This memo provides notice of the implementation of revised administrative rules related to foster home licensing and relicensing activities effective March 1, 2002. The memo also identifies major changes between the previous rules and the revised rules.
As you are aware, we have been in the process of revising Ch. HFS 56, Adm. Code, the administrative rules regarding the licensing of family foster homes. The promulgation process has now been concluded. The revised rules are available on the Department's web site at http://dhfs.wisconsin.gov/news/Rules/index.htm. We are in the process of having the rules printed in booklet form for distribution to your foster families. These new rules become effective on March 1, 2002. All actions related to foster home licensing or relicensing on or after that date must be taken pursuant to the revised rules.
The major changes from the old rules to these revised rules are the following:
Chapter number. Chapter HSS 56 is renumbered ch. HFS 56 (reflecting the fact that the Department’s name was changed effective July 1, 1996, from Health and Social Services to Health and Family Services).
Clarifications. Since September 1990, when the rules were last updated, the Department has compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions that licensing agencies, foster parents and other interested parties have about the rules. In an effort to reduce the need for interpretation, many clarifications are being made in rule language, including adding supplemental information, so that the meaning of requirements is clearer.
Department Exceptions Panel. The rules, both previous and revised, permit a licensing agency, on written request of a license applicant or licensee, to grant an exception for that person to any nonstatutory requirement in the rules other than several specified requirements. The revised rules also establish a Department Exceptions Panel that has the authority to grant an exception to any nonstatutory rule requirement for which a licensing agency cannot grant an exception, provided that the licensing agency agrees.
Information about rate setting and foster parent insurance. Some foster care parents have indicated that they have never been told how foster care payment rates are set, that they can request a review of the rate they are being paid, and that they have not been informed about the foster parent insurance program. In response to these concerns, the revised rules add a requirement that a licensing agency, at the time of license application or reapplication, ask the license applicant to provide a signed statement indicating that the applicant has been informed about the foster care rate structure, including clothing allowances, and the foster parent insurance program.
Number of children in a foster home. The rules have been revised to comply with a recent statutory change allowing up to 6 foster children in a foster home if necessary to enable siblings to remain together.
Modification of license. The previous rules limited when and by whom a request for a license modification may be made. The revised rules expressly provide that a license may be modified at any time during the duration of the license either at the request of the licensee or by direction of the licensing agency.
Time period for licensing decision. Under the previous rules, licensing agencies had to make their decisions about granting a license within 60 days after receiving a completed application. In the revised rules, a licensing agency is allowed one 30-day extension if needed to gather additional information necessary for making its decision. The revised rules also contain an exception to the 60-day limit when the application is for a pre-adoptive foster care placement. In that case, the licensing agency has until 6 months after receiving a completed application to act on that application, which is consistent with the Department’s policy not to issue a license until a potential adoptive child is located for the foster/adoptive parent.
Discrimination prohibited. The revised rules add that a licensing agency in issuing foster home licenses may not discriminate against license applicants on the basis of age, sex, race, color, creed, sexual orientation, national origin or handicap.
Notification of licensing agency about other licenses. Many foster parents are currently licensed or certified to provide care to children or adults under other licensure or certification programs, such as day care. Nothing in the previous rules required foster parents to notify the foster care licensing agency of these additional licenses and certifications. The revised rules require that notification.
Foster parent qualifications. The previous rules paid a great deal of attention to the physical characteristics of the foster home but do not give adequate attention to qualifications of foster parents apart from the duties that they are assigned. At the request of the licensing agencies and with approval of the state foster parent association, the revised rules have a new paragraph that describes what personal characteristics foster parents should have. The new language is added to provide more guidance to licensing agencies on what characterizes successful foster parents; to provide information to prospective foster parents about where training may be needed; and to provide more qualitative reasons for not granting a license.
Licensing agency approval for acceptance of children. A provision is added to the revised rules that a licensed foster parent must have the approval of the licensing agency before accepting children for placement. That provision was in the rules prior to 1990 but was inadvertently omitted when the rules were revised that year. This enables the licensing agency to exercise some control over how many and what types of children reside in a foster home.
Mandatory reporting of abuse or neglect of foster children. Foster parents are not currently mandated under s. 48.981(2), Stats., to report child abuse or neglect. The revised rules require foster parents to notify the licensing or supervising agency, the county social services or human services department or a local law enforcement agency if they believe that a foster child, placed with that foster parent or another foster parent, has been abused or neglected, or has been threatened with abuse or neglect and the abuse or neglect will likely occur. Such reporting relates to the child subsequent to removal from his or her home and placement in foster care.
Definition of physician. The previous rules required foster parents to provide documentation from a physician that they are in good health. In response to numerous inquiries from licensing agencies, the revised rules clarify that a physician is an individual possessing the degree of doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy or an equivalent degree as determined by the medical examining board, and holding a license granted by the board, but is not a physician assistant, a chiropractor or any other health care provider.
License prohibition if prohibited by statute. The previous rules provided that no license be granted to an applicant who has been convicted of an offense related to taking care of children. In these revised rules, language is added that would also deny a license to an applicant who is otherwise prohibited by the new caregiver background check law and implementing administrative rules from being licensed to provide foster care.
Additional requirements for bathrooms and bedrooms. The revised rules include several new requirements related to bath and toilet facilities and sleeping arrangements. The new requirements are taken from other licensing rules and from building codes. There have been many questions asked over the years about these subsections in ch. HSS 56 and the answers given have not always been consistent. The changes are meant to answer the most common questions and reduce the need for interpretation.
Hazardous machinery and equipment. The previous rules imposed prohibitions, restrictions and conditions on foster children’s use of "hazardous machines." In the revised rules, the term is changed to "hazardous machinery and equipment," and the term "power-driven" is deleted from the definition to make clear that machinery and other equipment need not be motorized to be considered hazardous.
Searches of foster children’s belongings. The previous rules were silent about when and under what conditions and following what procedures a foster parent may search a foster child’s room, clothing, backpack, etc. The Department has added language in the proposed rules relating to searches of the private belongings of foster children. This is to ensure that foster children are provided with a minimal and reasonable amount of privacy. Because of several incidents of foster parents destroying clothing, music and other belongings of foster children, the revised rules also include provisions that guarantee that personal possessions cannot permanently be taken away from a child without the permission of the child’s case manager or social worker. Under no circumstances may these personal belongings be destroyed. If it is determined that possession of some things are not in a child’s best interests, the materials are to be given to the child’s parents or retained by the supervising agency until the child leaves foster care.
Physical confinement. The previous rules prohibited the confinement of foster children in a locked room or closet for punishment. Because of events in recent years, this language has been amplified to prohibit using mechanical restraints on a foster child or locking or confining the child in any enclosure, room, closet or other part of the house or premises for any reason whatever.
Health care for foster children. The revised rules make the Medical Assistance (Medicaid) HealthCheck program the standard for meeting the medical and dental care needs of foster children.
Tobacco products. Responding to statutory changes in recent years relating to possession and use of tobacco products by minors, language has been added in the revised rules to require foster parents to make reasonable efforts to assure that foster children do not smoke or otherwise use tobacco.
School attendance. Rule language has been added that requires foster parents to make efforts to assure that the foster child attends school or participates in another educational program as required by law and the child’s permanency plan. In addition, foster parents are directed to make an effort to participate as appropriate in school activities involving the foster child.
We are in the process of planning training related to the revised administrative rules and will notify you of this training opportunity in the near future under a separate memo.
I would also ask that your staff review the revised rules. Any questions that arise either now or in the future should be addressed to the Area Administration team. We will then codify all of the questions and provide written interpretations in a manner conducive to assuring statewide uniformity of understanding.