Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts, #4: Limit Criminal History Barriers for Potential Kinship Caregivers

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, with support from the Sara Start Fund.

Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of Vaneshia Reed, 22 a graduate of Harvard University.

The Proposal

Vaneshia Reed, 22 a graduate of Harvard University

Reed proposes to amend Title IV-E to require that states adopt the criminal history standards espoused in the National Model Family Foster Home Licensing Standards, a set of standards developed in 2014 by the American Bar Association, Generations United, and the National Association for Regulatory Administration.

Those standards identify a set of felony convictions which, if present, would automatically eject a kinship household from the licensing process. Another set of lesser felony convictions would be grounds for ejection if the crime was committed in the previous five years.

For all other convictions, the standards call for states to make a decision on ejection from licensing based on eight criteria:

  1. The type of crime
  2. The number of crimes
  3. The nature of the offense(s)
  4. The age of the person at conviction
  5. The length of time that has elapsed since the conviction
  6. The relationship of the crime and capacity to care for a child
  7. Evidence of rehabilitation
  8. Opinions of community members about the individual

Reed also recommends the development of state task forces to help compare existing standards to this model, and ensure that the appropriate shift is made.

The Argument

The aforementioned slates of convictions that warrant automatic ejection from licensing are already party of federal law. But at present, states are on their own to decide what to do about other types of convictions.

According to Reed’s research, 22 states follow federal law and go no further, meaning a person with any other type of conviction would not be statutorily prevented from being licensed. There are at least 21 states that do disqualify kin for felony convictions beyond those specified in federal law.

In Her Own Words

“Despite her flawless completion of parole, outstanding citizenship in the ensuing years, financial stability and demonstrated ability to provide a safe and permanent home for me, my grandmother’s perceived status as an ex-felon prevented me from experiencing the benefits I would have received living with her.

As a result, I lived in [foster care] for over a year and a half, with so many other girls passing through I eventually lost count of them …”

The Chronicle‘s Take

2016 participants in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship Program

Reed has identified one of the few aspects of the foster home licensing process that the federal government involves itself in. States are pretty much free to do what they want with licensing policy, but they do have to run background checks and, at least for foster youth placements supported by federal money, disqualify homes where certain ex-convicts live.

Reed’s proposal doesn’t require the expenditure of money per se, just a conformity to stricter federal regulation. Right now, a state must automatically disqualify for X and automatically disqualify however much of Y it wants. Reed would have them automatically disqualify for X, and never automatically disqualify for Y.

Makes sense to us, because ultimately this does not preclude disqualification for any family. It just forces an agency to weigh some critical factors before doing so.

It is hard to predict how much opposition would come from those 21 states, which all probably arrived at their current policy in different ways. Researching the origin of those beyond-federal-law standards seems like it would be an important step before crafting a bill.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at