Since the point of the foster care system in the United States is to keep children safe, it’s no surprise that the government enforces strict rules about who can become a foster parent. Unfortunately, these rules sometimes prevent loving homes from opening their doors to kids in need. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released new foster care guidelines aimed at resolving this issue to make more safe spaces available for children who need them.

The Problem

Children and youth agencies across the nation have been struggling for years to find enough foster care spaces for the children they serve. There always seems to be more children than available beds, and the recent opioid crisis gripping the nation has made the problem worse. Over the past five years, the number of children in foster care has increased by 10 percent. In 2017, 36 percent of the children in foster care were there because their parents suffer from drug addiction. While the number of kids in need of help increased, more than half of the states in the union saw a decrease in the number of available foster families.

Rules as Barriers

Rules about fostering are, of course, important to keeping children safe in foster care. Some of the rules, however, are proving more hindrance than help. One such guideline requires foster parents to have a car – a luxury many city dwellers with access to reliable public transportation choose to live without. Other regulations demand that foster parents provide a specific number of bedrooms or have a certain amount of square footage per child.

Financial concerns are also problematic. Licensed foster families receive money from the state to offset the cost of housing and feeding additional children. When children are placed with other family members, however, the foster family receives no such payment unless they endure the foster care licensing process. This sometimes keeps willing but poor family members from stepping in and taking the children.

Finding Solutions

In an effort to get more children into the foster homes they need, the federal government is in the process of revamping foster care guidelines and licensing requirements. The goal is to carve out sleeping spaces rather than requiring foster parents to provide each child with a bedroom. Square footage space requirements are being rethought, as is how many children can share a bedroom. Automobile ownership will soon be optional in some areas and states will be allowed to streamline the foster care licensing process for relatives willing to care for displaced children.