Vol. 12, No. 1• November 2007

How will new licensing rules affect NC's foster parents?

On September 1, 2007, some important rules for licensing foster homes in North Carolina changed. The biggest impact of this change will be felt by our state’s public and private child-placing agencies. But if you are a North Carolina foster parent, you will be affected as well.

This article provides an overview of the rule changes and tells you how to learn more.

Licensing Foster Homes
To protect the public, practitioners of many professions must be licensed either by the government or a professional society. Physicians, psychologists, hairdressers, and electricians all fall into this category.

Although foster parents differ from these licensed professionals in that they aren’t paid for what they do, in North Carolina foster parents, too, must be licensed. The box below explains why.

Why Does NC License Foster Homes?

For the Children
. Because they have been abused and neglected, children placed in foster care sometimes have needs and maladaptive behaviors that other children don’t. Children placed in foster care need and deserve temporary caretakers who understand their situation and who can meet their individual needs. Licensing is one way to ensure that foster families are up to the task of caring for these children.

For Birth Families. Although the parents of children in foster care have been temporarily deprived of custody, they have a right to expect that the care being provided to their children is at least equal to the care that they themselves would provide. Licensing ensures that foster parents have met certain minimum criteria in training and other areas.

For Foster Parents. The licensing process ensures that foster parents know about the risks and rewards involved in fostering, receive the information they need to care for children in foster care, and make an informed choice about whether to foster. Licensing helps assure that foster families and the agency have a working partnership that is centered on building on the strengths and meeting the needs of children and families.

For the Child-Placing Agency. In North Carolina the ultimate legal and moral responsibility for ensuring the safety, well-being, and permanence of a child in foster care rests with the county department of social services that has custody of that child. If the child is being cared for through a contract with a private agency, the private agency has legal and moral responsibilities as well. Licensing is a way to make sure that these parties are legally protected and working as a team to live up to their responsibilities to families and children.

From A Supplemental Guide to Foster Home Licensing

Updating the Rules
In our state foster parents are licensed by the NC Division of Social Services and supervised by a public or private agency that trains and supports them. To be licensed a foster parent must comply with certain rules established by the state.

Periodically the Division and its partners assess licensing rules to ensure they are effective and that they help the state meet its moral and legal obligations to provide the best care possible to children in foster care.

The new rules discussed in this article are the result of one of these periodic reviews. They are the product of a process that took almost three years and involved input from foster parents, youth in foster care, staff from public and private agencies, university partners, and representatives from numerous associations and state agencies.

Key Changes
Here is a summary of licensing rule changes that will be of particular interest to foster parents. This is not a comprehensive listing of rule changes. Unless otherwise noted, the rules discussed went into effect September 1, 2007.

1. Reduced Capacity of Foster Homes
The capacity rules for family foster care and therapeutic foster care have changed.

Family Foster Care. Under the new rules, no more than five total children can be cared for in the home. This includes children in foster care, the foster parent’s children, licensed capacity for in-home day care, children kept for babysitting, and any other children living in the home.

Effective Date: Family foster homes receiving their first license after September 1, 2007 cannot have more than five children in the home. Already-licensed family foster homes have until July 1, 2008 to reduce the total number of children in the home to five. Note: Exceptions to this rule can be made in order to place siblings together, as long as the placing agency documents the need for this exception as outlined in the new rules [see 70E .1001 (c) (1), (3), (4)].

Therapeutic Foster Care. Under the new rules only two foster children can be placed in a therapeutic foster home. This change was made so that the Division’s rules are consistent with the Medicaid/Mental Health service definition of therapeutic foster care.

In addition, under the new rules no more than four total children can live in a therapeutic foster home.

Effective Date: Therapeutic foster homes receiving their first license after September 1, 2007 cannot have more than two foster children in the home. Already-licensed therapeutic foster homes have until January 1, 2008 to reduce the total number of foster children in the home to two. Note: the Division permits an increase in the number of foster children in therapeutic foster homes if it means siblings will be placed together, as long as the placing agency documents the need for this exception as outlined in the new rules. However this exception CANNOT be implemented until there is a change in the Mental Health/Medicaid service definition.

2. All Adults Must Be Licensed
Under the new rules, individuals who are married or are considered a couple are presumed to be co-parents. Therefore both must complete the licensing process.

Similarly, the new rules also state that any adult (21 years of age or older) living in the foster home is presumed to have parental responsibilities for children in foster care and therefore must meet all requirements for foster care licensing. This includes the requirements for pre-service and ongoing training.

Effective Date: For already-licensed foster homes, supervising agencies must provide training and complete all required licensure requirements for all adults residing in the home by September 1, 2008. Waivers may be granted if the supervising agency documents that the adult has absolutely no responsibility for the care, supervision, or discipline of children in foster care.

3. Restricted Sleeping Arrangements
Under the new rules all children must have their own beds and may not share a bed.

4. Additions to Signed Agreements
There have been some key additions to the agreements foster parents and agencies must sign. New to the Foster Parents’ Agreement is a clause that pertains to supervision of children in foster care. It states that the foster parent shall “provide any child placed in the home with supervision at all times while the child is in the home [and] not leave the child unsupervised.” If an older child can be left alone for certain time frames these must be spelled out in the out-of-home family services agreement or person-centered plan.

The new rules also require agencies to commit in writing to: (1) include foster parents as part of the decision-making team for a child, and (2) allow foster parents to review and receive copies of their licensing record.

Also, previously the rules addressed proper treatment of children in foster care (e.g., no cruel, abusive, or corporal punishment, etc.). Many (but not all) agencies used Discipline Agreements to meet these requirements. Now, under the new licensing rules, all agencies are required to develop a Discipline Agreement.

Both the Foster Parents’ Agreement and the Discipline Agreement must be signed and dated by the foster parents and an agency representative before initial licensure and relicensure; a copy of each must be retained by the foster parents and the agency.

5. Training Requirements

Therapeutic Foster Care. Effective January 1, 2008, therapeutic foster parents are required to receive 10 hours of pre-service training in a specific curriculum. Supervising agencies must also make this curriculum available to currently licensed therapeutic foster parents.

All Foster Parents. Under the new rules foster parents must complete training in the areas of first-aid, CPR, medication administration, and universal precautions before a child is placed in their home. (Under the old rule foster parents had a year to complete this training after licensure.) The new rules also make it clear that foster parents must receive 10 hours of in-service training each year.

6. Children’s Rights
Under the new rules foster parents must ensure children are provided with opportunities to participate in recreational activities (e.g., afterschool sports, clubs, etc.).

To Learn More

  • Talk to your licensing social worker, since this person is responsible for guiding you through the relicensing process.

  • Read the new rules online. Go to <http://www.dhhs.state.nc.us/dss/licensing/foster_care_rules.htm> and click on “foster care rules.”

  • Use this same link to find a Supplemental Guide to Foster Home Licensing. Licensing professionals are the primary audience, but you may find it helpful.

Copyright 2007 Jordan Institute for Families