One More Week to Weigh in on National Foster Home Licensing Standards

The public has until October 1 to weigh in on a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposal for a first-ever national standard on licensing foster homes.

The standards, which HHS was directed to establish as part of the Family First Prevention Services Act, sets expectations for safety precautions and best practices for pre-licensing and home studies.

State and local agencies have long been given the discretion to establish their own rules for licensing foster homes, and that won’t be infringed on much with these standards. States are required to explain in writing any part of the new national standard they are not following. They are also still allowed to relax some non-safety-related provisions for relative caregivers, a policy enshrined in federal law with the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act in 2008.

As many predicted, HHS aligned its standards closely with the model standards published in 2014 by the American Bar Association, Generations United (GU) and the National Association for Regulatory Administration (NARA).

GU Special Advisor Ana Beltran commended HHS for using the NARA model standards as a template, saying that the “reason we developed these was to address barriers that relatives face” in becoming caregivers.

Beltran did say that Generations United would be formally commenting with critiques of a few additions made by HHS to the standards, and this week the organization issued a public review of the HHS proposal with its fellow model standards co-authors.

One piece opposed by the group is a provision that states only adults in the foster home household, with a driving record in good standing, could provide transport for the child.

“This is contrary to reasonable and prudent parenting and should be deleted,” the review said.

California’s Department of Social Services, obtained by family preservation advocate Richard Wexler and published in Youth Today, argued that the transportation limit would actually contradict a 2014 law that required states to establish a “reasonable and prudent parenting standard.” This standard was meant to promote “normalcy” for youth in care by granting foster parents, relatives or otherwise, the discretion to let youth engage in normal child and adolescent activities.

Beltran said it was good to see that the HHS standards do not actually require foster parents to own a vehicle. The agency followed the NARA model’s proposal that access to public transportation would suffice, particularly in large urban areas.

The NARA model co-authors, in their review of the HHS proposal, are also recommending that the national standards clarify the meaning of “community standards” and “household member” for clarity, and that HHS include standards for emergency placements.

“Emergency placement standards are often the first step in the process for relatives to become fully licensed, and consistent with legislative intent, these standards address barriers that relatives typically face,” the review said. “Unlike unrelated foster parent applicants, children are usually placed with relatives prior to licensing.”

The Family First Act, passed in early 2018, brings into law two shifts in the Title IV-E entitlement, previously reserved for foster care and adoption assistance payments. Child welfare systems can now use those funds to pay for certain services aimed at preventing the need for foster care in maltreatment cases, but they will be limited to two weeks of federal support for most placement of foster youth into congregate care settings.

Developing model standards was among the earliest implementation deadlines in Family First, the main provisions of which will not kick in until October of 2019. Next up for HHS: building the much-anticipated national clearinghouse of evidence-based practices that will dictate what options systems have for the IV-E prevention services.

Vaneshia Reed, a member of the Foster Youth Internship Program in 2016, proposed the adoption of the NARA standards, particularly to instill limits on how much past criminal history could preclude the possible licensure of a foster family. Reed’s grandmother was barred from caring for her.

“Despite her flawless completion of parole, outstanding citizenship in the ensuing years, financial stability and demonstrated ability to provide a safe and permanent home for me, my grandmother’s perceived status as an ex-felon prevented me from experiencing the benefits I would have received living with her,” Reed wrote. “As a result, I lived in [foster care] for over a year and a half, with so many other girls passing through I eventually lost count of them.”

If you are interested in reading more about federal child welfare and juvenile justice policy, read our annual special issue “Kids on the Hill: A Special Issue on Child Welfare Policy” by clicking here!

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