House Passes Bipartisan Smucker, Sewell Bill to Help Place Foster Children in the Homes of Family Members

June 20, 2017
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker (PA-16) is working across the aisle to make the foster care system more family-friendly by making it easier to place foster children in the home of a family member. Today, the House passed Rep. Smucker’s bipartisan legislation that he introduced with Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07). The Reducing Barriers for Relative Foster Parents Act will help states identify ways to expedite foster placement of children with family members.

A 2014 study from the University of Houston, as well as a report from Generations United, confirms that placing foster children in the home of a family member results in children spending less time in foster care, higher stability of placement, and continued benefits after exiting state custody. This bipartisan legislation directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to modernize foster care licensing standards that states can use as a model to update their own standards.

In a Washington Examiner op-ed on the bill, Reps. Smucker and Sewell said:

“In 2015 more than 670,000 American children – and 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.”

“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.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Smucker spoke on the House floor to urge his colleagues to support his bipartisan legislation. You can watch his floor speech here.

Additionally, Rep. Sewell spoke on the House floor to urge passage of the legislation. You can watch her speak here. Rep. Mike Kelly (PA-03), a sponsor of Rep. Smucker’s legislation, also spoke in support of the legislation. You can watch that video here.


Courtesy of the House Ways and Means Committee

Present law 

States are required to set and maintain licensing standards for foster family homes and child care institutions. They are generally free to set these standards as they choose so far as the standards are ‘‘reasonably in accord’’ with standards recommended by relevant national organizations with regard to admission policies, safety, sanitation, and protection of civil rights, and provided they permit the use of the ‘‘reasonable and prudent parenting standard,’’ defined in federal law [Sec. 471(a)(10) of the Social Security Act].

States must generally apply the same licensing standard to any foster family receiving child welfare support, although, on a case- by-case basis, they may choose to waive ‘‘non-safety’’ standards (e.g. size of bedroom) for a child placed in a relative foster family home [Sec. 471(a)(10)(D) of the Social Security Act].

Explanation of provision 

This section would require HHS to identify reputable model standards for licensing foster family homes not later than October 1, 2018. No later than April 1, 2019 each state would be required to submit information to HHS on whether its own licensing standards are fully consistent with the model standards identified by HHS, and, if not, why this inconsistency is appropriate for the state.

No later than April 1, 2018, each state would also be required to submit information to HHS on whether it uses this authority to waive non-safety standards for relative foster family caregivers. If a state does not use this authority, it would be required to give the reasons why this is the case. If the state does use this waiver authority, it would need to indicate which standards are most often waived and whether the state has developed a process or has pro- vided tools to assist caseworkers in using this waiver authority. It would further need to describe how caseworkers are trained in using this waiver authority, including any steps taken to improve the training on the waiver process.

Reason for change 

Under current law, states can waive non-safety licensing standards when placing children with relatives. However, states do not appear to be taking full advantage of this provision in the law. The Committee understands caseworkers may not be appropriately trained regarding their ability to waive certain standards when licensing relatives, and that this has resulted in delays in placing children in these families. This provision would ensure states take proactive steps to speed the process of licensing relatives, that they follow model standards for these placements (or explain why they deviate from these standards), and that they provide appropriate tools to caseworkers to simplify the process so more children can live safely with family members when they cannot stay in their own home.