Removing regulations on some families looking to take in children in need of care could help solve the state’s shortage of foster families, proponents say. But it also could jeopardize millions in federal foster care funding.
Sen. Forrest Knox, an Altoona Republican, spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday about Senate Bill 410, which would create a foster care category known as CARE families.
CARE families wouldn’t be reimbursed, Knox said, but also wouldn’t have to meet licensing requirements that foster families do. They would, however, have to pass a background check and participate in regular training and meetings with other CARE families.
If a CARE family chose to home-school its children, the Kansas Department for Children and Families would pay it the average state aid per pupil that the school district would receive if the child had been enrolled.
Creating a less-restricted class of foster families would encourage people who don’t want government interference in how they care for children, Knox said. Often, foster parents feel more like “babysitters,” he said.
“They’re restricted so much in how they can help these children,” he said. “What these children need is a substitute parent.”
The fiscal note on SB 410 said the bill could jeopardize the more than $20 million in federal funding Kansas receives for foster care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requires states to establish one rate for each type of foster care placement. If HHS concluded CARE families were the same as foster families, it could declare Kansas out of compliance and pull foster care funding, the note from the Kansas Division of the Budget said.
The fiscal note estimated about $214,332 in costs for four employees to screen and monitor CARE families. It also said that if families chose to home-school, the $4,102 in annual state aid the children’s school district would have received would be transferred to a fund for CARE families.
Homes with ‘deficiencies’
CARE families would consist of a couple who have been married at least seven years and who don’t allow anyone in the home to use tobacco or alcohol. Both spouses would have to have at least a high school diploma, and one couldn’t be employed outside the home. The bill didn’t specify the couple’s sexual orientation, unlike a similar bill Knox introduced in 2015.
Many foster children come from homes with “deficiencies,” Knox said, such as those with a single parent or parental substance abuse. It is in a child’s best interest to be placed with a stable, married couple, he said.
“We’re not talking about whether single-parent homes meet kids’ needs, or homosexual rights, or moms working outside the home,” he said.
It also would require the family to be “actively, regularly socially involved in their local community” but didn’t specify the frequency of social activity. The 2015 bill specified the family would have to participate in a weekly activity — which opponents alleged was a way to give preference to families that regularly attend church— and would have paid a higher rate to those families than to other foster families.
“We’re not talking about whether single-parent homes meet kids’ needs, or homosexual rights, or moms working outside the home.”- Sen. Forrest Knox, an Altoona Republican
Jaime Rogers, interim director of prevention and protection services for DCF, submitted testimony noting the possibility of losing federal funding. She also suggested that the bill should include language to specify how DCF would determine if parents are complying with the CARE family requirements.
Two people submitted testimony raising concerns about requirements for CARE families. Kathy Winters, whose grandson was placed in foster care instead of with her, said she supported the bill as a whole, because it would remove financial incentives for foster families. But she said single retired individuals should be considered alongside married couples.
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, submitted neutral testimony. He said the requirement that couples be married for seven years would exclude Kansans in long-term same-sex relationships, while allowing same-sex couples who had married in states that legalized gay marriage earlier and heterosexual couples to participate.
Allowing one-year ‘host family’
The committee also heard testimony on Senate Bill 394, known as the Supporting Families Act. The bill would allow parents to execute a power of attorney with a “host family” to care for a child for up to one year. It could be extended one year, or for the time a parent is on active duty if he or she is in the military, without being considered abandonment under state law.
The power of attorney wouldn’t allow the host parents to give consent for a child to marry or to get an abortion, or for the parents’ rights to be terminated. Host families wouldn’t have to be licensed as foster homes.
Current law allows parents to execute a power of attorney for 90 days, though longer terms are rarely penalized unless the family comes to DCF’s attention for another reason.
Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Republican from Shawnee, said the bill would ensure families wouldn’t be penalized for setting up a power of attorney. Allowing another family to take custody of a child during a crisis could prevent that child from ending up in foster care, she said.
“This bill is simply meant to give families more confidence that they’re not going to be breaking the law by helping out another family,” she said.