FFPSA Update: National Licensing Standards Underway

A major milestone has been crossed in the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA).  States have been informed of the model licensing standards for foster parents and they must begin developing nationally-compliant licensing regulations in their own child welfare systems. 

Child welfare professionals have been advocating for national licensing standards for years – without them, each state has had a very different way of handling foster family placements.  As reported in previous issues of this newsletter, these processes, left without federal regulation, sometimes lead to barriers to kinship placements, foster parent negligence or the death of a child.

The First Step to National Model Licensing Standards for Foster Parents

In October of 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) identified some model licensing standards for foster parents that would serve as the core of the soon-to-be-developed national standards.  Of those, the NARA Model, developed by the National Association for Regulatory Administration (NARA), stands out as a major contributor to the final standards.  The NARA Model was developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Generations United, the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law and NARA. 

The NARA Model was a starting point.  In the Information Memorandum sent to each state, HHS notes that not all of the NARA Model is represented in the National Model.  The aim, it says, was to “strike a balance between allowing for individual circumstances, while establishing minimum requirements.”  Individual circumstances, (such as unlicensed relatives or tribal affiliations) are precisely part of the reason these standards were developed in the first place.  For states without kinship care structures in place, a clear process that affords them the same rights as other foster parents is critical.  As previously reported, when Kentucky struck kinship care assistance from its state budget, kinship caregivers were left with a huge burden and no help.

Breaking Down the National Model Licensing Standards for Foster Parents

So, what, exactly, is in the National Model?

The 11 standards are as follows:

  • Eligibility Threshold:  Tells states the minimum requirements for foster care licensing.
  • Physical and Mental:  Provides guidelines for determining a potential licensee’s physical and mental preparedness for fostering.
  • Background Checks:  Instructs states to perform background checks on licensees in accordance with Title IV-E statutes. 
  • Home Study:  Details the Home Study process to be used for potential licensees.
  • Health/Safety (Living Space):  Provides the minimum requirements for living spaces (i.e. safe drinking water, proper restroom facilities, appropriate temperature control, etc.)
  • Health/Safety (Home Condition):  Instructs states to ensure that potential licensees’ homes meet basic safety standards (i.e. state of repair, no rodent/insect infestation, safely stored chemicals, etc.).
  • Home Capacity:  Makes IV-E requirements with regards to the number of household occupants part of the national licensing standard.
  • Sleeping Arrangements:  Requires that states ensure children have proper sleeping spaces that meet basic needs and ensure privacy.
  • Emergency Preparedness, Fire Safety, Evacuation Plans:  Licensing will be contingent upon home safety equipment (carbon monoxide detector, smoke detector, fire extinguisher, etc.)  and emergency preparation. 
  • Transportation:  Licensed parents should have reliable transportation.
  • Training:  States will have to provide both pre- and post-licensing training that is ongoing for the duration of their licensing period.  

With these standards in place, it is up to states to begin formulating their own licensing standards.  Although the deadline for these standards was March 31, states did have the ability to request an extension.  Whether they met the deadline or applied for a waiver, states are responsible for providing detailed responses to the following questions:

  • Are the licensing agency’s standards consistent with the National Model?  If not, why?
  • Does the agency waive non-safety licensing standards for relative foster family homes as allowed by federal law?
  • How are caseworkers trained to use the waiver authority?
  • Is there a process or tools to assist caseworkers in waiving non-safety standards so they can place quickly with relatives?

Although the standards themselves don’t list provisions for waiving standards, the HHS is clearly interested in ensuring that the federal provisions allowing waivers are pursued.  As states submit their standards, the HHS will have a clearer picture of exactly how the waiver process functions and interfaces with these standards.

In New Jersey, most of the model licensing standards are already in effect as a result of progressive action in the child welfare system.  After being overseen by a federal monitor in the wake of a child’s death in foster care, New Jersey has diligently improved its services.  For one, the state does not contract out placement services and is responsible for every child welfare placement in the state.   Public comment on the state’s licensing model ended on May 18th. DCF expects to put their final licensing standards into their policy manual by the Summer 2019, at which point education and training for local office staff will begin.

To compare New Jersey’s standards with the rest of the country, keep an eye out for updates to the Grandfamilies.org comparison tool, located here.

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