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HHS Announces Proposed Foster Family Licensing Regulation to Help Expand Access to Kinship Care

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), announced a new proposed regulation to lessen obstacles in licensing standards for kinship foster caregivers. This proposed rule aligns with President Biden’s priorities on providing necessary resources to keep families together and support kinship care.

“The Biden-Harris Administration continues to prioritize keeping families safely together, including removing barriers for child welfare agencies to license grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives and kin who step up to foster children during challenging times,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “As this new proposed regulation gives states and tribes the ability to adopt separate licensing standards for relatives and other kin, we encourage agencies to place as few burdens as possible on kin, consistent with the safety and well-being of the child.”

Currently, all foster family homes must meet the same licensing standards, regardless of whether the foster family home is a kin or non-kin placement. This updated regulation allows a child welfare agency to adopt different licensing standards for all kin foster family homes to lessen delays in the kinship foster family licensing process. Kin can include individuals related to a child by blood, marriage, or adoption and other individuals who have an emotionally significant relationship with the child, such as godparents, and close family friends.

ACF’s Children’s Bureau encourages child welfare agencies to strongly consider developing standards for kin foster family homes that meet only the federal requirements and not additional standards the state, local, or tribal agency may require non-relative foster family homes to meet. These standards may include extending the age limits for kinship foster care providers to allow for older kin to foster a child or allowing kin children to share sleeping spaces.

“Across the United States, millions of children live with kin caregivers—aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other loved ones who stand in when parents are unable to safely care for their children. We know that children do better when they’re with their families,” said ACF Assistant Secretary January Contreras. “Placing children with kin allows them to maintain a sense of place and belonging and to maintain their cultural identity and connection to their own community. By allowing child welfare agencies to approve different licensing standards that recognize the needs and benefits of kin caregivers, more family members would be eligible to be licensed and receive financial resources to support the child’s well-being.”

Encouraging and helping family and kin caregivers become licensed foster caregivers is beneficial to both the child and the foster care relatives. Research shows that children living with family experience higher stability and fewer behavioral problems compared to children living with non-relatives in foster care, in addition to maintaining familial and cultural bonds. ACF believes that child welfare agencies can develop different foster family home licensing or approval standards for kin in a manner that does not compromise child safety and well-being. This regulation also does not change the requirements concerning criminal background checks or other important safety provisions.

ACF continues to emphasize prevention and kinship services provided in the community. Providing necessary support and resources to families has a proven track record for keeping families together. ACF encourages child welfare agencies to pursue options that keep families together and maintain family connections, including kinship care. In keeping with its overall mission, ACF is committed to seeking equitable outcomes for the children, youth, and families it serves.


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