PA 17-81—sSB 893

Committee on Children

AN ACT CONCERNING REVISIONS TO CERTAIN STATUTES REGARDING THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES

SUMMARY: This act makes various changes in the laws governing the Department of Children and Families (DCF).

By law, DCF may, under certain circumstances, provide subsidies to (1) parents who adopt children with special needs and (2) relative caregivers who act as foster parents. The act:

1. eliminates the Subsidy Review Board and instead allows subsidy recipients aggrieved by a department decision related to a subsidy the opportunity for an administrative hearing in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act (UAPA);

2. subjects all guardianship subsidies to the commissioner's annual review;

3. permits, rather than requires, DCF to provide subsidies for youths ages 18 through 20 who fulfill certain requirements; and

4. allows DCF to require subsidy recipients to submit additional documentation to DCF for its review.

The act expands the list of entities to whom DCF, under certain circumstances, must or may disclose its records without the subject's consent. It allows the department to charge a reasonable fee to disclose any record more than 100 pages long, but DCF must waive the fee if the requester is indigent.

The act also requires DCF to notify the appropriate credentialing agency of the results of an investigation of child abuse or neglect by a school employee or child care facility staff member.

Additionally, it (1) requires the commissioner to adopt regulations related to child care facilities DCF licenses and (2) makes several technical and conforming changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2017

2-5 — ADOPTION AND GUARDIANSHIP SUBSIDIES

By law, DCF provides subsidies through its subsidized guardianship program to relative caregivers when a child has been in foster care for at least six consecutive months and neither parental reunification nor adoption is an appropriate permanency goal. Under certain circumstances, the department also provides a one-time subsidy or periodic subsidies, or both, to parents who adopt a child with special needs.

Subsidy Review Board

The act eliminates the Subsidy Review Board that heard appeals of DCF decisions regarding adoption or guardianship subsidies. Prior law (1) allowed licensed child placing agencies and adoptive parents to appeal to the board any subsidy decision the commissioner made and (2) required DCF to provide a board hearing to subsidy recipients aggrieved by a department decision. The act instead requires DCF to provide such an aggrieved recipient a hearing before the department that is conducted in accordance with the UAPA.

Guardianship Subsidy Duration

Under prior law, DCF had to provide subsidies through its subsidized guardianship program to certain foster caretakers (1) until the child turned age 18 or (2) through the child's 21st birthday if he or she met certain educational or training or federal requirements. Prior law also provided similar criteria under which successor guardians of foster children could continue to receive such subsidies up until the child turned age 21, subject to the commissioner's annual review.

The act subjects all guardianship subsidies to the commissioner's annual review. It eliminates the (1) requirement that DCF continue the subsidies for 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds who fulfill certain education or training requirements and (2) separate subsidy criteria for children age 16 or older who are in the care of successor guardians.

Under the act, the commissioner may provide guardianship subsidies for 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds if they are:

1. enrolled in a full-time approved secondary education program or an approved program leading to an equivalent credential,

2. enrolled full-time in a postsecondary or vocational education institution, or

3. participating full-time in a program or activity the commissioner approved that is designed to promote or remove employment barriers.

The act permits the commissioner to waive the enrollment or participation requirements based on compelling circumstances. Under prior law, she could only waive the criteria for the successor guardian subsidies.

Subsidy Review Requirements

By law, adoption subsidies for 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds are subject to annual DCF review and adoption subsidies for children age 17 or younger are subject to biennial review. The act permits DCF, as part of the subsidy review process, to require that adoptive parents submit any additional documentation DCF deems necessary to complete these reviews.

By law, a subsidized guardian must annually submit a sworn statement to the commissioner that the child is still living with and receiving support from the guardian. The act permits DCF to require the guardian to submit any additional documentation the department deems necessary to verify this information.

1 — RECORD DISCLOSURE

Required Disclosures

By law, under certain circumstances, DCF must disclose its records to certain entities without the subject's consent. The act requires DCF to make such disclosures to an attorney representing a parent, guardian, or child in a child abuse or neglect or termination of parental rights proceeding. But if the records do not pertain to the attorney's client or the client's child, the act prohibits the attorney from further disclosing the records without a court order.

The act specifies that if the records are confidential under federal law, they may not be disclosed to the attorney or client unless he or she is otherwise entitled to them. Additionally, the act specifies that its provisions do not limit the disclosures DCF must make under existing law to an attorney or guardian ad litem who represents a child or youth in litigation affecting the child's or youth's best interest.

The act requires DCF to disclose records without the subject's consent to the Department of Public Health (DPH) when notifying that department that the DCF commissioner has placed a DPH-licensed or -certified individual on the child abuse or neglect registry.

It similarly requires DCF to disclose records without the subject's consent to state agencies that license or certify individuals providing services to children or youths. Under existing law, the department must do this for agencies that license or certify individuals who educate or care for children or youths.

Permitted Disclosures

The law permits DCF to disclose records without the subject's consent to certain entities and under certain circumstances. Existing law permits DCF to make such disclosures to individuals or agencies that contract with DCF to identify and assess a potential foster or adoptive home for a child or youth, except that information about the child's or youth's parent may not be disclosed without the parent's permission. The act additionally allows DCF to make such disclosures, with the same limitation on parent-related information, to DCF-contracted entities to identify and assess a visiting resource for a child or youth.

The act also broadens the circumstances under which DCF may disclose records without the subject's consent to an individual or organization that provides medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. Under prior law, DCF could do so if the entity was treating an individual who the department had determined had perpetrated abuse or neglect or was unwilling or unable to protect a child from abuse or neglect. The act instead permits DCF to make the disclosures to such entities that are treating a “person.” In this context, a person includes an individual named in the record, his or her authorized representative if he or she is deceased, or the subject's parent or guardian if the subject is still a minor. As under prior law, the department may make such a disclosure only if it determines that doing so is necessary to accomplish the diagnosis or treatment objectives.

The act also permits DCF to disclose records without the subject's consent to locate an individual's missing sibling, aunt, uncle, first cousin, or grandparent. Under existing law (1) DCF may make these disclosures to locate an individual's missing parent or child and (2) the disclosures must be limited to information helping to locate the missing person.

6 & 7 — CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT INVESTIGATIONS

The law requires DCF to take certain steps related to investigations of alleged child abuse or neglect by a public school employee or a staff member of a private school or private child care facility or institution. The act requires DCF to share its investigation results with the appropriate credentialing agency if the employee or staff member investigated by DCF has a state-issued license or certificate or State Board of Education-issued permit or authorization or his or her employing school, institution, or facility has a state-issued license or approval.

The act also requires DCF to provide records of the investigation to the agency responsible for credentialing the (1) public school employee who was investigated and school where he or she works and (2) private school or child care facility staff member who was investigated and institution, school, or facility where the staff member works.

Existing law, unchanged by the act, requires DCF to notify, within certain timeframes, (1) the education commissioner and employing superintendent of the results of an investigation of alleged abuse or neglect by a public school employee and (2) private schools and public and private childcare facilities of the results of an investigation of alleged abuse or neglect by employees or staff members they employ.

8 & 9 — REGULATIONS

The act requires DCF to adopt child care facility licensing regulations that include minimum standards for (1) the facilities' physical requirements, (2) care and treatment of children cared for or boarded in the facilities, and (3) staffing. (These facilities do not include child day care facilities, which are licensed by the Office of Early Childhood.) The act also clarifies that DCF must adopt regulations for child-placing agencies, rather than for persons or entities that place children as required under prior law.