule proposes allowing Title IV-E child welfare systems to create a kin-specific process for licensing or approving kin. If it’s finalized, systems will be able to create new, tailored processes to ensure children can safely be raised by people who know and love them and who have the support they need to safely do so.
With this new flexibility comes the opportunity to create new, kin-specific licensing recommendations. Our collective organizations are pleased to announce that the work to develop these new recommendations is underway, and we need your help to ensure they are clear, concise, and relevant.
States already must develop licensing standards that are “reasonably in accord with recommended standards of national organizations concerned with standards for [foster family] homes, including standards related to admission policies, safety, sanitation, and protection of civil rights.” If this regulatory change is approved, state and tribal child welfare agencies can choose to develop a kin-specific process as long as it is in line with that overarching expectation.
To date, there are two sets of national standards for licensing all foster parents (kin and non-kin): the National Association for Regulatory Administration (NARA) model and the National Model Foster Family Home Licensing Standards, which relied heavily on NARA and were published by the U.S. Administration on Children and Families in 2019. These standards serve as a model for both kin and non-kin licensing, as required by current regulation.
The new proposed rule recognizes that the use of one set of standards for both kin and non-kin foster home applicants alike often fails to respond to the unique context of kin. Instead, it places unnecessary burdens that prevent children from being raised by members of their own community.
Many caregivers living in apartment buildings or mobile homes, for example, cannot pass requirements that were never designed with them in mind. In states where licensure is required for placement, children who could be living with loving, able and willing kin are instead living in institutions or outside of their families, often for reasons that have nothing to do with safety. These children could be in homes with family, filled with love, but because their kin homes have bunk beds or the “wrong” number of points of egress, they must live elsewhere.
The goal of these recommended standards is to ensure that children are safe and that the kin who are best suited to provide children with loving homes have the opportunity to do so, thereby enabling greater permanency and well-being for more children and families. This flexibility will expand the pool of eligible kinship caregivers by removing the racial and socioeconomic biases endemic in many licensing processes today and ensure children with kin in foster care have the support and services they need, just like children with non-kin have.
We will be co-designing these recommended standards with a diverse array of kinship caregivers and parents from around the country and are also seeking input from states, tribal partners, licensing regulatory administrators and child welfare workers. As a first step, we’ll be conducting two nationwide research projects on the topics of background checks and safety assessments.
Additionally, we will study current state and tribal emergency and provisional licensing processes. It is our goal to learn about what’s working well in these processes today — as well as the challenges kinship caregivers, agency workers, and others are experiencing — in order to propose a process and standards that efficiently and safely meet the needs of all families. We also want to ensure that any recommendations work for our full array of kinship caregivers, living in apartments, longhouses, farms and other environments that may not always fit neatly in a checkbox on today’s forms.
The recommended standards will be designed for state agencies licensing kinship caregivers. They will not be designed specifically for tribal nations that license kinship caregivers. We recognize the great diversity in Indian Country with 574 federally-recognized tribal nations and the sovereign authority of tribal nations to develop their own licensing standards.
These standards are being developed by a group of national organizations including A Second Chance Inc., American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, Children’s Rights, CWPolicy, Generations United, National Association for Regulatory Administration, New America’s Resource Family Working Group, National Indian Child Welfare Association, and Think of Us.
To date, we have had informal conversations with more than 25 states since the draft rule was published, and the enthusiasm for this new flexibility is palpable. We hope to touch base with every child welfare agency in the coming days, and encourage interested states and tribes to reach out to us to provide input into these new standards. We believe states and tribes will benefit from participating in this co-design process, whether or not they eventually choose to adopt the new standards after new flexibility is allowed.
If you are interested in this work, click here to learn more. Here are a few ways you can get involved:
- Sign up for the mailing list
- Sign up for our deep dive on background checks
- Sign up for our deep dive on safety assessments
This proposed rule is a golden opportunity to ensure that every child has the opportunity to be cared for by the people who know and love them with the same monthly support as all children with non-kin receive. It’s a chance to align our practices with our values and a key step in becoming a true kin-first culture. We hope you’ll join us.
Dr. Sharon McDaniel, Founder and CEO, A Second Chance, Inc.
Sandy Santana, Executive Director, Children’s Rights
Rob Geen, Founder, CWPolicy
Donna Butts, Executive Director, Generations United
Jim Murphy, CEO, National Association for Regulatory Administration
Sarah Kastelic, Executive Director, National Indian Child Welfare Association
Sixto Cancel, Founder and CEO of Think of Us
Marina Nitze, Fellow, New America’s Resource Family Working Group
Note: Dr. Sharon McDaniel is a member of the board of directors for The Imprint’s parent organization, Fostering Media Connections. She had no involvement with our decision to publish this op-ed, per our editorial independence policy.