OLR Bill Analysis

HB 6899

AN ACT EXPANDING GUARDIANSHIP OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHILDREN AND IMPLEMENTING PROVISIONS OF THE FEDERAL PREVENTING SEX TRAFFICKING AND STRENGTHENING FAMILIES ACT.

SUMMARY:

This bill makes changes in several Department of Children and Families (DCF)-related statutes.

Principally, the bill:

1. permits caregivers to allow children with service or safety plans to participate in “normal childhood activities” (i.e., extracurricular, enrichment, and social activities, including overnight activities outside the caregiver's direct supervision for up to 72 hours) without prior department or court approval ( 1);

2. limits permanency plan goals involving certain planned permanent living arrangements (such as placement in an independent living program) to children age 16 or 17 (i.e., youths), establishes certain requirements for these arrangements, and eliminates certain other goals ( 2-5);

3. defines “fictive kin caregivers,” allows child placement with one of these individuals, makes such caregivers eligible for guardianship subsidies, and allows for the transfer of such subsidies from one caregiver to a successor caregiver ( 6 - 11);

4. requires foster care providers, relative and fictive kin caregivers, and child care facilities to use a “reasonable and prudent parent standard” (i.e., careful and sensible parental decisions that maintain a child's health, safety, and best interests) ( 7);

5. broadens the (a) circumstances in which DCF must disclose records to specified parties without the subject's consent and (b) list of individuals who must submit to criminal history and child abuse registry checks ( 6, 16, & 17);

6. adds to the list of individuals the DCF commissioner must notify when (1) she removes a child from parental custody and extends the amount of time DCF has to provide the notice or (2) a child committed to DCF custody is missing or abducted ( 12 & 14); and

7. increases the number of children for whom DCF must request an annual credit report ( 13).

The bill also makes several minor, technical, and conforming changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2015

1 ─ NORMAL CHILDHOOD ACTIVITIES

The bill permits a caregiver to allow a child in his or her care under a DCF or court-ordered service or safety plan to participate in normal childhood activities without prior DCF or court approval. The activities must (1) comply with the service or safety plan and (2) be age or developmentally appropriate based on a reasonably prudent parent standard. The bill allows the DCF commissioner, upon the caregiver's written request, to approve such a child's participation in normal childhood activities that deviate from the service or safety plan.

A DCF representative, during home visits and meetings with parents, must document the child's (1) interest in and pursuit of normal childhood activities and (2) participation in such activities in the child's service and safety plans. The representative must also communicate to the caregiver the parents' opinions on the child's participation in normal childhood activities so that the caregiver may consider them when providing the child's care.

Definitions

For purposes of these provisions, the bill defines:

1. a “caregiver” as a (a) DCF-licensed foster care provider, (b) person approved by a licensed child-placing agency to provide foster care, (c) relative or fictive kin caregiver (see definition below), or (d) licensed child placing agency operator or official;

2. “reasonable and prudent parent standard” as careful and sensible parental decisions that maintain a child's health, safety, and best interests; and

3. “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” as (a) activities or items generally accepted as suitable for children of the same age or maturity level or determined to be developmentally appropriate for a child based on the cognitive, emotional, physical, and behavioral capacities typical for his or her age or age group or (b) in the case of a specific child, activities or items that are suitable based on his or her cognitive, emotional, physical, and behavioral capabilities.

Liability

The bill makes the department, caregiver, child-placing agency, child care facility, or any other state-contracted private entity immune from liability for any injury a child sustains as the result of a caregiver allowing him or her to participate in normal childhood activities under these provisions, unless the injury was due to the person's or entity's gross, willful, or wanton negligence. This provision of the bill does not remove or limit existing liability protection.

Private Contractor Policies

The bill requires private entities that contract with DCF to place children in department custody to have policies consistent with the above provisions. Such policies are not consistent if they are incompatible with, contradictory to, or more restrictive than these provisions.

2-5 ─ PERMANENCY PLANS

Goals

The law requires DCF to establish and periodically revise permanency plans for children in its care or custody, which include abused and neglected children, delinquents, and children in its voluntary services program (i.e., children whose mental health needs could not otherwise be met).

Under current law, a child's permanency plan may include certain goals depending on the grounds for commitment. In general, these goals include parental or guardian reunification; guardianship transfer; long-term foster care with a licensed relative (or if the child is a delinquent, permanent placement with a relative); or termination of parental rights and adoption. If the court has documented compelling reason that these goals are not in the child's best interest, the goal may instead be another planned permanent living arrangement such as an independent living program or long-term foster care with an identified foster parent.

The bill eliminates (1) permanent placement with a relative from the list of allowable permanency plan goals for delinquents and (2) long-term foster care with a licensed relative as a goal for all other commitments (though DCF must still make efforts to place a child with a relative under other permanency plan provisions, as described below). It also limits the goal of another planned permanent living arrangement to youths (who are defined as age 16 or 17).

Under the bill, if a youth's permanency plan goal is another planned permanent living arrangement, it must document for the court the:

1. manner and frequency of its efforts to return the youth to his or her home or a secure placement with a fit and willing relative, legal guardian, or adoptive parent; and

2. steps it has taken to ensure the (a) youth's foster family home or child care institution is following a reasonable and prudent parent standard and (b) youth has regular opportunities to engage in age and developmentally appropriate activities.

For such youths, the court must:

1. ask about his or her desired permanency outcome;

2. make a judicial determination that, as of the hearing date, the other planned living arrangement is the best permanency plan for the youth; and

3. document the compelling reason why it is not in the youth's best interest to return home or be placed with a fit and willing relative, legal guardian, or adoptive parent.

The bill also requires the court to ask a child committed to the department for abuse or neglect about his or her desired permanency outcome at the child's permanency hearing, regardless of the permanency plan goal.

6 & 7 ─ FICTIVE KIN CAREGIVERS AND CHILD PLACEMENT

The bill renames “special study foster parents” as “fictive kin caregivers” and narrows the category of individuals who qualify as such. Under current law, a special study foster parent is a person age 21 or older not licensed by DCF to provide foster care. Under the bill, a fictive kin caregiver must additionally (1) be unrelated to a child by birth, adoption, or marriage; (2) have an emotionally significant relationship with the child similar to a family relationship; and (3) not be approved by DCF to provide foster care.

Currently, DCF may place a child in foster care with a person if (1) he or she is licensed by DCF or the Department of Developmental Services to provide such care or (2) his or her home is approved by a licensed child placing agency. The bill additionally allows DCF to place a child in foster care with a person who has received approval to provide foster care by a child-placing agency, which conforms to a current practice.

Currently, DCF may also place a child, if it's in his or her best interest, with (1) an unlicensed relative; (2) a nonrelative, if the child's sibling who is related to the caregiver is also placed with the caregiver; or (3) a special study foster parent. The bill eliminates the last two placement options but allows placement with a fictive kin caregiver if it is in the child's best interest. The fictive kin caregiver is subject to the same home visitation, criminal background check, and licensure requirements already in law for such placements.

Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard

The bill requires relative and fictive kin caregivers and licensed or approved foster care providers to use a reasonable and prudent parent standard on the child's behalf. Licensed child care facilities must designate an on-site staff member to apply the standard on a child's behalf.

8-11 ─ GUARDIANSHIP SUBSIDY

Eligibility

The bill shortens the name of the Adoption Subsidy Review Board to the Subsidy Review Board and makes several conforming changes. It also eliminates the requirement that the board member representing a child-placing agency and his or her alternate be licensed.

The bill broadens eligibility for, and the beneficiaries of DCF's subsidized guardianship program. Currently, the program provides subsidies to licensed foster care relatives who have cared for a child for at least six months because the child's parent died or was otherwise unable to care for the child for reasons that make parental reunification and adoption not viable options in the foreseeable future.

The bill makes fictive kin caregivers and foster care providers approved by licensed child-placement agencies eligible for the subsidized guardianship program under the same circumstances.

Subsidy Transfers

Current law allows a guardianship subsidy to be transferred from one relative caregiver to another if the subsidy recipient dies or becomes severely disabled or ill. The bill additionally allows such transfers to and from fictive kin guardians and foster care providers as well as relative caregivers (i.e., successor guardians). To be eligible for the subsidy transfer, the successor guardian must (1) be the child's court-appointed legal guardian, (2) be identified in the subsidy agreement, and (3) meet DCF's foster care safety requirements.

By law, the subsidy may continue until the child turns age (1) 18 or (2) 21, if he or she (a) attends a secondary school, technical school, or college full-time; (b) is in a state accredited job training programs, or (c) meets other federal law requirements. Under the bill, the subsidy may be provided to a successor, subject to annual review, through the child's 21st birthday if the:

1. transfer was finalized after September 30, 2013;

2. child was at least age 16 when the transfer was finalized;

3. child is (a) enrolled in a full-time approved secondary education program or an approved program leading to an equivalent credential, (b) enrolled full-time in a postsecondary or vocational institution, or (c) participating full time in a commissioner-approved program or activity designed to promote or remove barriers to employment.

The bill allows the commissioner, at her discretion, to waive the enrollment or participation requirements based on compelling circumstances. In order to receive the transferred subsidy, the guardian must, at the commissioner's annual review time, submit to her a sworn statement that the child is still meeting the education or participation requirement unless the requirement was waived.

The bill also requires the commissioner, at least 30 days before terminating or reducing a subsidy, to provide written notice to the subsidy recipient and a hearing before the Subsidy Review Board. The subsidy must continue unmodified during any appeal and until the board issues its decision.

16 ─ RECORDS DISCLOSURE

The bill expands the circumstances in which DCF must disclose records about a person to specified parties without the person's consent. Under the bill, DCF must disclose records without consent to any individual or entity to identify resources that will promote a child's or youth's court-approved permanency plan.

The bill also requires DCF to make such disclosures to the public school superintendent or head of a public or private child care institution or private school pursuant to the child's permanency plan.

6, 17 ─ CRIMINAL RECORDS CHECKS

By law, DCF must (1) require all applicants for employment with DCF or foster care licensure to submit to state and national criminal history records checks and (2) check the child abuse registry for the applicant's name. The bill broadens the entities that must submit to the criminal history and registry checks to include:

1. all vendors or contractors and their employees who (a) provide direct services to children in DCF custody or (b) have access to DCF records.

2. at the commissioner's discretion, anyone age 16 or older who is not living in the household but has regular unsupervised access to a child (i.e., periodic interaction to provide child care, medical or other services) in a licensed or approved applicant's home. (The bill also specifies that foster care applicants may be eligible if they are either licensed by DCF or approved by a DCF-licensed child care facility.)

The bill also requires the following individuals to submit to a state and national criminal history records check before a foster care license or approval may be renewed:

1. the person seeking a foster care license or approval renewal and anyone age 16 older living in the household and

2. at the commissioner's discretion, anyone age 16 or older who is not living in the household of the person seeking foster care license or approval renewal but who has regular unsupervised access to a child in the home.

12 ─ RELATIVE NOTIFICATION OF CHILD REMOVAL FROM PARENTAL CUSTODY

Currently, DCF must use its best efforts to notify the child's grandparents within 15 days of the child's removal from the home. The bill instead requires DCF to make a reasonable effort to provide notice within 30 days to the grandparents as well as to (1) each parent with legal custody of one or more of the child's siblings, and (2) any other adult related to the child by blood or marriage. “Sibling” includes a stepbrother, stepsister, half-brother, half-sister, anyone else who would be considered the child's sibling if not for parental rights termination or disruption, including the parent's death.

The commissioner must include in the notice a:

1. statement that the child has been removed from parental custody;

2. summary of the relative's rights under federal and state law to participate in the child's care and placement, including any options that may be deemed waived if the recipient fails to respond;

3. description of requirements to become licensed or approved as a foster family home and additional supports and services available for a child placed in the home; and

4. description of how the child's caregiver may subsequently enter into an agreement with DCF to receive foster care subsidies.

14 ─ REPORT OF MISSING OR ABDUCTED CHILD

The bill requires DCF to report any child committed to the department who is abducted or missing to the law enforcement authority with jurisdiction over the location where the child was abducted or reported missing. DCF must also report immediately, or within 24 hours after the child is missing or abducted, to the FBI's National Crime Information Center and to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

13 ─ CREDIT REPORTS

The bill increases the number of children who are in DCF custody and placed in foster care on whose behalf the commissioner must annually request a free credit report, from those age 16 and older to those age 14 and older. By law, DCF must review the reports for signs of identity theft, provide it to the child's attorney or guardian ad litem for review, assist a child in resolving any inaccuracies in the report, and report any evidence of identity theft to the chief state's attorney.

BACKGROUND

Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act

The federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183) makes several changes to the requirements child foster care and adoption agencies must meet to receive certain federal funds. Among its provisions, the act requires such agencies to:

1. develop a reasonable and prudent parent standard for a foster child's participation in certain activities;

2. limit certain permanency plan goals to children age 16 or older;

3. allow children age 14 and older to participate in certain aspects of case planning; and

4. immediately report missing or abducted children to the FBI.

Related Bill

HB 1007, reported favorably by the Children's Committee, limits the permanency plan goal of another planned permanent living arrangement to youths.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Committee on Children

Joint Favorable

Yea

13

Nay

0

(03/05/2015)