Continuum of Care Reform: Implementation Sandbox

California’s Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) took effect this year, restructuring our foster care system to reduce reliance on congregate care and prioritize placements in committed family homes.  Implementation of this ambitious reform is raising a number of questions as we charter new territory. Our Continuum of Care Reform: Implementation Sandbox is a new weekly series that addresses these questions, including issues surrounding Resource Family Approval, to help ensure CCR’s intent is carried out in practice.

This Week’s Question

Q: A caregiver’s home was approved under now-defunct relative caregiver rules and her granddaughter was placed with her last year, before the new RFA standards kicked in. She did not complete an adoption home study. Recently, her grandson was detained into foster care and she would like to care for him. Is she required to complete the entire Resource Family Approval (RFA) process to have her grandson live with her and to receive foster care funding?

A: No. The grandmother will have to “convert” from her current status as a previously approved relative to an approved resource family. This conversion process does not require the grandmother to complete all of the steps for Resource Family Approval. Instead, because she had a child in foster care (her granddaughter) living in her home during 2017, all she needs to do is to complete the psychosocial assessment under the new RFA standards. In the meantime, while she works with the county to complete the psychosocial assessment, it is important to note that her grandson can (and should) be placed with her through the emergency placement procedures or based on a compelling reason even before she has fully converted.
Cal. Welfare & Institutions § 16519.5; CDSS All County Letter 17-16

Previous Questions

A:  Yes. In addition to the emergency stipend some counties are providing caregivers while they complete RFA, relative caregivers can also receive funding through CalWORKs until they are approved for full foster care funding.

Relative caregivers are eligible to receive both the emergency stipend and CalWORKs at the same time because the emergency stipend is not counted as income. This means that receipt of the emergency stipend is not a reason to deny CalWORKs.

Counties are required to provide relative caregivers with an expedited CalWORKs application. As a matter of best practice, it is recommended that counties designate a worker within the CalWORKs office trained on processing the expedited application so that caregivers do not go without funding.

The expedited CalWORKs application can be downloaded here and the instructions may be found here.

A: Can different steps in the Resource Family Approval process be completed at the same time or do they need to be completed in a particular order?

A:  An applicant must submit a completed Resource Family Application before anything else happens. If a child has already been placed on an emergency basis, prior to approval, it’s particularly important for the caregiver to submit the RFA Application within five days of the child being placed.

Beyond that, there is no general requirement that the remaining components of RFA be completed in any particular sequence. However, individual counties are permitted to develop their own process for completing RFA. That means that the county processing your approval may require you to complete the RFA process in a particular order or sequence.

In order to ensure applicants are approved quickly, it is likely necessary to pursue different components of RFA concurrently. For example, a county should not require an applicant to complete all of the required pre-approval training hours before beginning the psychosocial assessment, as that will simply delay the time for completing the approval process.

Applicants are encouraged to check in regularly with their social worker to see where they are in the approval process and see if the social worker needs anything further to move the process forward. The Resource Family Approval Guide includes suggested questions to ask your social worker on page 13.

A: No. STRTPs, unlike group homes, are limited to serving youth who have high-level mental health needs that cannot be met in a family setting. Although group homes were never intended to be long-term placements, in fact, children and young adults in foster care often experienced extended stays due to lack of other placement options. CCR places increased emphasis on moving young people into family settings whenever possible. STRTPs will focus on stabilizing high-needs youth to allow an expedient and successful transition to a family setting. STRTPs must meet higher licensing standards than group homes did in the past, and staff must complete enhanced training.

Youth must be assessed to determine whether a STRTP placement is appropriate. That assessment can be done in one of three ways: (1) an Interagency Placement Committee, with the recommendation of the child and family team; (2) a licensed mental health professional; (3) the youth’s IEP recommends a STRTP placement due to serious emotional disturbance.

Welfare &Institutions Code § 11462.01 .

A: Although applicants are approved to both foster and adopt by virtue of being approved through the RFA process, the applicant does not have to be willing to adopt in order to be approved. They may care for the child as a resource family (foster parent) without moving forward with adoption.

However, should the caregiver wish to adopt (and allowing for the fact that other requirements for adoption, such as termination of birth parent rights, must be resolved), RFA does streamline the process for adoption, because there is no longer a separate requirement for an adoption home study. In other words, if a caregiver ultimately decides to adopt a child after they have already been approved through the RFA process, they do not have to undergo an adoption home study. The psychosocial assessment that they completed as part of the RFA process takes the place of what used to be the adoption home study.

While the caregiver and the home are technically approved for adoption by virtue of being approved as a resource family, that in no way commits the family to adopt. Further, an individual’s expressed desire to provide a specific level of permanency (e.g. adoption, guardianship, or placement as a fit and willing relative) cannot be the basis to deny approval of the resource family applicant.

Welfare & Institutions Code § 16519.5(g)(5)A)(i)(II).

A: No. A child welfare agency cannot deny an applicant, specifically a relative or family friend, as a resource family for expressing a desire to care for only a specific child or specific children. Similarly, a child welfare agency cannot force a person to care for more children than a person is willing or able to provide for. If an applicant is only interested or able to care for a specific number of children, it should not be a basis for denial of that person under Resource Family Approval.

In addition, in some circumstances, a county may approve a caregiver to care for a specific child or non-minor dependent. More information about child-specific approval can be found on page 23 in our Resource Family Approval Guide here.

A: It is critical that families be supported throughout the approval process, particularly when a family has accepted placement of a child on an emergency basis or based on a compelling reason prior to being approved. These families are working to meet all the approval requirements while simultaneously meeting the needs of a traumatized child or children already in their care. Agencies working to approve resource families should consider the following:

  • Ensure caregivers who take in a child prior to approval receive financial support while they work to be approved. Specifically, social workers must provide caregivers with the expedited CalWORKs application to access CalWORKs funding until they are approved as resource families and gain full foster care funding. It is always helpful to provide additional funding for caregivers beyond CalWORKS while approval is pending and this can be done at the discretion of counties. For example, Los Angeles County provides a $400 stipend per child each month for up to three months pending approval.The expedited CalWORKs application can be downloaded here and the instructions can be reviewed here.
  • Remember that the approval process requires a lot from families who are already stretching to care for a new child, and may be juggling the demands of work at the same time. You can alleviate the pressure on their time by offering childcare at trainings or allowing families to complete the pre-approval training in their home.
  • Provide families with the Resource Family Approval Guide, which the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the Step Up Coalition, and a wide range of partners developed to help caregivers through the approval process. The guide explains each element of Resource Family Approval and includes forms and other resources to support applicants. You can download the Resource Family Approval Guide here.

A: Not necessarily. Once a family is approved as a resource family, that family is approved to care for any foster child or non-minor dependent in foster care. But the fact that the family has already been approved through the RFA process does not guarantee placement of the child with that family. The placing agency is still required to make placement decisions based on the best interest of the child.

In some instances, a county may approve a resource family applicant to care for a specific child or non-minor dependent. This is a limited approval, which may be appropriate when there are concerns about the applicant, but the familial or tribal relationship the caregiver has with the child mitigates the concerns. Child-specific approval cannot be granted if the identified concerns impact the health, safety, or well-being of the specific child or non-minor dependent. It will only be granted in limited circumstances. Applicants approved to care for a specific child or non-minor dependent may not accept the placement of any other child or non-minor dependent unless the caregiver meets additional approval standards. At this time, only counties are able to grant child specific approval, but pending legislation would allow Foster Family Agencies (FFAs) to approve a resource family to care for a specific child.

Cal. Department of Social Services Resource Family Approval Written Directives § 6-07(d) (effective June 9, 2017).

A: All applicants must complete training to be approved as a Resource Family. The state requires a minimum of 12 hours prior to an applicant being approved as a resource family and allows counties to require more than the 12 hours minimum, at their discretion. It is important to check with your specific county to determine precisely what is required. The trainings cover many topics, including an overview of the child welfare and probation systems, effects of trauma, the well-being and education needs of children, and how to access support services.

Families who take in a child on an emergency basis or based on a compelling reason prior to being approved have to complete the “pre-approval” training required by the placing county prior to being approved. Practically, this means that the family cannot receive the foster care payment to support the child until they complete the pre-approval training (as well as all the other aspects of resource family approval) required by the county.

An applicant must also complete a Resource Family Approval orientation. In some counties, the orientation is included in the 12 hours of pre-approval training. However, in Los Angeles County, the RFA orientation is separate from the pre-approval training. Applicants must also receive CPR and first aid certification to be approved as a Resource Family.

Once approved, a family has to meet the annual training requirement of the placing county. At a minimum, each resource parent must complete at least 8 hours of training each year after being approved. Some counties may require additional training each year. Relevant specialized training may also be required to meet the needs of a particular child or nonminor dependent in an applicant’s care.

Welfare & Inst. Code § 16519.5; Cal. Department of Social Services Resource Family Approval Written Directives § 5-03 (effective February 6, 2017); Resource Family Approval Guide (pp. 21-22).

A: The term “psychosocial assessment” may sound daunting, but it is really just a series of conversations with a social worker. The social worker will be interested in how an applicant deals with setbacks, what lessons the applicant has learned, and how the applicant is currently living. It also includes a review of the applicant’s physical and mental health, substance use, and family background. As part of this process, a social worker will also meet with all the other individuals living in the home.

The goal of a psychosocial assessment is to get to know the applicant and evaluate their ability to provide a safe and loving home for a child in foster care. It is also an opportunity for the applicant to ask questions and gain an understanding of one’s role as a caregiver. These conversations allow for more thoughtful matches because the social worker will evaluate how an applicant responds to challenging situations and what support an applicant might need to care for a traumatized child while they recover.

Welfare & Inst. Code § 16519.5(d)(3)(B); Cal. Department of Social Services Resource Family Approval Written Directives § 6-05 (effective February 6, 2017); Resource Family Approval Guide (p. 17).

A: As a first step, you and your husband would submit a completed Resource Family Application, also known as the RFA-01(A) form, to your county’s child welfare agency.  The RFA assessment process will not begin until a full application is submitted so it is important to complete it as soon as possible.  If you already have a child placed in your home, you must submit a completed RFA-01(A) form within 5 business days of the child being placed in the home.

The 4-page form asks for identifying information about you, your husband, and others living in the home.  It also asks applicants to disclose information that one may feel apprehensive to share, including an applicant’s marital history.  It is important to answer the questions as honestly and completely as possible—and discuss any concerns you have with the social worker.  It is also possible that you may not have exact information for every field.  If that is the case, give your most complete answer and note if the information is not exact.

You should check in with your social worker regularly after submitting the 4-page form to see where the agency is in the approval process and whether they need anything further from you to move forward.

Welfare & Inst. Code § 16519.5; Cal. Department of Social Services Resource Family Approval Written Directives § 5-03 (effective February 6, 2017); Resource Family Approval Guide (p. 12).

A: Yes. State and federal law provide an explicit preference for placement of foster children into the home of a relative. In addition, state law is clear that, when a child is removed from his or her home, if the child cannot be released back to the parent, the county’s first obligation is to attempt to find a relative. Nothing about Resource Family Approval has changed this preference for relative placement or the obligation to find and place with relatives immediately following removal.

In order to promote placement with a relative or non-related extended family member (e.g. a close family friend), the law allows for an “emergency placement” of the child prior to resource family approval.  The word “emergency” is a bit of a misnomer, as the placement prior to approval can occur at any point in the case if a relative or NREFM is identified.  A relative or non-related extended family member who has a child placed prior to approval must submit a Resource Family Application (RFA-01(A)) within five business days of a child being placed in their home in order to start the Resource Family Approval process.

In addition to the emergency placement option, a child can also be placed prior to Resource Family Approval if there is a “compelling reason” even if the caregiver is not a relative or non-related extended family member. The compelling reason option is distinguishable from an emergency placement because a child can be placed only once the Home Environment Assessment is completed, meaning their home has been determined to meet health and safety standards. Additionally, the permanency assessment must completed within 90 days of placement.

NOTE: Foster care funding is not available to families until full approval is achieved, BUT counties can use Foster Parent Recruitment and Retention Funds, and/or Emergency Assistance to bridge the gap. At a minimum, counties are now required to provide relatives with a blank copy of form CW 2219 “Application for California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs)” so that it can be filed in order to receive temporary funding through CalWORKs. NREFMs and non-relatives are not eligible for CalWORKs funding pending approval, and so will have to rely on whatever financial support the county chooses to make available to these families pending approval.

Welfare & Inst. Code §§ 309, 361.45, 16519.5(e)(2)(B); 16519.5(e)(3); Cal. Department of Social Services Resource Family Approval Written Directives § 7-01 (effective February 6, 2017).

A: Prior to Resource Family Approval (RFA), approval standards varied depending on the applicant.  For relatives/non-related extended family members (NREFMs) (e.g. a close family friend), a criminal records/child abuse review was required in addition to a home and ground safety check and an annual review.  Nonrelative applicants had to undergo extensive training in addition to the criminal records/child abuse review and home and ground safety check.  If an applicant wanted to adopt, a criminal records/child abuse review, home and ground safety check, adoption home study, and submission of applicant references were required. And, if the applicant was applying to be a foster parent through a Foster Family Agency, the FFA had their own set of standards that often differed from the process a family going through the approval process with the county child welfare agency.

Resource Family Approval (RFA), which took effect statewide January 1, 2017, streamlined the approval process. Now, all caregivers, including relatives, NREFMs, foster parents (whether approved by a county or an FFA), and adoptive parents, must meet the same requirements and undergo the same process to be approved as Resource Families.  The intent of RFA is to be a unified, family friendly and child-centered approval process for all potential caregivers.

In addition to subjecting all applicants to the same requirements, the psychosocial assessment requirement replaced the adoption home study.  Now, if a caregiver wants to adopt, there is no additional home study required at the time of adoption.  Resource Family Approval was authorized under AB 340 (2007), reauthorized under SB 1013 (2013) and modified under AB 403 (2015) & AB 1997 (2016).

Welfare & Inst. Code § 16519.5; All County Letter (ACL) No. 16-58; All County Letter (ACL) No. 16-10.