Stricter rules proposed for Illinois foster homes

The proposed rules are meant to comply with National Model Foster Family Home Licensing Standards adopted this year by the Children’s Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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A Chicago office of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has published a slew of proposed new rules for foster homes; the rules are necessary to being the state into compliance with new federal rules, a DCFS spokesman said.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times files

SPRINGFIELD – 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 rule-making by state agencies.

The proposed rules are meant to comply with new National Model Foster Family Home Licensing Standards, said Jassen Strokosch, a spokesperson for DCFS. Those national standards 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.

“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.

As of June 30, 2019, there were 16,091 children in out-of-home placements statewide, including 5,821 in foster homes, according to DCFS. In Cook County, 4,681 children were in out-of-home placements, including 2,001 in foster homes.

The proposed rules still could be changed during a public comment period. They include the following:

• Foster homes must, at a minimum, have 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 must have a government-approved life-saving device such as a life preserver or life jacket, and a working pump and filtering system if the pool cannot be emptied after each use.

• Foster parents must ensure they have access to safe, legal and reliable transportation.

• All children living in the foster home and all adult caregivers must have up-to-date vaccinations, unless their primary care physician recommends otherwise.

• At least one adult in the foster home must 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 must undergo background checks.

• Any individual applying for a foster home license must 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 already required.

Under the state’s Administrative Procedures Act, the July 12 publication in the Illinois Register constitutes “first notice” of the proposed 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: 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 the 45-day public comment period expires Aug. 26, DCFS will publish a second notice, which could include changes recommended during the public comment period. It will submit that notice to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. 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 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,” the agency said in a document announcing the final version of the standards.

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