Vol. 20, No. 2 • May 2016

2015 North Carolina Legislative Changes Impacting Foster Parents

by Erin Conner

Recent legislation on the federal and state levels has focused on improving the way the child welfare system meets the needs of young people in foster care. Last year North Carolina also passed new laws to protect foster parents. This article reviews these important changes so you understand how they affect you and the young people in your care.

Auto Insurance for Youth
A portion of North Carolina's Foster Care Family Act (Session Law 2015-135), which passed last year, makes it easier for young people in foster care to obtain auto insurance. It did this by amending state statute to allow young people age 16 or 17 years old who are in the legal custody of a county child welfare agency to contract for their own auto insurance, with the consent of the court. The young person is responsible for paying the premium and for any damages if they are in a car accident where they are at fault.

If a young person cannot afford their own insurance there are other options to finance the coverage. In some circumstances LINKS funds have been used to cover auto insurance costs. Decisions about the use of LINKS funds for this purpose are made on a case-by-case basis.

Driver's Licenses for Youth
North Carolina law now also makes it easier for young people in foster care to learn how to drive and obtain a driver's license. Per N.C.G.S. ยง 20-11(i), an application for a driver's permit or license must be signed by the young person applying for the permit or license and by another person. For young people in the custody of a county child welfare agency that other person can now be one of the following:

  • A guardian ad litem or guardian ad litem attorney advocate for the young person;
  • The director of the county child welfare agency or the director's designee;
  • If a guardian ad litem, guardian ad litem attorney advocate, agency director or director's designee is not available, the court with continuing jurisdiction over the young person's placement under G.S. 7B-1000(b).

Liability Insurance for Foster Parents
To protect foster parents from financial exposure, our state's Foster Care Family Act also ordered NC's Rate Bureau, which is responsible for establishing and administering rules and rates for insurance, to develop an optional liability insurance policy for licensed foster parents. Foster parents can use this optional insurance, if they choose to purchase it, to protect their assets against litigation in the event a child in their care is hurt. This optional new insurance will be available beginning in May 2016. If you are interested in learning more, talk to your insurance agent.

Foster Care to 21
In another important step, the North Carolina General Assembly has extended foster care to 21 years of age starting January 1, 2017.

Under a provision in the 2015 Appropriations Act, county child welfare agencies will be able to continue to provide benefits to an individual who has attained 18 years of age and chosen to continue receiving foster care services until age 21, if one or more of the following are true of the young person:

  • Completing secondary education (i.e., high school) or a program leading to an equivalent credential;
  • Enrolled in an institution that provides postsecondary or vocational education;
  • Participating in a program or activity designed to promote employment or remove barriers to employment;
  • Employed for at least 80 hours per month; or
  • Is incapable of completing the educational or employment requirements of this subsection due to a medical condition or disability.

Foster Care to 21 vs. CARS
Although Contractual Agreements for Residential Services (CARS) allows for young people to remain in a residential agreement with the county child welfare agency until age 21, there are some key differences between CARS and Foster Care to 21.

For example, it is up to each county child welfare agency to decide whether it will enter into CARS with a young person. Foster Care to 21 parameters are codified in law and administrative rule. Under Foster Care to 21, all youth are entitled to continued placement.

Young people who sign CARS must reside in a DHHS licensed child care facility, such as a foster home or group home, and attend school or participate in some type of vocational training that will lead to viable employment. Some counties allow young people who participate in CARS while living in college dormitory settings. In these cases, the licensed facility maintains a bed for the young person and actively provides support and care to the young person while in school.

Under the new law, young people placed through Foster Care to 21 may live in a CARS-like setting, but they may also reside outside a foster care facility in a college or university dormitory or other semi-supervised housing arrangement approved by the director of the child welfare agency. Note: "other semi-supervised living arrangement" is not defined in the law.

Another key difference between CARS and Foster Care to 21 is funding. Foster Care to 21 allows the state and county to draw down federal funds to support young people in foster care after they turn 18; with CARS only state and county dollars are used. Note, however, that counties may incur administrative costs associated with the Foster Care to 21 program.

Foster Care to 21 is effective January 1, 2017. The state will honor existing CARS after that date until these agreements terminate or expire. After January 1, 2017 no new CARS will be made. Any young person who seeks voluntary placement on or after January 1, 2017 will be placed through the Foster Care to 21 program.

Other Changes
Additional information regarding 2015 legislative changes, specifically detailed information about the reasonable and prudent parent standard, can be found in the November 2015 Fostering Perspectives issue (Vol. 20, No.1) "Parenting Special Populations in Foster Care" and in an Administrative Letter issued by the Division of Social Services in October 2015 (CWS-AL-04-15).

Many of these changes provide opportunities for young people served by the foster care program to do "normal" things--which increases their sense of belonging and self-worth.

County child welfare agencies are moving forward with implementing these changes. Foster parents and young people who have questions related to driver's licenses or automobile insurance for young people in care, the Foster Care to 21 program, or the reasonable and prudent parent standard are encouraged to contact their social worker.

Erin Conner, MSW is a Social Services Program Consultant at the NC Division of Social Services.

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~