AFDC-Foster Care eligibility and redeterminations

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued a reminder and updated policy regarding Aid to Families with Dependent Children-Foster Care (AFDC-FC) eligibility and redeterminations.

AFDC-FC eligibility is established upon legal entry to re-entry into foster care, which is at the time a child is removed from the home or when a volunatary placement agreement is entered.  Annual deprivation redeterminations are not required.  Income and resources are not to be evaluated after the initial determination for the same foster care episode to determine continuing eligibility for AFDC-FC.

An eligibility redetermination is not required when a minor child or nonminor dependent in foster care receives income or property after the initial linkage determination is completed.  Counties must continue to assess for factors that impact AFDC-FC eligibility such as eligible placement, continued court jurisdiction, and, for nonminor dependents, participation in an employment or education activity.

Income and resources cannot be considered at any point in the foster care episode to determine eligibility a non-federal or federal AFDC-FC payment.  This is because a child in an eligible placement who is determined ineligible for a federal AFDC-FC payment is eligible to receive AFDC-FC without federal participation.

No redetermination can be conducted only because a youth turns age 18 while under an order for foster care placement.  Nonminor dependents who were eligible for AFDC-FC remain eligible until the youth exits foster care by court order.  A new AFDC deprivation determination is required only upon re-entry into foster care following a break in dependency.  That new determination is based only on the nonminor dependent’s income and resources, without regard for other family income and resources.

Beginning in 2022, there can be a new determination of AFDC-FC eligible for non-federally eligible youth who turn age 18 in order to access federal funds.

The Approved Relative Caregiver (ARC) program provides payments for relative placements that are not eligible for AFDC-FC.  Income or benefits on behalf of the child are not offset against the rate for ARC because the child’s income or benefits do not count in determining AFDC-FC benefits.  ARC benefits may only be reduced based on a partial month of placement.  Prior contrary guidance is superceeded.  (ACL 22-16, February 15, 2022.)

Bringing Families Home rules changes and funding

Bringing Families Home (BFH) supports to families receiving child welfare services who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, which increases family reunification and prevents foster care placement.   The child welfare services that BFH eligible families may be receiving include but are not limited to Family Reunification, Family Maintenance, Emergency Response services, or families in receipt of voluntary supervision to prevent the need for the child’s or children’s removal.

BFH eligibility now includes families who are homeless, at-risk of homelessness, families where the living situation cannot accommodate the child or multiple children in the home, and families who have not yet received an eviction notice.

In general, homeless for purposes of BFH means either 1) an individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, 2) an individual or family who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence, 3) living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living arrangements, 4) living in a place not designed for human habitation or for regular sleeping quarters, 5) Fleeing, or attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions that relate to violence against the individual or a family member, and the family has no other housing and lacks resources to obtain other housing, or 6) unaccompanied youth and homeless families with children and youth defined as homeless under any other federal statute who: (A) have experienced a long-term period without living independently in permanent housing, (B) have had frequent moves over a long-term period, and (C) can be expected to continue in that status for an extended period of time because of chronic disabilities, chronic physical health or mental health conditions, substance addiction, histories of domestic violence or childhood abuse, the presence of a child or youth with a disability, or multiple barriers to employment.

For the purposes of BFH, a person is defined as at-risk of homelessness when they are experiencing housing instability, including recipients who have not yet received an eviction notice; have no subsequent permanent residence secured; and lack resources to secure subsequent permanent housing.  Families must be allowed to self-attest that they are at-risk of homelessness.

For purposes of BFH, a living situation cannot accommodate a child or multiple children if it meets all three of the following requirements: A) the parent or guardian’s nighttime residence would not be an adequate or appropriate long term housing placement for children, or situations where a living arrangement, or tenancy would be terminated for the family if children were to live in the home; B) the family has no subsequent permanent residence secured, and; C) the family lacks resources or support networks needed to stabilize their unique housing situation and secure subsequent permanent housing.

Families and individuals must be allowed to self-attest that they meet the definition of “at risk of homelessness”, including that the living situation cannot accommodate a child or children. No additional verification or documentation demonstrating that a family meets the definition of “at risk of homelessness” is needed. BFH programs cannot require further evidence for the purposes of BFH enrollment.

BFH provides rapid rehousing service, which includes housing identification, rent and move-in assistance, and case management.  BFH can also provide supportive housing.  BFH can also provide homelessness prevention assistance, which includes payment rent or utility arrears, late fee payments, first month rent and/or security deposit, landlord mediation, repairs, habitability/accessibility improvements, and housing navigation.

BFH also provides housing related case management, housing navigation, housing related direct financial assistance, and housing stabilization.

BFH must operate in accordance with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Housing First principles.  This means that individuals should be connected to housing or housing support without preconditions, services must be voluntary, client choice must be respected, and client cannot be rejected on the basis of income, past evictions, substance abuse, or any other behavior that might indicate a lack of housing readiness.

Counties and tribes are exempt from the dollar-for-dollar match requirements for BFH between July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2024. (ACWDL, February 11, 2022.)

Caregiver’s right to access education records

The California Department of Social Services has provided information regarding caregiver’s access to education records.  Caregivers for youth in foster care now have access to education records, including an approved or licensed foster parents, resource parents, an approved relative or non-relative extended family member, relatives caring for the child, tribally approved homes, foster family agencies and Short-Term Residential Treatment Program staff, even if they are not the child’s education rights holder.

Education rights holders, including caregivers who are sometimes assigned education rights by the courts, a child’s biological parent who retains education rights after their child is placed in foster care, or a person other than the child’s caregiver or biological parent who is appointed by a court to hold education rights, have full access to student records.

Education records inclue records of attendance, discipline, online communication on platforms established by schools for students and parents, and any plan adopted pursuant to federal law.

Child welfare agencies, probation departments, or their designated foster family agency, are required to take all necessary steps to assist the caregiver in obtaining relevant health and education agencies.

Case plans for children in foster care now must include the health and education summary, contact information be redacted when disclosure is a threat to health and safety, an assurance that the placement agency provided the health and education summary to the current caregiver and helped the caregiver in getting needed information for the health and education summary.  (ACL 21-86, August 20, 2021.)

 

Foster Care new expectant parent payment

Beginning January 1, 2022, pregnant minors and nonminor dependents will be entitled to a payment made directly to them starting in the seventh month of pregnancy.  This payment is available to pregnant minors and nonminor dependents who receive AFDC-Foster Care or Adult Relative Caregiver benefits.

Prior to automation, this payment will be issued as a lump sum of $2,700.  When automation is finalized, an amount equal to the home-based foster care infant supplement will be paid monthly for the final three months of pregnancy.  Payments will not be automated until at least July 1, 2023.

The pregnant child or nonminor dependent cannot be required to submit any accounting or receipts to show how the funds are spent.  All items bought with these funds are property of the child or nonminor dependent and go with them when they change facility or age out.

Expectant parent payments are not available for children in the Adoption Assistance Program or the KinGAP program.

The expectant parent payment cannot be prorated and overpayments cannot be established or collected.  If the pregnancy is not identified before the seventh month, the child or nonminor dependent must still receive the entire three months of payment.

Counties should establish procedures for identifying and enrolling eligible children and nonminor dependents.  Counties should also identify opportunities in which case management workers can share information about this benefit.

Counties should request verification of pregnancy from a qualified medical professional.  (ACL 21-123, October 8, 2021.)

COVID-19 financial support for at-risk families

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has provided information about financial support for eligible at-risk families with child welfare contact during the COVID-19 state of emergency.  Financial support is up to $600 per eligible household, or up to $1,200 for eligible households with three or more children at risk of entering foster care.

Households are eligible if they meet one of the following criteria:

  • Households with a Family Maintenance service component without a subsequent entry into Foster Care.
  • Households with an Emergency Response service component without a subsequent entry into Foster Care.
  • Households with a substantiated ER referral, without an accompanying case opening or entry into FC.
  • Households with an inconclusive ER referral, without an accompanying case opening or entry into FC, where the Structured Decision Making Risk Assessment was considered “high” or “very high.”
  • Probation cases where a child was at “imminent” or “serious” risk of removal or was a candidate for FC.
  • Households where a child was returned for a Trial Home Visit (THV)

All categories include cases identified in May, 2021, and new eligible families identified in June through December, 2021 depending on availability of funds.

County child welfare services agencies will get a list of potentially eligible clients, with instructions for ensuring client eligibility.  County probation departments will give CDSS lists of eligible families.

Prepaid cards will be issued to eligible families.  Open Family Maintenance, Trial Home Visit, Emergency Response cases, probation candidates, and Substantiated Referrals will receive a one-time $600 payment ($1,200 if the family has three or more children at risk of entering Foster Care). Families determined to be at “High” or “Very High” risk with an inconclusive referral will receive a total one-time $300 payment ($600 if the family has three or more children at risk of entering Foster Care).

Families who receive a payment under one eligibility category will not receive a second payment if their case moves to another category.

These funds do not count as income for CalWORKs or CalFresh.

(ACL 21-83, July 21, 2021.)

Dispositional heaing after 18th birthday and extended foster care eligibility

An amendment to AB 748 now allows ​​for a child welfare dispositional hearing to occur for a youth who has turned 18 if the youth was a minor at a jurisdictional hearing prior to his or her 18th birthday and was continuously detained. The youth must provide informed consent for the dispositional hearing to take place. The dispositional hearing shall be held within 30 days of the jurisdictional hearing. 

If the 18 year old is adjudicated as a dependent, the youth shall be treated as if they attained 18 years of age while under an order of foster care placement, which will make them eligible for extended foster care.  If the youth chooses not to remain in extended foster care, the court shall set a hearing for termination of jurisdiction within 30 days.  If jurisdiction is terminated, the nonminor may petition the court to resume dependency jurisdiction at any time before turning age 21. (ACL 21-62, June 16, 2021).