Licensed foster homes in Illinois will likely have to comply with a host of new rules starting later this year, including strict vaccination and no-smoking policies, as well as rules governing kitchens, bathrooms, swimming pools and transportation.
The state Department of Children and Family Services announced the proposed rules July 12, when they were published in the Illinois Register, the official state document for public notices of rulemaking by state agencies.
Jassen Strokosch, a spokesperson for DCFS, said the proposed new rules are meant to comply with new National Model Foster Family Home Licensing Standards that were adopted in February by the Children’s Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“As a result, DCFS licensing is required to include National Standards that are not already part of our current Foster Home Licensing Rules in Illinois,” Strokosch said in an email. “So the changes you are seeing … reflect changes at the national level that we are adopting in Illinois to stay in compliance.”
The proposed new rules, which are not explicitly spelled out in current rules, include the following:
• Foster homes would, at a minimum, have to be equipped with a stove, oven, refrigerator and sink in the kitchen; a properly functioning toilet, sink, shower and tub in the bathroom; and a first aid kit and supplies.
• No person would be allowed to smoke inside a foster family home or in any vehicle used to transport a foster child.
• Swimming pools would have to be equipped with a government-approved life-saving device such as a life preserver or life jacket and would have to have a working pump and filtering system if the pool cannot be emptied after each use.
• Foster parents would have to ensure they have access to safe, legal and reliable transportation.
• All children living in the foster home and all adult caregivers would be required to have up-to-date vaccinations, unless their primary care physician recommends otherwise.
• At least one adult in the foster home would have to be able to read and write at a level necessary to meet the needs of youth in care, such as the ability to read medication labels.
• All individuals in the foster family over age 18 would have to undergo background checks.
• Any individual applying for a foster home license would have to provide the name and address of at least one relative who can attest to the applicant’s ability to care for a child or children.
That’s in addition to the three character references from unrelated individuals that are already required. Under the state’s Administrative Procedures Act, the July 12 publication in the Illinois Register constitutes “first notice” of the proposed new rules. DCFS could be required to have a public hearing on the rules if one is requested within 14 days of the first notice by either the governor, an affected local government, 25 interested individuals, or an association representing at least 100 interested individuals, something Strokosch said is unlikely in this case.
Sometime after a 45-day public comment period, which expires Aug. 26, DCFS will publish a second notice, which could include changes recommended during the public comment period, and it will submit that notice to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or JCAR. If approved there, DCFS would be free to finalize the new rules.
When the new national standards were considered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the agency said it received few public comments.
“The vast majority of comments were from private citizens objecting to the proposed model standards regarding immunizations for children who are foster family home members,” according to an agency document detailing the standards.
Currently in Illinois, foster parents are required to be at least 21 years old, and can be married, in a civil union, single, divorced or separated.
Prospective foster families are required to submit to the following:
• Participate in a home inspection and social assessment
• Complete 27 hours of training focused on foster care and the needs of children who are in foster care
• Complete a criminal background check of all household members
• Be financially stable
• Complete a health screening that includes verification that immunizations are up-to-date
Foster parents in regular foster care programs receive a monthly check to cover the child’s food, clothing and personal allowance.
The monetary amount of each monthly check is based on the age of the child.
Each foster child also gets a medical card from the state which guarantees payment for all necessary medical care and preventive medicine.
There are 17,920 children in foster care in Illinois – and 3,347 of those children are waiting for adoptive families.