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By Sarah C. Threnhauser, MPA

Over the last few years I’ve watched the child welfare system move away from congregate care to an increase in the use of foster homes. This has meant a reduction in non-family-based residential settings (like group homes), and an increase in kinship care (see Child Welfare System Is Changing, But Slowly).

Now, there is another change in the works for how foster homes will be licensed. The federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is planning to adopt new rules for licensing foster homes and has proposed model licensing standards, so that by April of 2019, all states must provide the ACF with specific and detailed information about how the licensing model they use aligns with the standards proposed by ACF (see Feds Propose New Rules For Licensing Foster Homes; By April 2019 States Must Tell How Their Rules Align). This comes in response to the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), which directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify “reputable model licensing standards with respect to the licensing of foster family homes.”

The proposed standards are categorized into eight categories that provider organizations should keep in mind.

Foster Home Eligibility—The proposed eligibility standards provide threshold requirements for a family foster home license to establish a first step in assessing the applicant’s age, financial stability, and ability to communicate with the child and agency.

Foster Family Home Health and Safety—These proposed standards apply to the foster family home itself, which includes the grounds and all structures found on the grounds, to address the large amount of variance in home hazards across jurisdictions; and prevent potential biases against rural or urban families.

Foster Home Capacity—The total number of children in foster care in a family foster home, must not exceed six. However, the title IV-E agency can make an exception to this capacity limit for the following reasons: a parenting youth in foster care can remain with the child; siblings can remain together; allow a child with an established meaningful relationship with the family to remain with the family; or to allow a family with special training or skills to provide care to a child who has a severe disability.

Foster Home Sleeping Arrangements—Applicants must provide a safe sleeping space including sleeping supplies, such as mattress and linens, for each individual child, as appropriate for the child’s needs and age and like other household members. Foster parents must not co-sleep or bed-share with infants, although infants can sleep in the same room on a separate sleeping surface. Children in foster care should not sleep in public living spaces if other children have their own bedrooms

Emergency Preparedness, Fire Safety, and Evacuation Plans—The applicant must have emergency preparedness plans and items in place as appropriate for the home’s geographic location. The applicants’ home must meet the following fire safety and emergency planning requirements: at least one smoke detector and one carbon monoxide detector on each level of occupancy of the home and at least one near all sleeping area; a readily accessible operable fire extinguisher; a written emergency evacuation plan; a comprehensive list of emergency telephone numbers.

Transportation—Applicants must ensure that the family has reliable, legal and safe transportation with safety restraints, as appropriate for the child. Reliable transportation would include a properly maintained vehicle or access to reliable public transportation, if one is owned; legal transportation would include having a valid driving license, insurance and registration as appropriate and safe transportation would include safety restraints and only adults in the home having a driving record in good standing transport the child.

Training—Applicants must complete pre-licensing training on the following topics: legal rights, roles, responsibilities and expectations of foster parents; agency structure, purpose, policies, and services; laws and regulations; the impact of childhood trauma; managing child behaviors; first aid (including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for the ages of the children in placement) and medication administration; and the importance of maintaining meaningful connections between the child and parents, including regular visitation.

Foster Parent Assurances—Applicants must agree to comply with their roles and responsibilities as discussed with the title IV-E agency once a child is placed in their care. The title IV-E agency must require assurances related corporal punishment, alcohol and drug use, the reasonable and prudent parent standard and smoking. Title IV-E agencies may wish to develop additional assurances as appropriate to their jurisdiction.

If you are like me, you are wondering how these new rules will add to the already full plates of providers of foster care. For one thing, these are “model standards” and while states are to respond as to how individual state statutes differ from the standards, there aren’t any current requirements to meet these standards. Provider organizations are still required to abide by individual state law. For more I reached out to OPEN MINDS Senior Associate, and former Chief Executive Officer of the Archway Programs, Marge M. Conner-Levin, who took a different view of the pending standards:

I am quite honestly surprised at how low the bar remains. I thought standards might be a little more stringent, hence, the need for new regulations. Specifically, there is nothing in the regulations that offer much quality control. For example, foster parents and family members receive an initial background check and cannot have been convicted of certain crimes within five years. There is however no mention of frequency of regular checks. I see the same theme with home checks. An initial check is required and then nothing specified beyond that. There is a requirement for ongoing training by the agency but without specifics.

For more on the foster care and child welfare market, check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:

  1. Complex Needs = Complex Care Management For Children In Foster Care
  2. Should ‘Foster Parent’ Be A Salaried Position?
  3. More Children, Less Money-The State Of Child Welfare Budgets
  4. The Changing Child Welfare Landscape – In Kansas & Beyond
  5. Ohio & Illinois The Latest To Link Child Welfare System & Managed Care
  6. The Future Of Child Welfare Services – What The Thoughtleaders Think
  7. Child Welfare’s Moving Target – Towards Community-Based Care
  8. Arizona Department Of Child Safety Expands CarePortal Program For Families In Crisis
  9. ACF Approval Of South Carolina Request For Exemption From HHS Regulations Prohibiting Grantees From Selecting Foster Parents On The Basis Of Religion
  10. West Virginia DHHR Evaluating Plans To Move Youth In Foster Care To Specialized Managed Care Plan; Draft RFP Released

And for even more, mark your calendar for October 28 when OPEN MINDS will host The 2019 OPEN MINDS Children’s Services Leadership Summit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; led by Ms. Conner-Levin.

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