This week the U.S. Administration on Children, Youth, and Families released a report on state usage of waivers of nonsafety licensing standards in kinship care authorized in the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. The 2008 law allowed child welfare agencies to waive licensing standards not related to safety for kinship arrangements when needed in an effort to make placements with relatives easier when a child is removed from their home. It also required follow-up analysis of state usage of the waivers, which was the subject of this report.
Information tracked for the report includes fiscal year 2009 data on: (1) the number of children in both licensed and unlicensed relative foster homes; (2) the frequency of waiver usage and which standards were waived; (3) an assessment of how waivers have impacted the safety, permanence, and well-being of children in care; and (4) an analysis of the remaining obstacles to kinship placements and potential regulatory and legislative solutions. Unfortunately, in 2009 a number of states did not track licensed versus unlicensed placements, while others did not track waivers sought by private agencies. Those issues coupled with the lack of uniformity in state definitions of licensed and unlicensed placements made it hard to provide national estimates on licensed and unlicensed kinship care arrangements.
The report provides an important glimpse into the use of kinship care placements and nonsafety licensing standard waiver usage around the country. Perhaps more importantly, it also highlighted the continuing obstacles to kinship care placements, including the difficult and time-consuming licensing process itself, a desire to avoid the child welfare system, privacy concerns around personal information required to be shared including background checks, and conflicting state laws, among others. Finally, a number of potential solutions were put forward—including early identification of kin and simplification of the process for relatives, providing foster parent training to relative caregivers, addressing language barriers, increasing caseworker awareness of the importance of kinship, de-linking federal foster care payments from the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children income standards, and providing further financial incentives to states to increase both licensed and unlicensed kinship placements.