REDUCING UNNECESSARY BARRIERS FOR RELATIVE FOSTER PARENTS ACT
(House of Representatives - June 20, 2017)

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[Pages H4955-H4958]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




     REDUCING UNNECESSARY BARRIERS FOR RELATIVE FOSTER PARENTS ACT

  Mr. KELLY of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules 
and pass the bill (H.R. 2866) to review and improve licensing standards 
for placement in a relative foster family home, as amended.
  The Clerk read the title of the bill.
  The text of the bill is as follows:

                               H.R. 2866

       Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of 
     the United States of America in Congress assembled,

     SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

       This Act may be cited as the ``Reducing Unnecessary 
     Barriers for Relative Foster Parents Act''.

     SEC. 2. REVIEWING AND IMPROVING LICENSING STANDARDS FOR 
                   PLACEMENT IN A RELATIVE FOSTER FAMILY HOME.

       (a) Identification of Reputable Model Licensing 
     Standards.--Not later than October 1, 2018, the Secretary of 
     Health and Human Services shall identify reputable model 
     licensing standards with respect to the licensing of foster 
     family homes (as defined in section 472(c)(1) of the Social 
     Security Act).
       (b) State Plan Requirement.--Section 422(b) of the Social 
     Security Act (42 U.S.C. 622(b)) is amended--
       (1) in paragraph (18), by striking ``and'' after the 
     semicolon;
       (2) in paragraph (19), by striking the period at the end 
     and inserting a semicolon; and
       (3) by adding at the end the following:
       ``(20) provide that, not later than April 1, 2019, the 
     State shall submit to the Secretary information addressing--
       ``(A) whether the State licensing standards are in accord 
     with model standards identified by the Secretary, and if not, 
     the reason for the specific deviation and a description as to 
     why having a standard that is reasonably in accord with the 
     corresponding national model standards is not appropriate for 
     the State;
       ``(B) whether the State has elected to waive standards 
     established in 471(a)(10)(A) for relative foster family homes 
     (pursuant to waiver authority provided by 471(a)(10)(D)), a 
     description of which standards the State most commonly 
     waives, and if the State has not elected to waive the 
     standards, the reason for not waiving these standards;
       ``(C) if the State has elected to waive standards specified 
     in subparagraph (B), how caseworkers are trained to use the 
     waiver authority and whether the State has developed a 
     process or provided tools to assist caseworkers in waiving 
     nonsafety standards per the authority provided in 
     471(a)(10)(D) to quickly place children with relatives; and
       ``(D) a description of the steps the State is taking to 
     improve caseworker training or the process, if any.''.

     SEC. 3. EFFECTIVE DATE.

       (a) Effective Date.--Subject to subsection (b), the 
     amendments made by this Act shall take effect on the date of 
     enactment of this Act.
       (b) Transition Rule.--
       (1) In general.--In the case of a State plan under part E 
     of title IV of the Social Security Act which the Secretary of 
     Health and Human Services determines requires State 
     legislation (other than legislation appropriating funds) in 
     order for the plan to meet the additional requirements 
     imposed by the amendments made by this Act, the State plan 
     shall not be regarded as failing to comply with the 
     requirements of such part solely on the basis of the failure 
     of the plan to meet such additional requirements before the 
     first day of the first calendar quarter beginning after the 
     close of the first regular session of the State legislature 
     that begins after the date of enactment of this Act. For 
     purposes of the previous sentence, in the case of a State 
     that has a 2-year legislative session, each year of the 
     session shall be deemed to be a separate regular session of 
     the State legislature.
       (2) Application to programs operated by indian tribal 
     organizations.--In the case of an Indian tribe, tribal 
     organization, or tribal consortium which the Secretary of 
     Health and Human Services determines requires time to take 
     action necessary to comply with the additional requirements 
     imposed by the amendments made by this Act (whether the 
     tribe, organization, or tribal consortium has a plan under 
     section 479B of the Social Security Act or a cooperative 
     agreement or contract entered into with a State), the 
     Secretary shall provide the tribe, organization, or tribal 
     consortium with such additional time as the Secretary 
     determines is necessary for the tribe, organization, or 
     tribal consortium to take the action to comply with the 
     additional requirements before being regarded as failing to 
     comply with the requirements.

  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from 
Pennsylvania (Mr. Kelly) and the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Danny K. 
Davis) each will control 20 minutes.
  The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Pennsylvania.


                             General Leave

  Mr. KELLY of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that 
all Members may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and 
extent their remarks and include extraneous material on H.R. 2866, 
currently under consideration.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from Pennsylvania?
  There was no objection.
  Mr. KELLY of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I 
may consume.
  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on H.R. 2866, the 
Reducing Unnecessary Barriers for Relative Foster Parents Act, 
introduced by my friend from Pennsylvania (Mr. Smucker).
  Introducing this legislation, Congressman Smucker was joined by our 
Ways and Means colleague, Congresswoman Terri Sewell from across the 
aisle. The bill has strong bipartisan support, including mine. I am a 
cosponsor. And the Child Welfare League of America has strongly 
endorsed this legislation.
  So what does this bill do? Well, in short, the bill will reduce the 
bureaucratic process for placing children in foster care with 
relatives, when possible, and is in the best interest of the child.
  Now, this just makes common sense. Last year alone, there were almost 
a half million children in foster care, more than 16,000 children in my 
home State of Pennsylvania alone. Now, there are countless family 
members of these foster children who are not only willing, but they are 
ready to have these children placed in their homes when one of their 
relatives can't take care of them.
  As a matter of good public policy, we should be making the placement 
process much easier for family members, not more difficult, because it 
is often in the best interest of the child.
  Studies show that placing foster children with relatives solves many 
of the problems children face when being placed into foster care; 
moreover, it improves the outcomes for these children. Children are 
more likely to succeed when they can stay with a family member of their 
own and someone they are already familiar with and know. Children 
placed with relatives tend to spend less time in foster care and also 
experience much more stability.
  The problem is that, while current law allows States to waive certain 
licensing standards when placing children with relatives, many States 
have been slow to implement the law. One of the purported reasons is 
that caseworkers are slow or they simply don't know how to place 
children with relatives because of a lack of training on their part.
  Today, caseworkers may not be adequately trained regarding their 
ability to waive certain standards when licensing relatives. This has 
resulted in delays in placing children with relatives.
  And when these children are already facing a tremendous amount of 
turmoil and uncertainty in their lives, we shouldn't be tying them up 
in bureaucratic red tape. We need to do more to place these children 
with a loving family member whenever possible.
  Now, how do we do that? Well, Representative Smucker's bill, H.R. 
2866, will help remedy this problem by making our foster care system 
more family

[[Page H4956]]

friendly, by ensuring States take proactive steps to speed up the 
licensing process for relatives.
  Specifically, the bill would require Health and Human Services to 
identify reputable model standards for licensing foster family homes by 
October 1, 2018. States, subsequently, would need to do their part by 
submitting their plans to be in compliance with model standards for 
family foster care placement. Additionally, States would need to 
explain how caseworkers in their respective States are being trained.
  This commonsense bill is at absolutely no cost to taxpayers, but it 
would pay tremendous dividends for our Nation's children. Every child 
deserves to be raised in a loving home. The Smucker-Sewell bill will 
ensure that many more children can live safely and happily with loving 
family members when they cannot stay in their own home with their 
nuclear family.
  I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this important 
legislation. Passing this legislation is the very least we can do for 
these children.
  Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. DANNY K. DAVIS of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as she 
may consume to the gentlewoman from Alabama (Ms. Sewell) for the 
purpose of a colloquy.
  Ms. SEWELL of Alabama. Mr. Speaker, I thank Ranking Member Davis for 
yielding me the time.
  At this time, I would like to engage in a colloquy with the gentleman 
from Pennsylvania (Mr. Kelly).
  As we have discussed, H.R. 2866 requires HHS to identify reputable 
model licensing standards so that States can determine whether their 
current requirements are in accord.
  Is it your expectation that the National Association for Regulatory 
Administration's Model Family Foster Home Licensing Standards would be 
the kind of standards envisioned by the bill?
  Mr. KELLY of Pennsylvania. Will the gentlewoman yield?
  Ms. SEWELL of Alabama. I yield to the gentleman from Pennsylvania.
  Mr. KELLY of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman for 
yielding.
  My feeling is the National Association for Regulatory 
Administration's Model Foster Home Licensing Standards would be a prime 
example of what HHS should consider.
  Ms. SEWELL of Alabama. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from 
Pennsylvania for that response.
  Mr. KELLY of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I yield 4 minutes to the 
gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Smucker), the sponsor of this 
important legislation, from my home State and a key member of the 
Keystone Coalition.

  Mr. SMUCKER. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of and to ask my 
colleagues' support for H.R. 2866, the Reducing Unnecessary Barriers 
for Relative Foster Parents Act.
  I would like to first thank my friend and colleague from Pennsylvania 
for his leadership and sponsorship of this bill. I would like to thank 
the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Representative Brady, and 
members of the Ways and Means Committee for bringing this bill to the 
floor, and I would like to thank my cointroducer of the bill, 
Representative Sewell from Alabama, as well, for the work that she has 
done in regards to foster care issues over the years.
  Every child, Mr. Speaker, deserves a loving home; but when a child's 
home is no longer safe, often because of abuse, neglect, or behavioral 
issues, children are placed in foster homes. In fact, in 2015, more 
than 670,000 American children--16,000 in Pennsylvania, the State, 
including in my district, more than 16,000 there have spent time in 
foster care.
  Countless families across the country are willing and eager to accept 
foster children into their homes, and research shows that placement 
with relatives is better for the child. Therefore, Federal policy 
should make it easier for foster children to be placed with family 
members.
  Our bill is being considered today on the floor, and again, I ask for 
my colleagues' support. When it comes to finding loving homes for 
children, this is a bipartisan issue. 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.
  Mr. Speaker, I would like to also note that the following 
organizations have expressed support for H.R. 2866: the American 
Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and 
Gynecologists, Child Welfare League of America, First Focus, March of 
Dimes, and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners.
  Again, I would like to thank Representative Sewell from Alabama for 
her work on foster care issues and for her leadership on this bill. We 
really appreciate her work.
  Mr. DANNY K. DAVIS of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time 
as I may consume.
  I strongly support H.R. 2866, the Reducing Unnecessary Barriers for 
Relative Foster Parents Act.
  This important bill helps relative caregivers by requiring States to 
examine whether their licensing standards align with the best practices 
in licensing family foster homes. In so doing, H.R. 2866 requires 
States to set reasonable requirements for family homes, standards that 
consider community norms and cultural differences and standards that 
remove artificial barriers to family care.
  I have advocated these provisions within my own bill to improve 
support for kinship caregivers, and I am proud to support Congresswoman 
Sewell and Congressman Smucker's bill.
  More than 25 percent of children in care live with a grandparent or 
other relative. My congressional district has the highest percentage of 
children living with grandparent caregivers in the Nation, followed 
closely by two other congressional districts in Illinois.
  In Illinois, 37 percent of all children placed in out-of-home care 
are placed with relatives; however, less than half of these children 
are placed with relatives in homes that are licensed.
  The vast majority of relative caregivers are not able to become 
licensed caregivers because the standards do not make sense with their 
circumstances, such as requiring a grandmother in an expensive city 
like Chicago to have one bedroom for each of her three grandbabies or 
requiring her to take dozens of hours of parent training each year.
  In 2008, I worked with Congressman Jerry Weller from Illinois to 
allow States the ability to waive nonsafety licensing standards on a 
case-by-case basis to help kinship caregivers via the Fostering 
Connections Act. Unfortunately, many States chose not to exercise this 
waiver authority to assist kin caregivers.
  For example, in 2011, although Illinois had more than 3,600 
nonlicensed relatives caring for youth, only 72 licensing waivers for 
relatives were approved. Less than 2 percent received waivers.
  H.R. 2866 requires States to modernize their licensing standards to 
align with the best practices in licensing. This is a commonsense and 
important change.

                              {time}  1615

  Further, this bill advances our goal of ensuring that States follow 
the waivers to meet the best interests of the children. To understand 
the use of waivers, Children's Bureau should collect data on State's 
granting waivers for nonsafety licensing standards for relatives, 
including the number of relatives applying for waivers, the number of 
waivers issued or denied, and the reason for denial.
  I strongly support H.R. 2866, the Reducing Unnecessary Barriers for 
Relative Foster Parents Act and urge my colleagues to support it.
  I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. KELLY of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I continue to reserve the 
balance of my time.
  Mr. DANNY K. DAVIS of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I yield 4 minutes to the 
gentlewoman from Alabama (Ms. Sewell) who is a sponsor of this bill.
  Ms. SEWELL of Alabama. Mr. Speaker, I thank Ranking Member Davis for 
yielding me the time.
  H.R. 2866, the Reducing Unnecessary Barriers for Relative Foster 
Parents Act, is a commonsense piece of legislation that has strong 
bipartisan support right here in the House. I want to especially thank 
the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Smucker) who is joining me in 
introducing this bill. I want to

[[Page H4957]]

thank him for his leadership on foster care and foster youth and again 
say thank you for looking for what is in the best interests of the most 
vulnerable children in our society.
  H.R. 2866 has been supported by not only bipartisan support here in 
the House but has the support of many foster care advocacy groups, 
including Generations United, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the 
American Academy of Pediatrics.
  Mr. Speaker, we need to do everything in our power to make the foster 
care system family friendly, and H.R. 2866 takes an important step in 
that direction. By motivating States to update the foster care 
licensing regulations, we can reduce red tape and make it easier for 
family members to become foster parents.
  Research conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, 
academics, and advocacy groups all show that children experience better 
outcomes when they are in the care of family members compared to 
children in nonrelative care.
  When kids are placed with a relative like a grandparent, they 
experience fewer school changes, are less likely to reenter the foster 
care system, and are more likely to be adopted. Moreover, data shows 
that foster youth experience better behavioral and mental health 
outcomes, are more likely to report that they ``feel loved,'' and are 
more likely to stay connected with their communities.
  I want to again thank Representative Smucker from Pennsylvania for 
his leadership and sponsorship of this bill with me, as well as my 
Democrat and Republican colleagues on the House Ways and Means 
Committee for unanimously supporting this legislation.
  I am encouraged to see that this body values our foster youth, and I 
hope we can continue to keep up the spirit of bipartisanship.
  Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this commonsense 
legislation.
  Mr. KELLY of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I continue to reserve the 
balance of my time.
  Mr. DANNY K. DAVIS of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the 
gentlewoman from California (Ms. Bass).
  Ms. BASS. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 2866, and I want to 
congratulate my good friends, Representatives Sewell, Kelly, and 
Smucker for this legislation to reduce barriers for relative 
caregivers.
  Ironically, in the 1990s, when the crack cocaine epidemic hit, that 
was the first time that women started using drugs equal to men. It 
hadn't happened before, and so families fell apart. One of the things 
that happened, in the early 1990s, was in the middle of the night a 
grandmother might be called and three grandchildren delivered to her by 
Children's Protective Services. The grandmother would take the children 
without any support and without any knowledge of how to deal with the 
trauma that the children faced.
  During those years, we actually discriminated against relatives. We 
said very negative things about them such as: the apple doesn't fall 
far from the tree; and, if your daughter wound up on drugs, why should 
we give the children to you?
  So during those years, we would rather pay a stranger--and there can 
be wonderful foster parents--but a stranger to take care of children 
instead of families.
  One of the things we did in Los Angeles was we organized the 
grandmothers, and we trained them how to go before the board of 
supervisors and advocate on their own behalf. That happened all around 
the country. So there really was a movement of relatives who rose up 
and said: We want our children; we just need help. We might be on a 
fixed income, and we can't really support the children.
  It is actually more expensive to put a child in foster care. So there 
began a national movement for relative caregivers to fighting for their 
rights and for services. So over the years, we really evolved to the 
point where we have legislation like this where we recognize the 
benefit of having relatives take care of children.
  Ironically, the last piece of legislation we were talking about was 
about children aging out of the system. Before we prioritized 
relatives, what would happen is a young child who was aging out of 
foster care, we would put them on the street, and the first thing they 
would do would be to go look for their families because they might have 
family somewhere, and they would often do that.
  This legislation, I think, is extremely important to allow 
flexibility for licensing of relative caregivers. Examples of 
grandmothers who I worked with directly who wanted to take in their 
grandchildren but they were told they didn't have enough bedrooms in 
their house, and so we were going to put the children in more expensive 
foster care and break them up and send them to different foster homes 
instead of leaving them with the grandmother or assist her in moving.

  So legislation like H.R. 2866, I believe, will begin to address some 
of these challenges and do what every child needs, which is to be in a 
loving home with family.
  Mr. KELLY of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I continue to reserve the 
balance of my time.
  Mr. DANNY K. DAVIS of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the 
balance of my time.
  H.R. 2866 is important because it supports kinship caregivers. 
Research shows that children placed in kinship care are safer, more 
stable placements and are more likely to be connected with their 
siblings and community than children placed in nonrelative placements.
  In addition to these positive outcomes for children in relative care, 
research shows that kinship care placements are more cost effective. In 
Illinois, cost studies estimated an average of $4,778 in savings of 
title IV-E administrative expenses over an 8-year period compared to a 
match control group that did not have this option.
  More than 400,000 children make up our Nation's foster care 
population with more than one in four of these vulnerable children 
living with a grandparent or other relative. We should do as much as we 
can to strengthen these families and children. H.R. 2866 takes an 
important step forward.
  Mr. Speaker, I have two facilities in my congressional district that 
have outstanding programs. They are 45-unit buildings that have been 
constructed for grandparents raising grandchildren. One is operated by 
the Sankofa Safe Child Initiative, the other by the Coppin AME Church 
Community Development Agency. Both of these are tremendous examples of 
what can happen when children have the opportunity to be nurtured by 
grandparents.
  Mr. Speaker, I strongly support this legislation. I urge its passage, 
and I yield back the balance of my time.
  Mr. KELLY of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I 
may consume.
  Mr. Speaker, I just want to take a minute because I think today is 
one of those days where the American people look to the people's House 
and say: Isn't it something that they can actually agree? Isn't it 
something that they actually think with their hearts? Isn't it actually 
something that they can come together on an issue that is so basic, so 
simple, and so easy to understand?
  We are talking about our most precious asset and the country's best 
hope for the future: our children.
  As I heard Ms. Sewell talk and Ms. Bass talk, I know in their hearts 
how they feel about this. I know this is not something they just 
thought about today or this week or thought this would be a good piece 
of legislation; they think it is good because it is good for American 
people.
  Mr. Smucker joined with Ms. Sewell to have this legislation come 
forward. It is a breath of fresh air for the people's House. This is 
legislation that protects children, legislation that puts children with 
their families in case they can't be taken care of in their own homes, 
and it is an incredible effort by both sides.
  I want to tell you what a great privilege it is to serve with you 
today and to be on the floor with you. Mr. Davis is eloquent. Ms. Bass, 
Ms. Sewell, and Mr. Smucker of Pennsylvania are good friends of mine. 
So it is good to be here today.
  Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The question is on the motion offered by the 
gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Kelly) that the House suspend the 
rules and pass the bill, H.R. 2866, as amended.

[[Page H4958]]

  The question was taken.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. In the opinion of the Chair, two-thirds 
being in the affirmative, the ayes have it.
  Mr. KELLY of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and 
nays.
  The yeas and nays were ordered.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to clause 8 of rule XX, further 
proceedings on this motion will be postponed.

                          ____________________