COVID-19 end of additional foster care and adoption flexibilities

The California Department of Social Services has issued guidance regarding the end of additional flexibilities in the foster care and adoption program because of COVID-19.

The flexibility to do caseworker visits by videoconference instead of in person will end on July 31, 2021.  After July 31, 2021, family maintenance visits, monthly caseworker visits, visits with foster youth, post-placement supervision of adoptive placements and periodic caseworker visits must now be done in person.

The flexibility for exceptions to in person signing of adoption documents, and face-to-face visits independent adoptions and witnesses for adoption signing document will also end on July 31, 2021 and those requirements are reinstated after July 31, 2021.  (ACL 21-80, July 8, 2021.)

COVID-19 independent adoptions reinstatement of in person requirements

Effective immediately, all in person requirements related to adoption specialist visits in the Independent Adoption that were waived in ACL 20-56, summarized here, are reinstated.  Remote visits can only occur if the state, county, or city public health department in the geographical area in which the petitioner(s) resides provides direction to halt in person contact and/or shifts back to Stage 1, the petitioner(s) refuses entry due to their own health and safety concerns related to the risk of COVID-19 infection or the petitioner(s), child, or someone else in the household has been exposed to, is experiencing symptoms of, or has tested positive for, COVID-19.

Other flexibilities in ACL 20-56 can continue for the duration of the Governor’s Declared State of Emergency due to COVID-19, unless a future EO or CDSS guidance ends or modifies it sooner.  (ACL 20-92, August 10, 2020.)

COVID-19 independent adoptions

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) guidance about independent adoptions during COVID-19.  This guidance is in effect until June 30, 2020.

In person contact with the birth parent must continue.  Alternative communication methods are not allowed.  There must be an evaluation if the birth parent’s history or current condition indicates inability to understand the content, nature and effect of signing an adoption agreement.

An agency representative must witness, in person, the birth parent signing the adoption placement agreement.  An agency representative must also interview, in person, all persons who are consenting to the adoption.  The agency representative must witness the signing of the consent to the adoption in person.

An adoption service provider or representative of the CDSS Regional Office or delegated county agency should not by alternative communication witness or give an interview about the waiver of the right to revoke consent.

The adoption placement and adoption consent form can be filed with the court as soon as it reopens.  If the forms cannot be filed with the court, the prospective adoptive parent can submit a copy of the form with 50 percent of the investigation fee directly to CDSS or the delegated county agency and the agency can begin the investigation.  All mandatory requirements, including criminal background check, are required before the adoption investigation is finalized.

CDSS or the delegated agency can begin the adoption investigation before the investigation fee is paid, but the fee must be collected before the report is submitted to the court.

Home visits and interviews with prospective adoptive parents can occur via videoconference.

For Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children cases, the required study must be done within 60 days and it must be done in person.

The 180 day time period for investigation reports is suspended because of court closures.  The 180 day time period will resume when the state of emergency is lifted.  (ACL 20-56, May 18, 2020.)

COVID-19 reassessment and redetermination for AAP and Kin-GAP

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding reassessment and redetermination for the Adoption Assistance Program and the Kin-GAP program because of COVID-19.

Counties should send the AAP reassessment form to adoptive parents at least 60 and no more than 90 days prior to the reassessment date. Returning the form is optional.  If the parent(s) return the form without a request for change, the county can process it when received or wait until after June 30.

If parent(s) return the form requesting an increase in assistance, the county must process it.  If parent(s) do not return the form, the rate continues at the rate in the prior AAP agreement.  However, signed AAP agreements for wraparound services and out-of-home placements paid by AAP are limited to 18 months.

The requirement to return the Kin-GAP Determination of Eligibility form within two weeks of the date it was mailed is temporarily suspended.  Counties shall continue Kin-GAP payments even if receipt of the paperwork is delayed. (ACL 20-47, April 21, 2020.)

Change to Adoption Assistance Program eligibility

The California Department of Social Services has issued instructions regarding a change in federal law about eligibility for Adoption Assistance Program benefits.  Effective October 1, 2017, children who are under age 2 and will not turn age two within the current fiscal year are ineligible for federal Adoption Assistance Program benefits.  Initial Adoption Assistance Program agreements signed between October 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017 will remain in effect.  Initial agreements signed after January 1, 2018 will need to be reassessed

Such children can be eligible for Adoption Assistance Program benefits if they are placed with a sibling who meets the applicable child standard, they meet the nonapplicable child standard or the meet the standard for state-only Adoption Assistance benefits.

Nonapplicable children are:

1) The child met the AFDC eligibility requirements in the home of removal at the time the child was removed, the child’s removal and either a) the child’s removal from the home was based on a judicial determination, b) the child was voluntarily relinquished to a licensed public or private adoption agency with a petition to the court to remove the child or a judicial determination that remaining in the home would be against the child’s interest within six months of removal, or c) the child was voluntarily placed with a public agency and received at least one month of Foster Care benefits;

2) At least one Foster Care payment was made on behalf of the child’s minor parent;

3) The child received Adoption Assistance Program benefits with respect to a prior adoption that dissolved because of termination of the adoptive parent’s parental rights or the death of an adoptive parent; or

4) The child is eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits.

(ACL 18-122, October 18, 2018.)

Hearing representative responsibilities and privileges process

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued clarification about county hearing representative responsibilities before a hearing.  The county hearing representative initially impartially reviews the hearing request.  After the review, the hearings representative either orders the county to take corrective action or defends the action at hearing.  The county hearings representative also provides claimants with information about the hearing process, including preparing a position statement.

The county hearings representative ensues that aid paid pending is paid when appropriate, identifies the issues raised in the hearing request, reviewed the disputed action(s) based on available evidence and regulations, and determines whether the case can be resolved or should proceed to hearing.

The county hearings representative also must provide reasonable accommodations for claimant’s disabilities, and services for limited English proficient claimants, including using forms that have been translated and using an interpreter for communication with the claimant at no cost to the claimant.

If the hearings representative cannot identify the issues from the hearing request, the hearings representative should attempt to contact the claimant to discuss the case.  If the hearings representative cannot reach the claimant, the hearings representative should review the case file for 90 days prior to the hearing request to determine issues.  If the hearings representative still cannot determine the issues, the hearings representative should write a limited position statement for the hearing. If the issues are identified on the day of the hearing and the hearings representative and claimant cannot reach a resolution, the hearings representative can request postponement of the hearing.

If the hearings representative determines the county action is correct, the county hearings representative should contact the claimant to explain the basis for the county action.  The hearings representative cannot imply that the claimant cannot or should not proceed with the hearing.  The hearings representative can explain the claimant’s right to withdraw if the claimant states they do not want to proceed with the hearing, but the county hearings representative cannot request a withdrawal.

If the hearings representative determines the county action is incorrect, the county representative must contact the case worker to take corrective action.  The county hearings representative must also contact the claimant to resolve the case without a hearing.  If that resolution is a conditional withdrawal, the language of the conditional withdrawal must be specific regarding the duties of the county and claimant for the action to be corrected.  A conditional withdrawal that states the county will re-review its action is insufficient. Conditional withdrawals should be in writing.  The county must ensure that corrective action is completed within 30 days.  If the claimant still chooses to attend the hearing, the hearings representative must be prepared for the hearing.

The hearings representative should inform the claimant of their right to review the case file and provide that access in two business days.  If the hearings representative withholds documents from the claimant pursuant to a claim of privilege, the hearings representative must prepare and give to the claimant a form identifying the withheld documents and the basis of the claim of privilege or confidentiality.  Welfare fraud investigation information from an active investigation is confidential unless that information has been used or relied on by the county in making its decision to take administrative action.  When the claimant challenges a county claim of privilege or confidentiality, the administrative law judge will convene an in camera proceeding to adjudicate that claim.

Finally, CDSS has issued guidelines for the content and format of county position statements for hearings.  (ACL 17-102, September 29, 2017.)