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Michigan implementing "kinship care" rule; feds say it's first state to do so

Michigan has become the first state to be approved to implement separate licensing standards for kin caregivers — extended family members like grandparents, aunts, and uncles serving as foster care providers.

Advocates said goal of kinship care is to keep families together, increase equity in the child welfare system, and allow children to maintain cultural connections.

In September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finalized a new regulation making it simpler for licensing or approval standards for kin foster family homes. Additionally, under the regulation, states must "provide kin caregivers with the same level of financial assistance that any other foster care provider receives."

Last week, Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced approval for Michigan to become the first state to implement the new, simpler licensing standards for kin caregivers. The department said the approval fulfills executive orders by President Joe Biden and furthers his administration’s priorities of keeping families together and increasing "equity in the child welfare system."

“Michigan’s robust support for kin caregivers has made it a national leader. The approval of Michigan’s plan means more kin caregivers will receive the financial support they deserve when caring for family members," said Becerra. “It is often grandparents who step up to care for a grandchild when that child’s parent can’t. We must be partners with those grandparents and support their commitment to care for the child while a parent gets back on their feet, so more children don’t end up in foster care."

The department said that the previous federal regulations made it harder for family members to become caregivers when a child in their family entered foster care. "All foster family homes were required to meet the same licensing standards, regardless of whether the foster family home was a kin or non-kin placement."

Now, Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, explained, "it's a simpler process for approval when you become a relative caregiver. And that approval really just ensures that the home is safe for the child, that they understand what the needs are."

"The really important piece of this is that we are now able to leverage federal funding to help support the services that many of those children require once they are removed from their parents' care," Hertel said. "We're really excited to have those additional resources coming in to support our foster kids and their families."

Some of the organizations providing resources and working on implementation include Area Agencies on Aging, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, and Michigan State University.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services encouraged caregivers to contact the Kinship Support Program to learn about resources available in their community by calling 800-535-1218 or visiting www.kinship.msu.edu.

Christopher Johnson is married with two daughters. Born and raised in Detroit, he is a floating fill-in host at Michigan Public.
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