Child Welfare Updates: New Rule Regarding Kinship Placements

Dec 11, 2023

Child with two grandparents

By April Ferguson LCSW-C, Senior Practice Associate, Children and Adolescents

On September 28, 2023, the U.S. Administration for Children and Families (ACF) published a final rule regarding licensing and approval standards for kinship placements. The rule allows for Title IV-E agencies to utilize separate licensing requirements for kinship homes and distribute payments to kinship providers. Title IV-E agencies are tribes and state agencies that utilize Title IV-E funds to provide foster care service. The rule went into effect on November 27, 2023.

Background

There are calls to change the child welfare system to promote better outcomes for children. When children are removed from their home, siblings might be separated, youth may age out without proper support and some children struggle to find permanency. Removal and placement of a child outside of the home is traumatic and can impact their mental health long term. There are many prevention efforts to strengthen families and increase familial protective factors in order to avoid removals. For example, provisions in the Family First Prevention Services Act allow states and tribes to invest in preventative services.[1] Agencies can also provide parent education and access to treatment and resources to reduce or eliminate safety concerns that necessitate the removal of children.[2]

However, when a removal is necessary, the child welfare community recognizes the importance of kinship placements in reducing trauma in children. The definition of a kinship provider includes the term kin to describe blood relatives but also includes fictive kin who are non-related individuals that have connections with a child. Research indicates that children have better outcomes, including placement stability and reduced occurrence of mental health disorders, when placed with kinship providers.[3] When children are placed with relatives or fictive kin, they can live with someone they know which provides relational connections and stability. This allows children access to their culture, traditions, and community values.[4] Since 2007, there has been an increase in agencies placing children with kinship providers, but varying state processes created barriers and challenges to placement.[5]

Traditional foster placements with non-relative providers requires licensing standards that some kinship providers have trouble achieving. Requiring relative or fictive kin to comply with the same standards as licensed foster homes can create barriers for placement and limit financial support for potential kinship providers.[6] For example, some licensing rules demand pet records, finance reviews and certain home/bedroom configurations. Kinship providers may not have the means to make immediate changes to their home.[7] This could mean that children must wait for placement with a kinship provider as they complete the process to become licensed or some children may not be placed with a kinship provider if they cannot meet all licensing requirements. In some states, kinship providers were approved for placement but were not eligible for licensed foster care payments or were eligible for smaller payments because they were not considered licensed homes.[8] Licensed foster care payments are used to support costs associated with the care of children[9] and when kinship providers are denied full access to these funds it can create difficulty in meeting the needs of children. Decreasing barriers to kin placement and supporting kin placements is key to agencies successfully placing children with families[10] and the new ACF rule creates an opportunity to improve the kinship placement processes for children.

Important Components of the New ACF Rule

The new ACF rule allows IV-E agencies to create licensing standards specific for kinship placement. The rule encourages kin specific requirements that place “few burdens” on kinship providers.[11] This may reduce barriers to placement and allow children to reside in homes in their community with loved ones. Key components of the rule are below.

Under the new rule IV-E agencies may:

  • Allow for different licensing requirements for kinship providers.
  • Claim federal financial participation (FFP) for the cost of foster care maintenance payments (FCMP) for kinship specific licensed approved homes. FCMP’s are funds used to meet various needs of eligible children removed from their homes[12].

Under the new rule IV-E agencies are required:

  • To review FCMPs and offer the same payment to kin specific licensed homes.

To assist agencies with developing a kinship specific licensing model, kinship specific standards were drafted by a coalition of nonprofit organizations. In addition, six IV-E agencies will start a pilot program to monitor implementations of separate licensing requirements. The link to the drafted standards are here. The results of the pilot program are available for monitoring and review here.

What does This Mean for Child Welfare Social Workers?  

Social workers should continue to place children with relatives and fictive kin whenever possible, given that research indicates better outcomes for children. Social workers can encourage kinship placements, by engaging with families to find relatives and fictive kin.[13]

With the new rule, Title IV-E child welfare agencies and social workers can help create separate standards for kinship providers to reduce barriers to placement and increase the pool of relatives or fictive kin that are able to care for children. This could increase the number of kinship placements available to children in the system. The rule can also improve an agency’s ability to offer financial support to kinship providers, reducing stress on families and fictive kin that are willing to care for children in need. When developing kinship licensing requirements, social workers and Title IV-E agencies should still include appropriate safety considerations and collect psychosocial information to assess placement suitability. Separate kinship requirements must also follow federal licensing regulations.

Children benefit from placement with kinship providers and agencies can support these placements by reducing barriers and provide support to kinship homes. Developing kin placement standards may require revisions at the agency level or via state law but making changes may improve and increase placement with kinship providers. Social workers can advocate for appropriate kin specific standards that best serve children, so they are in kinship placements that have better wellbeing outcomes.

Resources

***

[1] Family First Act. (n.d.). About the Law. Retrieved from Family First Act: https://familyfirstact.org/about-law

[2] Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2022). Kinship care and the child welfare system. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f-kinshi/

[3] Kimberly, C. (2023). Promoting stability in kinship foster homes. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

[4] Case Family Programs. (2023, September). What should every child protection agency do to ensure that children are placed with kin? Retrieved from casey.org: https://www.casey.org/kinship-values/

[5] Kimberly, C. (2023). Promoting stability in kinship foster homes (see footnote 3)

[6] Federal Register. (2023, September 28). Retrieved from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2023-09-28/pdf/2023-21081.pdf

[7]Grandfamilies & Kinship Support Network Oct 2023 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dsHuyTkqwI

[8] Grandfamilies & Kinship Support Network. (2023). New Federal Rule Supports Kinship Families in Foster Care. Retrieved from https://www.gksnetwork.org/: https://www.gksnetwork.org/resources/new-federal-rule-supports-kinship-families-in-foster-care/

[9] Code of Federal Regulations https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-45/subtitle-B/chapter-XIII/subchapter-G/part-1355/section-1355.20

[10] Case Family Programs. (2023, September). (see footnote 4)

[11] Federal Register. (2023, September 28). (see footnote 6)

[12] Code of Federal Regulations (See footnote 9)

[13] Case Family Programs. (2023, September). (see footnote 4)

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