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Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services is happy to announce that we are now offering the Approved Relative Caregiver (ARC) Program to caregivers who are not currently eligible for Aid to Families with Dependent Children–Foster Care (AFDC-FC). The ARC program provides approved relative caregivers, with whom an eligible child is placed, the opportunity to receive payments equal to the basic Foster Care rate.

Are you a relative caregiver with a child who is potentially eligible to participate in the ARC program? Is the child receiving CalWORKs? The child may be eligible to receive payments back to January 1, 2015.

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State law requires that preferential consideration for placement be given to an approved relative caregiver when a child is removed from the physical custody of a parent. It is estimated that 36 percent of all foster children in the state are in the care of a relative. An approved relative caregiver in California must meet health and safety standards that mirror those for a licensed foster parent, such as undergoing criminal background and child abuse index checks.

Although placement with a relative is the preferred placement, the funding associated with that placement depends on whether the child is eligible to receive federal AFDC-FC. While an approved relative may receive AFDC-FC payments on behalf of a federally eligible foster child, an approved relative caring for a non-federally eligible foster child is ineligible for AFDC-FC. For a non-federally eligible child in foster care, an approved relative may apply to receive California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) benefits on behalf of the child. Unlike AFDC-FC, typical CalWORKs grants are not a per-child payment, but are based on the size of the family as a whole, and are less than the AFDC-FC rate.

To address this disparity, California has enacted the ARC Program. This program provides funding to enable participating counties to make payments equal to the basic foster care rate to approved relative caregivers with whom a non-federally eligible foster child is placed. Such a child must reside in California and be under the jurisdiction of the California juvenile court.

The ARC Responsibilities

The ARC Program is a county optional program that operates on a calendar-year basis. A county that elects to participate in the ARC Program must agree to pay all approved relative caregivers with whom an eligible child is placed a per-child, per-month rate equal to the basic rate paid to foster care providers pursuant to W&IC section 11461(g). This rate is intended to pay for the care and supervision of the eligible child. The county agrees to make these payments for the duration of the county’s participation in the ARC Program, including during required notice periods if a county is no longer going to participate in the program.

A county that elects to participate in the ARC Program is required to notify the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) in writing of its decision on or before October 1, 2014, unless CDSS determines that good cause exists to extend the deadline pursuant to W&IC section 11461.3(c)(1). County participation for the upcoming calendar year would be effective January 1, 2015.

For this initial year of the ARC Program, CDSS has determined that good cause exists for extending the October 1, 2014, deadline for counties to elect to participate in the program. The new deadline(s)—for calendar-year 2015 only—is the first day of any month starting December 1, 2014 until March 1, 2015, with participation in the county to commence at the start of the month following notification. For example, if a county notifies CDSS on January 1, 2015, that it wishes to participate in the ARC Program, county participation would commence on February 1, 2015.

CalWORKs and Implementation of the ARC Program

The ARC payment will include a portion of CalWORKs funds unless the child does not qualify for CalWORKs. Although CalWORKs is one of the funding sources for the ARC Program, eligibility for the CalWORKs Program is not a requirement for receipt of the ARC payment. An otherwise eligible child who does not meet the CalWORKs income and property requirements specified on the ARC Program application can still participate in the ARC Program. However, each ARC-eligible child must be assessed for CalWORKs eligibility in order to determine if CalWORKs funds can be utilized in the child’s ARC payment.

Tribes and the ARC Program

Although SB 855 is silent on whether tribes are opt-in entities, any Indian child who meets all of the ARC requirements is eligible for ARC payments in the same way as any other child. Moreover, tribes—whether Title IV-E tribes or not—will have an interest in assuring that any of their children covered by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) are provided any potential benefits from the ARC Program if the county responsible for the child’s case has chosen to opt-in and the child is otherwise ARC eligible. Counties that have ICWA-covered children should therefore reach out to and collaborate with tribes to inform them of the new program and how it might benefit their children.

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