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Congressman Lloyd Smucker

Representing the 11th District of Pennsylvania

Congress can help foster children find a loving home

June 20, 2017
In The News

Every child deserves a loving home. But when a child's home is no longer safe, often because of abuse, neglect, or behavioral issues, it is the state's responsibility to step in and ensure the well-being of the child. This often means that children are placed in foster homes.

In 2015, more than 670,000 children – more than 20,000 in Pennsylvania and Alabama – spent time in foster care. Countless relative and non-relative foster families across the country are willing and eager to accept foster children into their homes; however, research shows that placement with a relative is better for the child. Therefore, federal policy should make it easier for foster children to be placed with family members whenever possible.

A 2014 study from the University of Houston, as well as research conducted by Generations United, confirms that foster children placed in the home of a relative resulted in children spending less time in foster care, higher stability of placement, and continued benefits after exiting state custody. We should take every reasonable measure to make the foster care system more family-friendly.

However, some states have not updated their licensing requirements in years, while other states' licensing requirements unintentionally discourage foster youth from being placed with family members.

For example, in some states, it is not required that relatives be notified when a child enters the foster care system. In these cases, a grandparent or other relative may be willing and able to care for the child, but the child ends up in a foster home or group home because no one contacted the next of kin.

In other states, housing restrictions require relatives or foster parents to provide children with their own bedroom. This policy makes sense if a child is joining an unfamiliar foster family. In such a situation, personal space is incredibly important for a foster child. However, these standards make less sense if the child is moving into the home of a relative. Sharing a room with a cousin is obviously preferable to being placed in a non-family foster home.

These are just a few examples of why it is so important that we update licensing standards and ensure that foster kids can be placed with family members whenever possible.

So we worked across the aisle to introduce the bipartisan Reducing Barriers for Relative Foster Parents Act (H.R. 2866) – legislation that cuts red tape and makes it easier for relatives to become foster parents.

Specifically, our bill will direct the Department of Health and Human Services to modernize licensing standards that states can use as a model to update their own standards. If a state chooses not to adopt HHS's modern licensing standards, it must explain why the standard is not appropriate for its specific situation.

For the children in our foster care system, these changes could mean the difference between finding a permanent loving home with their family or continued instability. Updating foster care standards will also provide foster parents and human resource caseworkers with consistent and coherent licensing standards that put the well-being of our children first. The Reducing Barriers for Relative Foster Parents Act is an opportunity for both parties to work together to address these challenges with a commonsense solution that helps keep families together.

Our bill will be considered on the House floor Tuesday, and we are confident it will pass. When it comes to finding loving homes for children, there are no Republicans or Democrats -- just mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and sons and daughters who believe each child should have a bed to be tucked into at night in a loving home.

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