AUGUSTA – Brought to the attention of Senator Keim by her constituents, LD 1526, An Act to Increase the Availability of Foster Homes, removes barriers that block loving families from becoming foster families.
LD 1526 moves the responsibility of fire code inspection from the State Fire Marshal to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
Currently a Fire Marshal must inspect and certify that a potential foster residence meets all elements of the Federal Fire Safety Code prior to the issuance of a DHHS license to operate as a family foster home in Maine. The Fire Marshall’s office is required to follow federal standards that cannot be waived, are continually updated and crafted purposefully broad to cover a myriad of housing situations including group homes.
With the passage of LD 1526, DHHS will now adopt rules governing the method of inspection and specify regulations appropriate to foster homes. Currently DHHS already has charge of inspecting and governing fire safety codes in nursing homes.
Senator Keim: “The need to get Maine children into caring homes has never been more urgent, the need is critical. This bill will allow for the elimination of unnecessary and obstructive regulations, removing a daunting hurdle in the licensing process.”
The fire inspection requirement has discouraged potential foster home applicants from applying and has prevented others from obtaining a license. The state’s Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) testified to hearing from multiple constituents regarding the difficulty prospective foster parents (as well as current foster parents in the licensing renewal process) experience with the requirement of a Fire Marshals inspection.
Anecdotal stories include homes that did not pass the Fire Marshal’s inspection due to windows that were an inch or two smaller than allowable under the Fire Marshal’s standards or stairs where the rise, run, and/or width of the staircase did not meet code. While the Fire Marshall may offer a plan of correction in which the family agrees to make changes within a certain period. Unfortunately, many prospective foster families are not able to comply with such a plan, and as a result do not complete the licensing process.
The changes required under these plans are often costly and in some cases, impossible (due to lack of space to enlarge a staircase, either in length or in width; lack of funds; historical status of the home; or the foster family residing in a rented home or apartment). Residential structure changes can be particularly difficult for kinship foster families to undertake because these individuals are often asked to consider being a placement option for a child unexpectedly.