HHS Announces Historic Child Welfare Package to Expand Support and Equity in Child Welfare System
Administration is bringing the child welfare system closer to the Administration’s goal to better support children and families in the child welfare system with resources and services that meet their needs.
Today, the Biden-Harris administration, through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), released three new rules that will have a profound impact on child welfare in America. The three rules will support kinship caregivers, protect LGBTQI+ children in foster care, and expand access to legal representation for children and families in the child welfare system. Together, they will help child welfare agencies fulfill their mission of putting children first. The rules fulfill executive orders by President Biden and align with the administration’s priorities to keep families together and increase equity in the child welfare system. Together, the rules represent one of the most substantial advances in child welfare in a generation.
“This is a historic package that underlines the Biden-Harris Administration’s steadfast commitment to putting children’s well-being first,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “This package allows kin to step into a critical caretaker role, proposes necessary legal representation to keep families together, and a safe and accepting environment in which children can thrive. The Administration is providing vital resources to remove barriers for child welfare agencies to provide supports necessary to accomplish that mission.”
The regulations released today will:
Support kinship caregivers. Encouraging and helping kin caregivers become licensed or approved foster caregivers is beneficial to both the child and the relatives providing foster care. But previous federal regulations made it harder for family members like grandparents, aunts, and uncles to become caregivers when a child in their family entered foster care. That’s because under the previous rules, all foster family homes were required to meet the same licensing standards, regardless of whether the foster family home was a kin or non-kin placement, creating unnecessary barriers to kinship care. Today, HHS has issued a final regulation that allows a child welfare agency to adopt simpler licensing or approval standards for all kin foster family homes. It also requires that states provide kinship caregivers with the same level of financial assistance that any other foster care provider receives, an important step forward to strengthen the financial security of kinship families. The regulation makes it possible for kin to more readily become licensed or approved, and more quickly receive services and funding for children in kinship foster care, ensuring that during times of family crisis children and caregivers receive assistance sooner. This new policy does not change or reduce safety requirements but does allow states to provide important new flexibilities. such as 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.
Helping more kinship caregivers become licensed foster parents is key to addressing trauma and financial insecurity for children and families involved in the child welfare system. In the coming months, HHS will be working hand in hands with states, tribes, advocacy organizations, and families to help child welfare agencies adopt these new policies.
Protect LGBTQI+ youth in foster care. For too long, LGBTQI+ children have faced significant disparities in the child welfare system. LGBTQI+ youth are overrepresented in foster care, but face worse outcomes, including poor mental health, higher rates of homelessness, and discrimination just because of who they are in some foster care settings. LBGTQI+ children often have unique needs and deserve care that affirms their identities. Today, HHS has released a proposed rule which would require that child welfare agencies ensure that each child in their care who identifies as LGBTQI+ receive a safe and appropriate placement and services that help them thrive. The proposed rule would protect LGBTQI+ youth by placing them in environments free of hostility, mistreatment, or abuse based on the child’s LGBTQI+ status. And the proposed rule would require that caregivers for LGBTQI+ children are properly and fully trained to provide for the needs of the child related to the child’s self-identified sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. This proposed rule supports the Executive Order on Advancing Equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Individuals and continues to move the child welfare system closer to the Administration’s goal to better support LGBTQI+ children with resources and services that are designed appropriately to meet their needs.
Expand access to legal representation for children and families in the child welfare system. HHS is committed to keeping families together safely and legal representation is a critical part of that process. Today, HHS released a proposed rule to expand access to legal representation for children in foster care, parents and kinship caregivers by allowing state and tribal child welfare agencies to use federal funds to provide legal services.
Children and families in the child welfare system face lots of scenarios where access to legal services could help to ensure their safety. Today’s proposed rule would allow child welfare agencies to use federal funds to help cover the costs of providing access to an attorney during civil legal proceedings when doing so would support a child’s needs. For example, under the proposed rule, a child welfare agency could provide a family at risk of entering the foster care system with legal representation to help to secure stable housing, secure public benefits, or establish custody or guardianship to prevent the unnecessary removal of a child from the home.
Additionally, a child welfare agency could provide access to legal services for a parent who is seeking a restraining order from an abusive spouse when doing so would protect the family from violence and prevent a child from entering foster care. The proposed rule would also allow a child welfare agency to provide legal representation to a youth exiting foster care to help them access legal documents that will help them achieve independence and stability. Research demonstrates that providing independent legal representation to parents and caregivers in civil legal proceedings prevents children from entering foster care as well as improves rates of reunification when children have been removed from the home.
Together, these three rules will expand access to support and resources for children and families in the child welfare system. HHS will continue to fund and uplift culturally appropriate, accessible services provided in the community for children and kinship caregivers and encourages child welfare agencies to pursue options that keep families together and maintain family connections.
“At ACF, we know that families come in all shapes and sizes and we understand the vital and unique care necessary to provide the best outcomes for families and children,” said ACF Acting Assistant Secretary Jeff Hild. “ACF’s work proves time and time again our dedication to providing supports so children can maintain connection to their families, communities, and cultural and personal identities while sustaining a sense of stability and consistency. These rules will allow for more family members to be licensed foster caregivers, provide children with safe and appropriate placements, and expand access to legal services that can support the child and family’s well-being.”