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October 31, 2018

ABA submits comments on foster home licensing standards

ABA President Robert M. Carlson submitted comments Sept. 28 on the proposed National Model Family Foster Home Licensing Standards (National Standards), suggesting ways that the proposed standards could be improved to better serve children and families.

In the letter accompanying the comments, which were prepared as a memorandum by the ABA Center on Children and the Law (CCL) for the Children’s Bureau of the Department of Health and Human Services, the ABA president emphasized that the views expressed in the recommendations derive from substantive expertise at CCL but not all have been adopted by the ABA House of Delegates as ABA policy.

Development of the National Standards is required under the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, which was signed into law in February.

As a main source for the new National Standards, the Children’s Bureau used model national standards published in 2014 and updated in 2018 by CCL in partnership with the National Association for Regulatory Administration (NARA) and Generations United. Those standards, known as the NARA Standards, were developed through extensive research and review of family foster home licensing standards in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, details from the federal child welfare policy manual and language from numerous child welfare organizations, and consultation with the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

The memorandum noted the ABA’s long-standing policy recognizing the importance of identifying, supporting, and screening kinship caregivers with whom children can live while in foster care. The proposed National Standards include efforts similar to those in the NARA Standards to break down barriers that may disproportionately hinder kin caregivers from caring for relatives in the child welfare system, the memorandum stated.

The memorandum divided CCL’s recommendations into categories.

Under foster home eligibility, CCL focused on: threshold requirements for verbal and non-verbal communication with children and foster parent applicants; background checks for licensing foster parents; home studies; and requirements for living space.

Other categories included: foster home capacity regarding the number of foster children who may be in a home; foster home sleeping arrangements providing guidance on who may share a bed in the home; transportation regarding safe and reliable transportation for foster children; training requirements that should specify the number of training hours necessary; and assurances that a foster care applicant will provide a foster child with fair and equal access to services.

The ABA recommendations also expressed concerns that the National Standards do not include emergency placement procedures, which were left out because the Children’s Bureau considered them to be outside the scope of the Family First Protection Services Act. Emergency licensing allows a child to be placed immediately with a relative while the relative completes the remaining licensing process.

CCL maintained that provisions for emergency licensing are critical to reducing the trauma of removal from the home and keeping children connected to their family from the onset of a case.