Biden administration recently cleared states to create a separate pathway
In March, The Imprint published a column from a group of advocates who were planning to build a new path for child welfare systems to use for approving or licensing kinship caregivers.
The impetus for this quest: a proposed rule put forth by the Biden administration that would allow states to develop a different standard for kin approvals than for other foster parents, but still permit the use of federal funding to support these relatives.
Mark Testa, a former university professor and widely cited expert on kinship care, called the proposed regulation “the most important advance the federal government has made in kinship care policy in the last 40 years.”
The administration made the new rules around kinship care official in late September. And last week, that group of advocates has published a model standard for kinship approval they are hoping states will consider adopting.
“For years the agencies in our working group have been helping one another to remove barriers to licensing and resourcing kin, with many ultimately choosing to invest state funds in making payments because the licensing process was simply too burdensome for most families to make it through,” said Marina Nitze, co-founder of the Child Welfare Playbook, the platform that includes the new standards.
The standards were co-designed with input from states, tribes, subject matter experts as well as families.
The 61-page document is built around a three-step process for states to use in approving relative caregivers: background checks, gauging caregiver suitability and conducting safety and needs assessments. Steps in the licensure of non-relative foster homes — such as a home study, vaccinations, training classes and medical exams — are options as part of support for the caregivers, but not required for approval.
The background check process calls for kin to be rejected if the check surfaces any felony conviction for murder, rape, child or spousal abuse, or crimes against children such as possession of child pornography. Also off limits would be any caregiver with a felony conviction in the past five years for drug possession, physical assault or battery.
For several aspects of the background check, the standards call for them to be conducted on all adult members of the caregiver’s household. These checks should not ask at all about citizenship status, and in fact, the standards suggest proactively telling kin that a child welfare agency “can approve kin and provide them with resources without revealing or jeopardizing immigration status.”
The model standards recommend that systems assess the ability of the kin caregiver to care for “all physical, emotional, medical, and educational needs of the child.” And in assessing the safety of the home, it stresses that systems use it to mitigate barriers rather than use them to reject a potential caregiver.
“For example,” the standards say, “if a kin caregiver is taking placement of an infant and does not have a car seat, the agency should assist the caregiver in obtaining, or directly provide, a car seat; if a kin caregiver is taking placement of a toddler, the agency should assist with obtaining, or directly provide, safety gates. Kin should not be disqualified for not having appropriate safety equipment in their home prior to placement.”
While states would be free to limit their kinship approval process to just blood relatives — and to be clear, states do not need to adopt an alternative process at all — this model standard recommends a broad interpretation of kin that also includes “individuals who have an emotionally significant relationship with the child or the child’s parents or other family members.”