SOGIE awareness during child welfare intakes

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance to child welfare services hotline social workers when receiving referrals alleging abuse related to a child or youth’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression (SOGIE).

If there is an allegation of abuse or neglect due to the child’s SOGIE the social worker should ask a list of specified questions.   Social workers must assess the threat to a parent or caregiver’s acts based on SOGIE may pose to the child’s safety and well-being.  Affirming or supporting a child’s SOGIE is not abuse or neglect.

The hotline worker should enter relevant information pertaining to SOGIE into the narrative section of the referral.  Hotline workers do not need to routinely complete the SOGIE data fields unless they have spoken directly to the child in a meaningful conversation about SOGIE.  Probation officers may need to cross report information to child welfare services and must consider SOGIE information when assessing families.

The child is the principle owner of their SOGIE information.  If it is unknown whether the parent or caretaker is aware of the child’s SOGIE, information should not be disclosed without the child’s.  The child welfare services agency must consider the need for privacy of the child’s SOGIE information prior to referring a parent or caregiver to a SOGIE-specific community resource.

Social workers who are first responders should be trained on SOGIE community resources and child’s privacy considerations regarding SOGIE.  (ACL 19-92, October 8, 2019.)

Placement responsibility for non-minor dependants in extended foster care

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding extended foster care and placement responsibilities for non-minor dependents.   Extended foster care must be offered to all persons in the foster care system who turn 18 in order to continue to receive supportive services.  Young adults who decline extended foster care may be able to enter between age 18 and 21.

A placing agency must offer the least-restrictive, safe and appropriate available placement to non-minor dependents.  Placement should also be based on the developmental needs of young adults.  Non-minor dependents must be included in placement decisions.  The placement agency must offer a safe and suitable placement that is immediately available.

Counties must have a documented process for young adults seeking to re-enter extended foster care.  There should be no delay when an agreement to re-enter is signed and the agency determines the requirements to reenter are met. If at the time the agreement is signed the youth does not have safe, appropriate housing, the placing agency must immediately offer a placement prior to a re-entry hearing.

If a non-minor dependant is at risk of losing or leaving their placement, the case worker should try to engage the non-minor dependant.  The placing agency should work toward preserving and strengthening the placement.  If the youth loses or leaves placement, the county pleacement agency remains responsible for offering a safe and appropriate placement which the youth remains under juvenile court jurisdiction or is a party to a reentry agreement.  (ACL 19-105, October 29, 2019.)

Presumptive transfer of children in STRTPs

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance on the presumptive transfer process for foster children and youth placed outside of the their counties of original jurisdiction in Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Programs (STRTPs).

Presumptive transfer is a prompt transfer of the responsibility for providing or arranging and paying for specialty mental health services from the county of original jurisdiction to the county in which the foster child or youth resides.  Presumptive transfer is intended to provide foster children and youth who are placed outside of their counties of original jurisdiction with timely access to specialty mental health services.

STRTP placements are intended to be short term.  Considering that placements are supposed to be short term and that there is an exception for placements of less than six months, it is often appropriate and in the best interest of the child to waive presumptive transfer.  For a waiver, the county mental health plan in the county of original jurisdiction must have an existing contract with a specialty mental health services provider, or the ability to enter into a contract within 30 days of the waiver decision and the ability to deliver timely specialty mental health services to the foster child or youth.

Counties should work together so that placement agencies have the information they need to make informed and appropriate waiver decisions.  County mental health plans should be able to enter into a contracts with an out-of-county STRTP when presumptive transfer is waived.  County mental health plans are required to ensure timely access to federally entitled EPSDT Specialty Mental Health Services for foster children and youth placed in STRTPs.   To facilitate this, county single points of contact are posted on the CDSS website.

Presumptive transfer can be waived if: 1) transfer would disrupt continuity of mental health care or delay access to services; 2) transfer would interfere with family reunification efforts; 3) placement in a county other than the county of original jurisdiction is expected to last more than 6 months or 4) the child or youth’s residence is within 30 minutes travel time to the established Specialty Mental Health Services provider in the county of original jurisdiction.

If presumptive transfer is waived, the placing county must work with the mental health plan in the placing county to address the child’s needs and the mental health plan in the placing county must ensure that the child receives Specialty Mental Health Services.

If a presumptive transfer waiver is denied, the placing county must notify the mental health plan in the receiving county and work to ensure coordination of care for Specialty Mental Health Services by immediately sending required paperwork to the mental health plan in the receiving county.  The mental health plan in the receiving county must ensure access to Specialty Mental Health Services.

In making a waiver decision, the placing county should consider: 1) The child’s service needs including family friends and close relationship, the Specialty Mental Health Services needs, Regional Center services, educational issues, physical health needs and transition or permanent planning and goals; 2) the provider’s STRTP profile.

When there is a discharge from STRTP who a child who has a presumptive transfer waiver, there must be a child and family team meeting, the placing county must identify a placement in which to step the child down, the placing county must provide transition services and the placing county notifies the mental health plan in the placing county if the child returns to the county of jurisdiction or moves to another county.  The discharge process is the same if a waiver is denied except that the mental health plan in the receiving county must work the with the mental health plan in the placing county for a smooth transition of Specialty Mental Health Services.  (ACL 19-94, September 18, 2019.)

Tribally Approved Homes

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued information regarding approval, payment and placement preservation of Tribally Approved Homes.  A Tribally Approved Home is a home licensed or approved by an Indian child’s tribe or organization designated by the tribe, for foster or adoptive placement of an Indian child. Tribally Approved Homes are not subject to state approval standards.  Tribes have independent authority to approved homes according to their own standards and are not subject to Resource Family Approval Standards.

The county social worker or probation officer should request confirmation from the tribe that the tribe has approved a home.  The tribe must provide written documentation that the home has been approved.  Indian children placed in a Tribally Approved Home qualify for foster care if the Tribally Approved Home meets minimum federal standards prior to placement.  Those requirements are a home health and safety assessment meeting the tribe’s standards, and a criminal records check meeting specified conditions.  Federally recognized tribes now have the ability to receive state and federal criminal histories and can be approved to conduct their own background checks.  If a federally recognized tribe does not have authority to conduct their own background checks, the tribe must ask either the county or CDSS to conduct the background check.

If there are multiple children being placed and one child is not a member of the tribe approving the Tribally Approved Home, the home must meet Resource Family Approval standards.  The Resource Family Approval program allows for placement prior to approval, and allows a county to approve care of a specific child when the placement may be the only appropriate placement because of family or tribal relationship.

Tribes are encouraged to establish a complaint process.  If there is a complaint filed against a Tribally Approved Home, the county and tribal agency must work together to address the concerns.  If there is abuse or neglect where there is a potential risk to the health or safety of a child, a report to child welfare services must be made.  County probation and child welfare services can investigate, but cannot terminate the tribe’s approval of a home.  If the tribe terminates approval of a home, the tribe must notify the county within 24-48 hours and give written notification to the county.  If the tribe terminates a home, the county must evaluate whether the home will be approved under Resource Family Approval.

If a change in placement is being considered, a placement preservation strategy is required prior to issuance of a 14 day notice of placement change.  Any placement change must comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Counties may place a child in a home pending tribal approval upon completion of a health and safety inspection, a criminal background check and a check of allegations of prior abuse or neglect.

Children placed in a Tribally Approved Home, or a home pending tribal approval, are eligible for foster care payments.  If a child is place on an emergency basis, the county should determine if the child is eligible for emergency caregiver funding.  (ACL 19-71, July 29, 2019.)

Requirements and guidelines for participation in the ASIST program

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance to counties participating in the Active Supportive Intervention Services for Transition (ASIST) program.  The ASIST program is a short-term resource to aid the transition of children, youth and Non-Minor Dependants currently residing residential placements, with priority for children who are not transitioning to a Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Program (STRTP).  ASIST will provide additional funding to counties to support extensive family finding, engagement, specialized permanency services, youth and caregiver coaching, and in-home support services.  ASIST program funding does not change existing county case planning and services obligations.

ASIST program funding is limited to the 2019/2020 fiscal year.  ASIST program funding will augment existing Wraparound services or other intensive support transition programs.  Counties must ensure that their contracted providers deliver services which meet the California Wraparound Standards.  Counties must also ensure that specialized permanency services are provided for youth whose case plan indicates permanent planning or supportive transition.

For ASIST program funding, counties must prioritize youth residing in residential placements with priority for youth not transitioning to a STRTP, youth who have been identified in the Child Specific Transition Plan, and youth who are in need of permanency.

All youth being served through the ASIST program must receive Wraparound services or other intensive support transition services, even if they do not meet the local criteria for eligibility.  This includes development of a short-term intensive transition plan.  In-home, individualized youth and caregiver services must available 24/7 as needed.

Participating counties must ensure that 21 requirements are met in partnership with contract providers or community partners.  (ACL 19-53, June 28, 2019.)

Reasonable accommodations in CDSS and DHCS programs

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) and the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) have issued a joint letter reminding counties of their obligation to ensure equal access to persons with disabilities to state and federal funded programs.  This includes providing reasonable accommodations to qualified persons with disabilities and effective communication through auxiliary aids and services.  These obligations apply to all county administered programs, services and activities funded by, or with federal pass-through funds from CDSS and/or DHCS.  These obligations also apply to county contractors and vendors that provide program benefits or services.

Counties must adopt written policies detailing how they will comply with these requirements.  Counties must have a procedure for complaints regarding disability discrimination, including failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.  Counties must inform clients of the county complaint procedure and they may file discrimination complaints with the appropriate state or federal agency.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits counties from excluding from participation, denying benefits or services to, or discriminating against any qualified person with a disability.  A qualified person with a disability is a person with a disability who, with or without accommodation, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the program provided by the public entity.  Disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life functions, a record of such an impairment or being regarded as having such an impairment.  California law defines disability more broadly by removing the word “substantially” from the definition of disability, and counties are required to follow California law.  The ADA also guarantees equal access to individuals who have a relationship or association with a disabled person.

The ADA does not require public entities to allow a person with a disability to participate if that person poses a direct threat to health or safety of others.  However, the county must determine whether a person is a direct threat only evaluating whether reasonable accommodations can mitigate or eliminate the risk.  The determination of whether a person poses a direct threat must be made based on objective factual evidence and an individualized assessment.

The ADA requires counties to make reasonable accommodations by modifying their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to provide equal access to persons with disabilities.   This includes waiving a program rule or policy to help a person with a disability, or a change in the way a county carries out a policy or practice affecting a person with a disability.

Counties must notify all clients of the right to request reasonable accommodations and the protection against discrimination on the basis of disability.

When the county has actual knowledge of a disability or when the need for an accommodation is obvious, county staff must offer to assist with appropriate disability specific accommodations.  Counties are encouraged to train staff to identify disabilities and offer to assist identifying accommodations.

When an individual asks for a change in county policies, practices, or procedures because a disability, this request should be treated as a reasonable accommodation request.  While counties can make a reasonable accommodation request form available, counties cannot require individual to use a specific form for a reasonable accommodation request.   Reasonable accommodation requests can be made in person, by telephone or in writing by the individual or someone acting on the individual’s behalf.  It is not necessary that a person be an authorized representative to request a reasonable accommodation.  There is no limit to the number of accommodation requests a person can make, and each request must be individually evaluated.  Counties cannot impose an arbitrary limit on the duration of a reasonable accommodation.

County staff must document all reasonable accommodation requests and subsequent county actions in the individual’s case file.

If an accommodation is not immediately agreed upon, or if there is a disagreement about the appropriateness of a requested accommodation, county staff must engage in an interactive process with the individual requesting the accommodation or a person acting on their behalf.

A county can deny a reasonable accommodation request only when the accommodation would  fundamentally alter the nature of the program, service or activity, or would impose an undue financial or administrative burden taking into account all resources available to the program, service or activity.  The determination that an accommodation request would be a fundamental alternation or an undue burden must be made by the county welfare department director or designee and must be accompanied by a written statement of the reason for the decision.  If such a decision is made, the county must take alternative action to ensure that the person with a disability can access relevant benefits or services while avoiding a fundamental alteration or undue burden.

Counties cannot impose eligibility criteria that exclude or tend to screen out individuals with disabilities unless such criteria are shown to be necessary for the operation of the program.  Counties must provide programs, activities and services in the most integrated manner possible.  Counties cannot change individuals with disabilities for the cost of reasonable accommodations.

Counties must ensure effective communication with individuals who have vision, hearing or speech disabilities.   Communication with these individuals must be equally effective as communication with people who do not have these disabilities.  This requirement extends to companions of applicants or recipients.  For persons who are blind, have vision loss, or are deaf-blind, this requirement includes providing individuals with disabilities with auxiliary aids and services when necessary to communicate effectively. This can include providing written communication in large print, braille, accessible electronic format for use with a screen reader or via audio recording or a qualified reader.  For persons who are deaf, have hearing loss, or are deaf-blind, this requirement also includes providing a note taker, qualified sign language, oral, cued-speech or tactile interpreter, real-time captioning, telecommunication devices, or written materials.  For persons who have speech disabilities, this requirement includes providing a qualified transliterator.  Counties cannot require persons with communication disabilities to provide their own interpreter.  Counties may allow another adult accompanying an individual with a disability to interpret only in emergency situations or when requested by the persons with a disability.  Counties cannot rely on minors to interpret except in emergency situations when no other interpreter is available.

If counties choose to use Video Remote Interpreting, the service must meet specific technical performance standards.

Counties must consider how the individual normally communicates and must give primary consideration to a request for a particular auxiliary aid or service.

Counties must modify their policies, practices and procedures to allow individual with disabilities to use service animals on their premises.  Counties may not require certification or other proof that an animal has been trained or licensed as a service animal.  When it is not obvious what service an animal performs, county staff may only ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what work or tasks the animal is trained to perform.  (ACL 19-45, May 16, 2019.)