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 series that addresses these questions, including issues surrounding Resource Family Approval, to help ensure CCR’s intent is carried out in practice.

Questions

A: Lack of child care is a barrier to successful placements in foster care, as potential caregivers often must go to work or attend school.

Therefore, the State has allocated $31 million, to provide counties the option to create emergency child care bridge programs. It is important to note that each county that wishes to participate must opt into the program, and not every county will likely accept the state funding or create an emergency child care bridge program.

Caregivers and parenting youth who work, attend school, or have parenting activities beyond the scope of ordinary parental duties are eligible for the child care bridge program. The program consists of three components:

  • First: recipients of the bridge program will receive a child care voucher. This voucher is available for six months, but a county is allowed to extend the voucher for an additional six months if the family is unable to secure long-term, subsidized child care.
  • Second: a recipient of the bridge program will be assigned a child care navigator. The navigator is supposed to help the family secure long-term child care. The navigator will be available to assist with any necessary applications for child care resources and ensure that families are informed regarding the benefits of child care.
  • Third: all child care providers may receive trauma-informed training and coaching. This will help ensure that the child care providers understand the needs of children in foster care.Caregivers do not need to be approved as resource families to qualify for the child care bridge program, but which caregivers actually receive the voucher will be up the each individual county. A best practice would be for a county to provide an emergency child care bridge voucher to caregivers at the time of placement to ensure the child’s and family’s success, and to bridge the period of time between placement and when long-term child care becomes available.Counties that wish to opt in to the Emergency Child Care Bridge Program must submit a plan to the state by November 30, 2017 to receive their portion of the state funding for the purpose of creating a county program. The state’s All County Letter 17-109 and a recent webinar provide more information about how a county may opt into the program.

A: No, the law does not require successor guardians to be approved as resource families to receive Kin-GAP funding.

A successor guardian is named for the purpose of establishing someone who can take over as a child’s guardian in the event that the person originally appointed as the guardian for the child cannot continue in that role (usually due to death or disability). Children who enter guardianship from foster care are eligible to receive Kin-GAP payments if the child was living in the approved home of the relative for six consecutive months prior to the guardianship being established.  Kin-GAP payments begin once the dependency case has been dismissed.

For Kin-GAP payments to continue onto a successor guardian, the named successor guardian must have their home visited and assessed by a county social worker and must have a criminal background check and review of the Child Abuse Central Index (CACI) to make sure that the successor guardian’s home is a safe place for the child. Beyond that, the successor guardian and child welfare agency must complete and sign a Kin-GAP agreement.

Kin-GAP payments to the successor guardian may begin right away once the above requirements are met. A new period of 6 months in the placement with the successor guardian is not required to receive Kin-GAP payments and the successor guardian does not have to be approved as a resource family.

CITATIONS: Welf. and Inst. Code sections 361.3, 361.4, 11360 et seq, 11385 et seq.

A: No. CCR does not change the right of children in foster care to stay in their school of origin.

Students in foster care continue to demonstrate the poorest education outcomes in the state, compared to all other student demographics. This reality is deeply impacted by the fact that children in foster care in California move an average of eight times during school years, and one-third of all students in foster care change schools at least once each year—losing four to six months of learning with each transfer.

A child’s right to remain in their school of origin is intended to mitigate this issue. This right means that a child can continue to attend the same school, even if their home placement changes. They can also follow feeder patterns of their school of origin, and matriculate to the next level (elementary to middle, middle to high school) according to the pattern of their school of origin. A child may not transfer out of their school of origin following a home placement change unless the education rights holder (ERH) decides it is in the child’s best interest.

If a child’s dependency (foster care) case closes while they are in kindergarten through eighth grade, they may continue attending their school of origin for the remainder of the school year. If the case closes while they are in high school, they may continue attending their school of origin until they graduate.

The focus CCR places on communication between providers about the best interests of children in foster care complements the right to remain in school of origin. To protect this right and other education rights of children in foster care, the child’s Education Rights Holder should always be included in the child’s Child and Family Team (CFT). The CFT has the responsibility to make critical decisions about home placements and other issues that directly impact and are impacted by school of origin decisions.

Not necessarily.

Legal guardians DO need to go through a conversion process under the new Resource Family Approval process under certain circumstances. The conversion process entails a shortened process, where an existing caregiver must complete the psychosocial assessment, but they do not have to complete other components of RFA such as the pre-approval training hours. Conversion must happen by December 31, 2019.

A legal guardian must convert:

  • if the foster care case remains open after the guardianship is established, and the case is not closed by December 31, 2019; OR
  • the child has an open dependency case and the guardian wishes to accept placement of other children in their home; OR
  • prior to adopting the child over whom guardianship was approved, unless there was already a completed adoption home study.

A legal guardian does not need to convert if:

  • the guardianship is finalized and the dependency (foster care case) has already been closed, as long as there are no other children in foster care in the same home; OR
  • the guardianship is finalized and the dependency (foster care) case is current open, as long as the dependency care case is closed before December 31, 2019; OR
  • the guardian already completed an adoption home study.

All County Letter 17-16

The funding available to a non-relative for an emergency placement prior to full resource family approval depends on what the county that has jurisdiction over the child offers.

Some counties utilize their Foster Parent Recruitment and Retention funds to provide short-term financial support to families that take in a child through an emergency placement prior to approval. For example, Los Angeles County provides families a $400 stipend each month for the first three months following an emergency placement prior to approval. Other counties offer gift cards to local stores following an emergency placement.

Counties are also able to use TANF Emergency Assistance (EA) funds to support a non-relative who accepts placement prior to approval for up to 12 months (by contrast, a relative can only receive EA funds following an emergency placement for 30 days). However, not every county utilizes EA funds for this purpose.

In short, there is no guaranteed source of support for a non-relative who is caring for a foster child on an emergency basis while they work to meet the approval standards. This is different for relatives, who are able to apply for non-needy CalWORKs (meaning the relative’s income is not considered when determining the child’s eligibility for the CalWORKs assistance) for that period of time pending approval. A non-relative is not eligible to receive non-needy CalWORKs because CalWORKs is only available to relatives.

Background:
I have been caring for my granddaughter since 2013, when she entered foster care. She has developmental disabilities and is a client of the regional center. The amount of financial support I receive for the care of my granddaughter keeps changing. Initially, I was told that she was not eligible for foster care benefits. Then, a couple of years ago, my social worker told me I could receive funding equal to the basic foster care rate. I know that most foster children served by the regional center receive funding that is substantially more than the basic foster care rate, but was told that because I was a relative, that funding was not available to me. Now I’ve heard the law has changed again. Can you clarify what financial support relatives caring for children in foster care are eligible to receive?

A: An approved relative caring for a foster child is eligible to receive all of the same financial support that is available to non-relatives. You are correct that children in foster care who are also regional center clients are eligible for a higher level of financial support, known as the “dual agency rate.” As an approved relative you are now eligible to receive the dual agency rate on behalf of your granddaughter (see more information below). The law has been evolving for the last several years, but as of July 2017, relatives are eligible to receive all of the same benefits as a non-relative foster parent.

Currently, the amount of monthly financial assistance received for each child is equal to $923 a month (the amount of the monthly financial support goes up July 1st of each year in accordance with the California Necessities Index). The new rate of $923 is the minimum amount that an approved family will receive.
You may be able to receive more than $923 a month. Children in need of additional support are eligible for supplements based on their needs. Every foster family, relative and non-relative foster parents, qualifies for these supports as long as the child meets relevant eligibility criteria. The supplements available include:

  • Infant Supplement: If you are caring for a young person in foster care that has a child, you may receive an infant supplement to cover the additional costs of providing food, clothing and shelter to the child of the foster youth. The infant supplement provides an additional $900 per month to support the baby or child of a foster youth who is also parenting.
  • Clothing Allowance: An annual supplement may be available at the county’s option to help defray the cost of purchasing clothing.
  • Specialized Care Increment: The Specialized Care Increment program provides additional financial support to families caring for a child with additional or special needs. Specialized care increments are available in most, but not all, counties. The specialized care increment that you may be eligible to receive is based on the specialized care system of the county in which you are residing. You can review the various specialized care plans for each county here: http://www.cdss.ca.gov/inforesources/Foster-Care/Specialized-Care.
  • Dual Agency Rate: Children who are both in foster care and clients of the regional center receive what is known as the Dual Agency Rate instead of the basic foster care payment. Children who are under three years old and receiving Early Intervention Services from the regional center receive a dual agency rate of $1,018 per month. Children who have been diagnosed as meeting the criteria for being a lifelong client of the regional center receive a monthly rate of at least $2,417 per month. (There also are four supplemental payments of $250, $500, $750 and $1,000 that are available to support children with additional needs beyond these base dual agency rates).
  • Educational Travel Reimbursement: If you are transporting the child in your care to the school of origin and that school is more than 3 miles away from your home, you may be eligible for the Educational Travel Reimbursement.

All approved relatives are eligible to receive these financial supports. This includes relatives approved prior to the implementation of Resource Family Approval. A relative does not need to be approved as a resource family in order to receive these supports. Both the clothing allowance and the Specialized Care Increments vary from county to county, so it is important to check with your social worker to see what is available in your county.

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

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:  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.