Creating Safe Relative Homes for Children in Foster Care

Recent legislation to overhaul the foster care system and ensure that youth and families receive necessary services and supports has presented a new way of streamlining the process for resource families who are either related or close to the child who was placed out of the home. As part of the Continuum of Care Reform, also referred to as Assembly Bill 403, Relative Home Assessment Services (RHAS) have been implemented. The program aims to approve relative caregivers as resource families to offer home-based family care and improve the outcomes for children in foster care. El Centro de Amistad was awarded a three-year contract totaling $1.9 million through Department of Children and Family Services to provide relative home assessment services to families who are willing to become relative caregivers for children. Caregivers can include next of kin, a close friend or a family member. More than half the children in out-of-home placements reside with relative caregivers or non-relative extended family members. In response to public questions and comments regarding these services, the Department of Children and Family Services stated in a letter, “Contracting these Relative Caregiver Home Assessment services will provide the opportunity for faster placement approval times, more efficient delivery of emergency goods and services for Relative Caregiver home compliance with CCR title 22 requirements, more flexibility in staff reassignment to other critical operations and overall cost reduction.” Assigned to lead El Centro de Amistad’s RHAS program is Sara Pineda, who has served the agency for more than seven years as its quality assurance manager and therapist. Hoping to certify relative homes within 45 days, seven members will comprise the team that will go out to the home and provide an orientation to the family so they can understand what Resource Family Approval (RFA) is as well as a home environment check. RFA is a new family-friendly and child-centered caregiver approval process that combines elements of the current foster parent licensing, relative approval and approvals for adoption and guardianship. The team will assist in providing immediate needs to address the home environment check concerns. “In the orientation, we also assist the families in helping them with documentation that might be needed for the approval of the application,” said Sara. “We provide them with a home assessment and inspect the home to make sure it is safe and ready for the child to come into the home or stay in the home.” El Centro de Amistad will also provide the mandatory 12-hour training for the families needed for approval and an eight-hour annual training. The training has strong mental health and psychoeducation components that address trauma, stages of development and behaviors. “In the past there wasn’t too much of a support system for relative caregiver families,” said Sara, who explained that part of the contract is assisting the family to pass the assessment. Now through Relative Home Assessment Services families will be able to get a bed, patch a wall, or receive emergency funds to help them move to a larger home to accommodate the expanded family. Access to these resources that would otherwise have been a hindrance in the past will make the difference in providing a relative home in a familial setting for a child placed in foster care. Sara, who was once a relative caregiver to her nephew for a year, knows well the unexpected situation that relative caregivers are in. “I’m a compassionate person and can understand how overwhelming this situation can be for someone who is living their life as usual. Now you’re thrown a curve ball by being asked to take in a child who you are not used to taking to preschool, day care and appointments.” Yet with the support from El Centro de Amistad, resource parents will be ready to manage the child’s trauma of being removed from their home and placed with a resource family. “They’ll be better equipped to understand what is going on with the child and determine what is the best transition and treatment for them with input from the emergency social worker, RFA social worker, probation officer at times, relative home assessment team, resource family and birth parent.”