California Approves Short-Term Fix For Foster Parents Stuck in the Approval Process

Article Chronicle of Social Change

By Jeremy Loudenback, March 15, 2018

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a stop-gap measure on Tuesday that will provide emergency funding to caregivers who take in a foster child before completing the approval process.

Over the past year, the state’s new approval process for caregivers in the state has led to lengthy funding delays for foster parents and relative caregivers, now collectively known as resource families.

Under new state child welfare reforms overseen by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), the resource family approval (RFA) process is supposed to take 90 days. But since the new rules were put into place on Jan. 1, 2017, getting families approved has been taking much longer.

A recent survey of many counties in the state found that Los Angeles County was able to get only 5 percent of new caregivers through the RFA process in 2017. The wait has often been months long, with many caregivers waiting for five months or longer for approval.

Many foster children have been placed with caregivers before completion of the RFA process, often as emergency placements with relative caregivers. That has meant that many caregivers have struggled to make ends meet while taking care of children in foster care, leading to broken placements and children placed in group homes instead of with relatives, according to advocates.

The measure approved by Brown, Assembly Bill 110, will set aside short-term funding for families who have yet to complete the RFA process, but who have already taken in a foster child.

“Many of these caregivers are financially stretched and shouldn’t have the added stress that a delay in payment can cause,” said Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association, in an email statement to The Chronicle of Social Change. “Counties continue to work closely with CDSS to streamline the Resource Family Approval process, and this change is key to ensuring that our caregivers are supported in the meantime.”

Payments will be made to these caregivers through June 1, 2018, from two sources of funding. Relative caregivers would be eligible for foster care payments under the state’s Approved Relative Caregiver (ARC) program, while non-related caregivers could tap into money from the state’s allocation of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. California will cover the non-federal portion of these payments for 60 days.

The new bill also puts pressure on counties to reduce the backlog of families waiting to gain RFA approval. For counties to receive full reimbursement from the state’s TANF funds for caregivers, they must show “good cause” for the funds and create a plan of how they will eliminate the logjam of caregivers waiting to be approved by Sept. 1, 2018.

The effort to support caregivers who are taking care of foster children without financial support from the state will continue throughout the current legislative session.

The push to create a long-term solution for the issue after June 30 will continue over the next few months in Sacramento.

“While the AB 110 solution will operate through the end of June 2018, we continue to work with everyone involved on a more permanent fix,” said Michael Weston, deputy director of Public Affairs and Outreach Programs for CDSS.

Last month, Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (D) introduced Assembly Bill 2183 in response to reports of RFA backlogs, and like AB 110, would also draw on TANF and ARC funding for caregivers who are stuck in the RFA process. Senate Bill 1083, authored by Holly Mitchell (D), would also streamline issues with the RFA process and allow existing caregivers to circumvent some parts of the burdensome approval process.

Both bills are currently moving their way through the committee process.