WASHINGTON (CN) — The Biden administration announced Wednesday it has finalized regulations to support family members fostering relatives while rolling out initiatives to protect LGBTQ+ children and expand access to legal services.
The Department of Health and Human Services said it has formalized federal recommendations that would let local child welfare agencies ease licensing standards.
“We’re going to start to give family a chance to really be family for these kids,” Health Department Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters Wednesday. “Making family feel like family is going to really be helpful in making these new rules have force.”
Thirty-nine states fully administer their child welfare system. In California, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, county governments fully oversee the system. Nevada and Wisconsin share administration between the state and counties.
State and local regulations take their baseline from federal licensing requirements, which include fingerprinting and background checks. They can impose additional, but not fewer, requirements.
Depending on the state, relatives can face the hurdles of a complex and lengthy process before taking custody or having access to financial aid. Those caregivers sometimes have to complete the arduous licensing process before getting access to reimbursements for child care expenses.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimated in 2021 that the foster care system included 391,098 children, 35% of whom are in the care of a relative in a legally defined kinship foster family home.
The regulation finalized Wednesday, which was announced in February, allows state and local child welfare agencies to adopt different licensing standards when the parties are related by blood, marriage, adoption or an otherwise “emotionally significant relationship with the child, such as godparents, and close family friends.” It encourages agencies to hold those caregivers only to federal standards, rather than additional requirements instituted by state and local agencies.
Health Department officials also released two proposals Wednesday related to foster care. The first would require child welfare agencies to ensure LGBTQ+ youth are placed in foster homes “where they will be protected from mistreatment related to their sexual orientation or gender identity,” and caregivers will receive special training.
The second regulation would allow welfare agencies to use federal funds to expand access to legal services for families who need a lawyer to achieve stability.
Those proposals have been published in the Federal Register for a 60-day public comment period before being finalized.
“With these rules,” said White House domestic policy advisor Neera Tanden, “we’re making a real difference in the lives of tens of thousands of families across the country.”Follow @TheNolanStout
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