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Archive for Sunday, May 18, 2008

KDHE updating regulations for foster care families

May 18, 2008

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With running a day care, Tasha Wertin's home is already under the microscope. As a foster care parent with her husband, Henry Wertin, it gets an even closer examination.

This spring the Wertins were told some changes had to be made to keep their foster care license.

It's part of the new regulations for licensing foster care families that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment introduced in April.

They are changes that could affect the state's 5,500 foster care children.

Background checks will become more extensive, something that stems from both state and federal regulations. Foster care parents will be fingerprinted as part of criminal background checks and if parents have lived outside the state in the past five years, child abuse and neglect registries will be checked from other states.

Deb Hatfield, a KDHE official who worked on the changes, said the goal was to have regulations in place that kept foster care children safe but also provided a sense of normalcy to their lives. The previous regulations had been on the books for almost 25 years.

"Although they served the state of Kansas very well, the folks who wrote the regulations could never have envisioned what it was going to be like to live in Kansas in 2008 or even how child welfare would be offered and implemented," Hatfield said.

For instance, the rules clarify questions as to whether foster care children could attend sleepovers or spend the night at grandma and grandpa's house, just as biological children do.

And it gives more leniency for foster care parents who are seeking respite, such as allowing a two-day break every few months.

The new rules also require sign-offs from biological parents and the state placing agency if a foster care child wanted to participate in extreme sports.

The changes that many foster care parents say require the most immediate attention are modifications to the home - buying smoke detectors for every child's bedroom, fixing porch railings and putting locks on the medicine cabinet.

The new regulations had input from foster care parents, and families are preparing for the switch, said Erin Bailey, with KVC Behavioral HealthCare, the agency that holds the foster care contract for northeastern Kansas.

Foster care homes have until October to comply.

"Foster parents are taking care of other people's children," Bailey said. "We need to ensure that these families are really doing everything through the standards that KDHE has recognized as being the most effective."

As for Wertin and her four foster children, she says the changes are doable and minor.

"Safety wise you do have a lot of things to follow, getting more things is a little difficult," Wertin said. "But when you think of it as for the safety of a child, it's all 100 percent worth it."

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