Failing the Common Sense Test: Ridiculous Rules and Regulations in Foster Care

Across the country we see campaigns designed to recruit more foster parents. They are attempting to counter the every-increasing number of children entering foster care. Yet, we should first ask two important questions before attempting to recruit more foster parents.

  1. Why are potential foster parents hesitant to start fostering?
  2. Why are former foster parents no longer fostering?

By simply asking these two questions, we start to notice a large number of frustrating issues preventing people from fostering and pushing away those that do foster. The qualifications to become a foster parent are not high. You can become a foster parent as long as you have a place to sleep, you are not a criminal, and you have a pulse. However, the standards you must maintain are (at times) ridiculous. Each state is different, yet they are all similar. Since I am a Kansas resident I will reference the following: 71-page Kansas Laws & Regulations for Licensing Family Foster Homes For Children.

Foster parents have a high standard of requirements they must meet, yet a biological family is not required to meet any of them. In the State of Kansas, approximately 7,000 children are in foster care (a record high for the state). They are short approximately 600 foster parents. Yet, they are neglecting their current group of foster parents and preventing more from fostering. The following is a list of rules and regulations that violate the common sense test.

Fingerprints and background checks for a 10-year old?

As a foster parent, you are required to put yourself and your family through a background check (to include fingerprints). This includes any child 10 years of age or older. This leads me to the following question:

“Why are we not requiring biological parents to do the same prior to the child returning home?”

Furthermore, this leads me to assume the following:

  1. They already have one on file.
  2. They will get them in the future, so why bother.

Another crazy rule I uncovered is that foster parents must receive the childs biological parents permission prior to playing sports. I guess they know what is in the best interest of the child. Furthermore, a foster parent must go through behavioral management training for the child. I personally do not feel the training provided is enough, however, a biological parent is not required to complete this training. Seems like this would be a great training opportunity for them.

Stop worrying about ‘checking the box’ and do what makes the most sense.

Let me first say that I think we should be safe at all times, but stop allowing things like measurements for a fence around a swimming pool to prevent someone from becoming a foster parent. Especially when there is a dire need for foster parents. I am aware of a situation where an individual built a new home. After a home inspection, his application to foster was denied until expensive revisions were made. This was in a community in desperate need of foster parents. The individual was so upset he decided to remove his application completely.

Essentially, a child can live in a rodent infested trailer home with their biological parents, but not with a foster family in a newly built home with a swimming pool.

Health assessments for foster families… why not biological families?

I understand that we should bring our children into a home where people are fit and healthy, but why are we not requiring a biological family to do the same? And why are we requiring the foster family to pay for this health assessment?

Moreover, let’s briefly discuss tobacco use. I am not a smoker and I think it is a horrible habit. However, why are we not restricting a biological family the same as a foster family? For example, smoking is prohibited in your home when a foster child is present. Smoking by any member of the foster family is prohibited outside the family foster home within 10 feet of a child in foster care. Again, I am not advocating for this rule to go away, just that we do not allow a child to return to their biological family, where they are free to smoke around their child as much as they want.

Why did you not conduct your required monthly fire drill?

Safety is always important, yet why are we requiring something of a foster family for which no one else does?

Let me ask you all a question… “How many of you conduct monthly fire and tornado drills?” I am sure the number is not high, yet this is a requirement for foster parents. They are even required to document them.

Additionally, notice the specific requirements for sleeping arrangements. We are so worried about measuring the dimensions of a window and the dimensions of a crib, yet we allow children to return to a biological family where parents were literally doing drugs next to the crib. If that same child is brought to a loving foster family, where they are not doing drugs next to the crib, then who cares about the dimensions of the crib!

Does your lighting pass the 10 foot candle test?

By now you have obviously noticed the humor I have injected into this article. This one needs no additional comments.

Great family (check), perfect match for the foster child (check), handrail on stairwell (no)… Application Denied!

College basketball fans who pay attention to Selection Sunday will be familiar with this. We are going to conduct a couple blind resume comparisons. Each prospective foster parent is paired side-by-side. Let’s take a look at the first one. Who would you choose?

Let’s take a look at one more.

What else fails the common sense test?

Let’s take a quick look at a few additional foster care blunders that must be removed or changed.

Contract Verbiage in Privatized Foster Care. In the State of Kansas, the foster care system is privatized. The actual verbiage in the contract states that payment to the contract ceases once a child leaves foster care. Essentially, we are Incentivizing the Problem. This should be modified immediately.

No Haircut. This one seems ridiculous to me, but a foster parent must seek the biological parents permission before the foster child is able to get a haircut. Yes, you must seek permission from the responsible person who the state took the child from.

15/22 Rule. This rule was put into place to increase the urgency of permanency. As part of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA), state agencies were required to plan for permanent solutions or initiate the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) if a child was in care for 15 out of 22 months. However, agencies often use loopholes, thus trapping adoptable children in foster care. Essentially, a child has to remain in foster care for over a year, while the biological family could theoretically do nothing. Here is an interesting question I found from a former foster child: “Don’t you think if a parent really wants their kid back, they would be doing something ASAP?”

Sleeping in an Office. We often hear about foster children forced to sleep in an agency office due to the lack of foster families. However, there are other options. For example, let’s say there are foster families in the area willing to take in a child. Yet, they already have a foster child or two, or their license has recently expired, or they have an extra room where the dimensions are an inch too short. Why are we not throwing the checklist in the trash and doing what makes sense?

I would personally assume the risk of sending the child to stay with a loving foster home (with a room that is one inch out of standard) and not have the child bunk up in a cubicle (where it is then posted on Facebook).

So, there you have it. A list of rules and regulations in foster care that completely fail the common sense test. For those of you working in foster care or influencing policy, please start making decisions that are rational.

Moreover, your checklist is not the answer.

You have a choice when something doesn’t make sense. If there is no logical need for the rule or regulation, then ask for it to be removed. The key is to find out what is value added and non-value added. The first thing you must do is eliminate the non-value added requirements (those that fail the common sense test) and then maximize those that do add value.

When I look at the list of rules and regulations discussed above, my first reaction is always…

Why are we not requiring this of the biological family prior to getting their children back?

The next thing I look at is the completely crazy requirements to become a foster parent. I have to be completely honest here… I am a former foster child, a lean six sigma professional, an officer in the military, a statistics professor, an author of three books on foster care, and I completed a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) where I penned a dissertation on foster care. Yet, if I applied to become a foster parent my application would be denied as well. I guess I am not fit to be a foster parent. Go figure.

Lastly, if we want quality foster families to start fostering, we must stop this madness. With these ridiculous obstacles in front of foster parents, are you really shocked we have a shortage of them?