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The Biden administration is making “game-changing” modifications to the foster care system that will enable family members to care for children in foster care more easily.
The administration is also proposing new rules to protect LGBTQ+ youth and expand legal services to those at risk of entering the child welfare system.
During a call with reporters Wednesday, Domestic Policy Council Director Neera Tanden said the three new rules would have a “profound impact on child welfare in America.”
“The rules represent one of the most substantial advances in child welfare in a generation,” Tanden said. “They will be truly transformative for families.”
The first rule, which takes effect immediately, makes it easier for family members – or kinship caregivers – to foster children and provides them with more financial support.
“We’re going to start to give family a chance to really be family for these kids, especially for grandparents who oftentimes carry so much of a load and never get recognized for what they do,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said.
In practice, Becerra said it could mean that aunts and uncles will have to jump through fewer hoops to care for their nieces and nephews who have been removed from their homes. It also raises age limits for foster parents, which will allow more grandparents to care for their grandkids. The rule also provides kinship caregivers with the same level of financial assistance that any other foster care provider receives.
States will now begin their own process of adopting the simpler and more streamlined licensure standards for kinship caregivers.
There are also proposed changes to how LGBTQ+ youth are placed with foster caregivers. An administration official, speaking on background, said the proposal would ensure that every child who identifies as LGBTQ+ “receives a placement in foster care where they will be safe from any mistreatment, abuse or hostility just because of who they are.”
“A wide body of research shows us that LGBTQI+ youth are overrepresented in foster care because they’re more likely to face rejection from their families, and once they’re in foster care, they often face discrimination from the placements that they receive,” the official said.
The proposal would require state agencies to ensure that LGBTQ+ youth in foster care receive safe and appropriate placements. For example, a caregiver that attempts to expose a child to so-called conversion therapy would not be considered safe.
All caregivers to those youths would also receive specialized training to meet their needs. The rule provides some descriptions of what would make that training successful, but states would be allowed to design those training programs, the official explained. And the proposal would provide additional support for those children, such as youth groups for those who had experienced homelessness in the past.
A separate proposal announced Wednesday expands access to legal representation for families, including children in foster care, and parents who need help to prevent foster care involvement.
Becerra said the moves would “transform the way that these kids can look at life.”
“This is game changing, because this is going to change the complexion of how we view foster care treatment, our foster kids, but more importantly how we look at the people who we rely on to care for foster kids,” he said.
“In practice, what that means is that a family that is at risk of entering the foster care system because their landlord is threatening eviction or because they can’t access a housing voucher can now leverage federal dollars to ensure that they can remain safely at home as a family on their own,” Becerra added.
The proposed rules are now open for a 60-day public comment period, and HHS encouraged members of the public and stakeholders to provide comments to the agency.