Northstar Care for Children
Northstar Care for Children Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
Please click on the topic links below. They will help guide you through the frequently asked questions and answers as they relate to Northstar Care for Children.
GN-1. What is Northstar Care for Children?
Northstar Care for Children consolidates and simplifies three child welfare programs: family foster care, Kinship Assistance (which replaces Relative Custody Assistance), and Adoption Assistance to support families caring for children who must be removed from the home for reasons of child protection, delinquency or disability. It unifies benefits and processes for these programs, creating uniform benefits for children over age 5. It maximizes efficiencies and realigns funds to provide a single program that focuses on the needs of children, ensuring that each child has a permanent family. (last updated 10/03/2013)
GN-2. Why is Northstar Care for Children needed?
Northstar Care for Children is needed to maintain the same level of benefit for a child as he or she moves from foster care to permanency through adoption or with permanent custody transferred to a relative. The previous significant benefit discrepancy has been difficult for many foster parents and relatives to overcome when they want to become a child’s legally permanent parent. This has especially impacted older children, American Indian and African American children, and sibling groups. (last updated 10/03/2013)
GN-3. When did Northstar Care for Children become available?
Northstar Care for Children was implemented Jan. 1, 2015. Children that enter a foster placement or enter into Adoption or Kinship Assistance agreements on Jan. 1, 2015, or later are be eligible for Northstar Care for Children. (last updated 01/05/2015)
GN-4. What is in the Northstar Care for legislation passed in 2013?
Although broad in scope, the statutory language enacted by the Minnesota Legislature basically accomplishes seven tasks:
1. It retains the previous programs for children already in them on Dec. 31, 2014, and replaces them with the three components of a unified Northstar Care for Children for future children entering the child welfare system.
2. It provides definitions and the framework for Northstar Care for Children.
3. It establishes Northstar Kinship Assistance, which can earn federal Title IV-E funds, to replace the previous Relative Custody Assistance program.
4. It specifies a single uniform assessment process to be used for all three components – Northstar Foster Care, Northstar Kinship Assistance and Northstar Adoption Assistance.
5. It simplifies benefits and makes them uniform for all new children ages 6 and older, removing the benefit discrepancy. Children ages 5 and younger who move from Northstar Foster Care to Northstar Kinship Assistance or Adoption Assistance will receive half the benefit level of Foster Care.
6. It creates a fiscal partnership among the state, counties and tribes, each paying a share. The county and tribal share is about the same as they would have spent anyway, but accomplishing more.
7. It specifies administrative procedures and gives the Minnesota Department of Human Services some tools for managing and smoothing the three components during the phase-in period. Each component has its own pattern and pace of spending and earning federal revenue, and these tools will permit the department to synchronize spending among them, while ensuring that the phase-in doesn’t unduly interfere with children gaining permanent families. This includes authority to do the commissioner transitions of specific children from a legacy pre-Northstar Care program into Northstar Care, within statutory requirements that include ensuring benefits are not reduced and priorities are followed. (last updated 05/22/2015)
GN-5. I know that the Northstar Care for Children Act is in Chapter 256N, but I can’t find it. Is it posted on the Web somewhere?
Yes The Office of the Revisor of Statutes has posted it. (last updated 11/07/2013)
GN-6. What was the last date to add a child to the old programs – pre-Northstar Relative Custody Assistance or Adoption Assistance?
Nov. 26, 2014. All steps for pre-Northstar Care Adoption Assistance or Relative Custody Assistance cases must have been completed on or before Nov. 26, 2014, including:
In the past, agreements for Relative Custody Assistance could be completed and signed within 30 days after the court order transferring permanent legal and physical custody to a relative. However, this provision expired on Nov. 26, 2014, and no one may be added to Relative Custody Assistance after that date. (Paperwork after the court date was never an option for adoption assistance.) (last updated 01/05/2015)
GN-7. Under Northstar Care, are the uniform assessment and the eligibility processes the same?
No. What they do is different, and who does them is often different.
Eligibility for Northstar Care includes general eligibility requirements such as citizenship and background studies, eligible setting, and requirements specific to each of the three components. Title IV-E eligibility is always considered in the Northstar Care eligibility process. Children who are not Title IV-E may still be eligible, but their benefits are usually less flexible without the federal Title IV-E program, especially when crossing state lines.
The most important eligibility requirements specific to each component include the following key points for:
To determine if a child is eligible for Northstar Care, the eligibility determination process for:
If a child is eligible for Northstar Care, they receive a monthly basic payment based on their age. The uniform assessment:
GN-8. Does Northstar Care treat adoption and transfers of permanent legal and physical custody the same?
No. Federal and state law prefers adoption to transfer of permanent legal and physical custody, preferring adoption as a permanency option for most children. As part of Northstar Care processes, an agency must determine that adoption is not in a child’s best interest; the court must concur and include that in the court order.
Under Northstar Care, the benefits are nearly the same for both permanency options. For eligible children, the only differences are that Northstar Adoption Assistance includes:
GN-9. Does Northstar Kinship Assistance categorically stop at age 18? Can it be extended until age 21? If so, what is the process? What about Northstar Adoption Assistance?
Both Northstar Kinship Assistance and Adoption Assistance ordinarily end when a youth turns 18; however, it is possible to be extended to age 21.
Who can request an extension?
The request for extension must come from the relative custodian(s) or adoptive parent(s), and must meet all requirements included in Minn. Stat., section 256N.22, subd. 11, (for Kinship Assistance), or section 256N.23, subd. 12, (for Adoption Assistance).
What is the extension process?
The process to request an extension mirrors those previously used for pre-Northstar Adoption Assistance. The process is as follows:
GN-10. So everyone from Relative Custody Assistance and pre-Northstar Adoption Assistance goes onto Northstar Care on Jan. 1, 2015?
No. The pre-Northstar Care programs are retained for children already in them and slowly phased out as children exit. In general, most children stay with their existing programs, while new ones enter Northstar Care. (last updated 11/06/2014)
AM-1. Under Northstar Care for Children, does the Minnesota Department of Human Services pay the foster parent? Which agency issues payments for the three different components of Northstar Care?
Counties and tribes will continue to issue foster care payments and payments for the Relative Custody Agreement (RCA) legacy program. The department will issue payments for Adoption Assistance, as it does now. Northstar Kinship Assistance replaces Relative Custody Assistance, but unlike RCA, the department will issue payments for Northstar Kinship Assistance. (last updated 10/03/2013)
AP-1. Is there a requirement favoring adoption over a transfer of permanent legal and physical custody? How are the county and tribal agencies complying with this requirement?
Yes. The federal Fostering Connections to Success Act of 2008 requires that adoption be ruled out before a child is eligible for Northstar Kinship Assistance.
For county agencies, Minnesota statutory changes that took effect August 1, 2012, also make clear that adoption is the preferred permanency option over transfer of permanent legal and physical custody for children who cannot be reunified with a parent. [see Minnesota Statutes, sections 260C.001, subdivision 3 (2), and 260C.513 (a)] As a result, to order a transfer of permanent legal and physical custody, a court must find that termination of parental rights, or guardianship transfer to the commissioner based on a consent of parent to adopt, is either not possible or not in the child’s best interests. (last updated 04/22/2014)
AP-2. Will all children who are adopted get Northstar Adoption Assistance?
No, eligibility is on a case-by-case basis.
To be eligible for Northstar Adoption Assistance:
The key part of the special needs determination is the finding of a barrier to adoption. There are five eligible barriers (only one is required):
1. A Social Security Administration determination that a child meets all medical or disability requirements for Supplemental Security Income benefits.
2. A documented physical, mental, emotional, or behavioral disability.
3. A member of a sibling group being adopted at the same time by the same parent.
4. An adoptive placement by a parent who previously adopted a sibling for whom they receive adoption assistance (pre-Northstar or Northstar).
5. Documentation that a child is at risk (having potential to develop a disability that has not yet manifested). Note: If a child’s eligibility for Northstar Adoption Assistance is based only on this “at-risk” status, they may receive Medical Assistance, but are not eligible for a monthly basic payment or monthly supplemental payment until the potential disability occurs during childhood.
In addition to the above, there are citizenship, background study, and other eligibility requirements, as well. The Benefit Agreement must be signed by all parties prior to the court finalizing an adoption. Some children in foster care will not meet one or more of the above requirements, and therefore, not be eligible for Northstar Adoption Assistance. (last updated 11/06/2014)
BN-1. Will Northstar Care for Children affect current foster parents, relative custodians or adoptive parents?
No child in placement prior to implementation (Jan. 1, 2015) will experience any changes in the benefits available, as long as a child remains with the same caregiver and does not change legal status. All children enrolled in the Adoption Assistance or Relative Custody Assistance programs prior to Jan. 1, 2015, continue on those programs with no changes in their benefit set, rate structure or agreement. The benefits for children residing in family foster home settings prior to Jan. 1, 2015, do not change, unless an individual child:
Under some circumstances, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services has the authority to transition a child from legacy Pre-Northstar Care Relative Custody Assistance or Adoption Assistance into Northstar Care for Children, provided that a child's benefits are not reduced. To exercise this authority, the commissioner must follow the priorities specified in law. (last updated 10/03/2013)
BN-2. Will foster parents be eligible for the child care allowance under Northstar Care?
Yes. Under Northstar Care, the child care allowance applies to foster care, Kinship Assistance, and Adoption Assistance under the single uniform assessment process. The assessment process includes child care needs for children ages 12 and under. Caregivers must be employed or attending educational or vocational training programs. Caregivers cannot also be on another Child Care Assistance Program. (last updated 11/07/2013)
BN-3. I do not understand the Pre-school Entry Alternate Rate under Northstar Care for Children. The amount a child gets in permanency depends on the age their permanency is finalized. Won’t that delay permanency?
The monthly payment follows an eligible child from foster home to permanency, but the amount depends on the age of a child at the time of final court action on adoption or transfer or permanent legal and physical custody. For eligible children:
The Pre-school Entry Alternate Rate applies to both a child’s basic and supplemental monthly payments, if any. As a child ages, they will get increases with the Pre-school Entry Alternate Rate, but the increases will be half of what they would have gotten in foster care.
The Pre-school Entry Alternate Rate was a deliberate compromise built into Northstar Care. For many years, it’s been easier for young children to move to permanent families; money has been a bigger issue for older children and youth to gain permanent families. Department staff will be watching the effects of the Pre-school Entry Alternate Rate on permanency for children who are nearly 6 years old.
Note: The Pre-school Entry Alternate Rate does not apply to children considered “at-risk” for Northstar Adoption Assistance. If they later convert to full benefits as a result of their disability manifesting, then their age at the time the adoption finalized determines which benefit applies. (last updated 11/06/2014)
FI-1. I understand that county and tribal agencies continue to issue foster care payments to caregivers under Northstar Care for Children, DHS continues to issue Adoption Assistance payments and will begin issuing Northstar Kinship Assistance (previously known as Guardianship Assistance) payments, which is a change. But there will now be a state share in foster care and a county or tribal share in the other two programs (and in legacy programs). How will the state reimburse counties and tribes for foster care payments made? How will an agency submit funds to the state for its share of the payments?
The department will create a fiscal reconciliation process in consultation with county and tribal agencies. As a part of this reconciliation process, each county and tribal agency may be asked to review information gathered about amounts spent by a county or tribe. The fiscal reconciliation process will determine how much the state and each county and tribal agency spent in comparison to each agency’s respective share. If DHS owes a county or tribal agency money, the agency will be reimbursed. If it is the other way, the agency will be billed. The details of this process are still being developed. (last updated 10/03/2013)
FI-2. I don’t understand how Northstar Care can be cost neutral to counties and tribes. Currently counties and tribes pay for foster care, and if the child moves to permanency after six months in foster care, the foster care costs are over and the state pays for permanency. Under Northstar Care for Children, counties and tribes will be paying a share of Northstar Kinship Assistance (previously known as Guardianship Assistance) and Adoption Assistance, which might last for possibly 16-18 additional years. How can this not cost counties and tribes more money?
Northstar Care for Children is more expensive over-all, but the state and federal government will pay the extra costs. The differences in time horizon (short-term foster care versus long-term permanency supports) are addressed by averaging costs through time. Over-all cost neutrality for counties and tribes is achieved by a number of provisions, including:
FI-3. For a non-Title IV-E eligible child in Northstar Care, will the county or tribe be responsible for the entire cost?
No. The county or tribe will continue to issue payments to foster parents, whether the child is Title IV-E eligible or not. However, payments made will be included in the Northstar Care Fiscal Reconciliation Process, during which the state will pick up a share as part of that over-all process. (last updated 11/07/2013)
FI-4. How will the Rule 4 administrative rate work? Will SSIS allow Rule 4 and foster care rates to work together? Is there cost sharing with the administrative rate?
Rule 4 administrative costs are based on negotiated rates that are not part of Northstar Care. They will continue to be paid by the county or tribe, the same as they are now. Each Rule 4 payment will continue to be coded in SSIS with special cost code 14, and can be eligible for Title IV-E reimbursement, if a child’s maintenance costs are reimbursed by Title IV-E. Since they are not part of Northstar Care, Rule 4 administrative costs will not be included in the Northstar Care Fiscal Reconciliation Process, and will not be part of cost sharing. (last updated 11/07/2013)
FI-5. Under Northstar Care, will county and tribal agencies be able to collect parental fees, child support, and other revenue offsets while a young person is in foster care placement? Parental fees are permitted via an approved fee schedule, although if the parents’ income is under certain levels, of course, there is no fee.
As they do now, a county or tribal agency may continue to collect parental fees, child support, and other revenues recoveries to offset its share of foster care under Northstar Care. Similarly, the department may use offsets to reduce its share of Northstar Kinship Assistance and Adoption Assistance. These offsets will not be shared as part of the Northstar Care Fiscal Reconciliation Process. (last updated 4/22/2014)
FS-1. I understand that corporate foster homes are included in Northstar Care for Children as eligible foster homes.” What are corporate foster homes?
A corporate foster home is a licensed foster home where the license holder does not reside. [Minnesota Administrative Rule 2960.3010, subpart 26] Such homes often employ shift staff to provide 24-hour coverage. (last updated 04/22/2014)
KA-1. For children to be eligible for the Northstar Kinship Assistance (previously known as Guardianship Assistance), do they need to be Title IV-E eligible?
No, a child does not need to be eligible for federal Title IV-E to qualify for Northstar Kinship Assistance. Eligibility for Northstar Kinship Assistance is separate from eligibility for Title IV-E, for which many children do not qualify. Similar to Adoption Assistance, children who meet the eligibility requirements of Northstar Kinship Assistance, but not Title IV-E, receive the same benefits as Title IV-E children and are paid for through a mix of state and local funds. (last updated 10/22/2013)
KA-2. Early on, the department referred to the replacement for Relative Custody Assistance as Guardianship Assistance, but now calls it Northstar Kinship Assistance. Why the change in names?
We did this to reduce confusion. The full federal term is Kinship Guardianship Assistance, and we originally used the term Guardianship Assistance. However, Minnesota law uses the terms guardian and guardianship in many different ways, and we concluded that using the term Guardianship to refer to this particular support for relative custodians was likely to cause unnecessary confusion. Accordingly, we have switched to using the other federal term "Kinship", adding the name "Northstar" in front to help distinguish it from the Pre-Northstar Care programs. (last updated 11/08/2013)
KA-3. If a child is not eligible for Northstar Kinship Assistance (previously known as Guardianship Assistance), but would have been eligible for Relative Custody Assistance (RCA – including the MFIP child only grant), will they still be able to get any kind of benefit payment?
Yes. As before, such a child might meet the eligibility criteria for the MFIP child only grant, just as they would have previously. However, they would no longer be eligible for any additional benefit from the Relative Custody Assistance (RCA) program. (last updated 11/08/2013)
KA-4. Does a prospective relative custodian need to be licensed for foster care to have the young person qualify for Northstar Kinship Assistance?
Yes, almost always. The young person must have been removed from the home pursuant to a voluntary placement agreement or court order, and be residing in the home of the prospective relative guardian. The young person must have lived with the prospective relative custodian for at least six consecutive months while the custodian was a foster parent who had a state or tribal family foster care license. There is a provision for an exemption to the six consecutive months of licensure requirement, but such exemptions will be unusual. (last updated 04/22/2014)
KA-5. Will all children who have transfer of permanent legal and physical custody get Northstar Kinship Assistance?
No, eligibility must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Generally, most children who are in foster care will be or could become eligible.
To be eligible for Northstar Kinship Assistance, a child must have:
In addition to the above, there are citizenship, background study, and other eligibility requirements as well. The Benefit Agreement must be signed by all parties prior to the court order transferring custody, and the court must include the required court findings in its order. Some children in foster care will not meet one or more requirements, therefore, not eligible for Northstar Kinship Assistance. See questions KA-7 and KA- 8. (last updated 11/06/2014)
This is a federal requirement as part of Title IV-E. It is a change from what was possible under Relative Custody Assistance.
Department staff know that there can be serious challenges in meeting this requirement, especially when there is out-of-state work involving Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, complicated background studies to resolve, or when another jurisdiction is responsible for licensing. The department is working to provide supports and expedited processes when possible.
When licensing relatives under Northstar Care, it is believed:
For the unusual case where quick permanency is genuinely in a child’s best interest, there is an exemption process (see question KA-7). (last updated 11/06/2014)
In unusual cases, the department may grant an exemption to the requirement that a child must have lived with the prospective relative custodian for six consecutive months while licensed foster parent(s). The exemption may be regarding:
How does an agency request an exemption?
The process for requesting an exemption is built into the Northstar Kinship Assistance Eligibility Determination process in SSIS.
As part of an exemption request, an agency must provide required information, including:
1. Why an expedited move to permanency is in a child’s best interest.
2. Why expedited permanency cannot be achieved without provision of Northstar Kinship Assistance.
3. A child’s needs based on the 10 best interest factors.
4. How the prospective relative custodian(s) are uniquely qualified to meet a child’s needs.
5. Whether a child and prospective relative custodian(s) otherwise meet eligibility requirements for Northstar Kinship Assistance.
6. An explanation of either:
a. An agency’s efforts to get prospective relative custodian(s) licensed as foster parents and have the child live with them for six consecutive months as licensed foster parents prior to permanency, or
b. Why such efforts were not in a child’s best interest.(last updated 11/06/2014)
No. Based on federal requirements, this is a major change from what was possible under previous Relative Custody Assistance.
The Kinship Placement Agreement, eligibility determination, and Northstar Kinship Assistance Benefit Agreement, with signatures from all parties, must all be in place prior to final court action for transfer of permanent legal and physical custody. As the final step, the court must include required court findings in its order.
If the Benefit Agreement is not signed by all parties (including the department) before finalization, the door to Kinship Assistance is forever closed (with the unusual exception of being determined eligible through a fair hearing process). (last updated 11/06/2014)
KA-9. Do all children in Northstar Kinship Assistance get Medical Assistance?
No. Most will, but not all.
All Title IV-E children are automatically eligible for Medicaid (Medical Assistance or MA in Minnesota). Eligibility continues as long as a child receives Northstar Care benefits, including extensions.
The following applies to children who are not Title IV-E eligible for Northstar Foster Care and Northstar Kinship Assistance, including children who:
The department expects that most, but not all, non-Title IV-E children on Northstar Kinship Assistance will qualify for MA. (last updated 11/06/2014)
MP-1. What is the Minnesota Assessment of Parenting for Children and Youth (MAPCY) assessment?
Some Northstar Care benefits are available to most eligible young people based on categories such as age and risk status. The Minnesota Assessment of Parenting for Children and Youth (MAPCY) is the assessment tool used to determine additional benefits for many young people who are eligible for Northstar Care for Children. The same tool and process is used whether a young person is in foster care, Northstar Kinship Assistance, or Northstar Adoption Assistance. (last updated 04/22/2014)
MP-2. What does the assessment consider?
For most young people, the assessment focuses on two questions: first, what are the child’s needs? And second, what are the caregiver(s) doing to meet those needs? There are specialized questions for youth aged 18 up to 21 who are in extended foster care and are in supervised independent living settings. The points being considered are grouped into domains. There are eight domains for children age birth-12, seven domains for youth age 13 and over who are placed with foster parent(s), and five domains for youth aged 18 up to 21 who are in extended foster care and are in supervised independent living settings. (last updated 04/22/2014)
MP-3. Who does the assessment?
A professional from the county or tribal social service agency conducts the assessment, usually with involvement of the caregiver(s) and often older youth. When completed, the assessment must be reviewed and approved by a designated official in the financially responsible agency, and in unusual circumstances, must also be approved by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. (last updated 04/22/2014)
MP-4. How is the assessment scored?
The Social Service Information System (SSIS) automatically scores the MAPCY assessment, weighing the rated needs of the young person in combination with the selected parenting indicators for each domain. There are special points available for unusual interactions among domains and other situations where the usual scoring is not adequate. The score is then translated into one of 16 levels, from Basic (level B) to the highest standard level (level L), and in highly unusual cases the very highest possible level (level Q). (last updated 04/22/2014)
MP-5. Did the MAPCY assessment replace the current foster care DOC (Difficulty of Care) assessment tool?
Yes, but not all at once. Effective Jan. 1, 2015 the benefit level for all children and youth entering foster care is determined using the MAPCY. However, children and youth already in placement on Dec. 31, 2014, will receive legacy foster care and continue to be assessed using the DOC assessment (and the corresponding rates from DHS Bulletin 14-32-10 (dated July 7, 2014), until they enter Northstar Care for Children. Foster children already in placement on Jan. 1, 2015, will begin Northstar Care for Children and use the MAPCY if they:• Move to a different placement setting • Have a transfer of permanent legal and physical custody • Are adopted • Re-enter foster care after reunification or court-ordered trial home visit • Or are specifically transitioned to Northstar Care for Children. (last updated 01/05/2015)
MP-6. Are county and tribal agencies going to be doing both the DOC and the MAPCY assessment at the same time for children in foster care?
Probably, at least for a time. County or tribal agency staff will need to work with both the new Northstar Care MAPCY assessment and the current foster care DOC assessment for some time. When an agency no longer has any young people remaining in legacy pre-Northstar Care foster care, then only the MAPCY assessment will be used for foster care.
However, no individual young person will have both a legacy DOC assessment and a MAPCY assessment completed at the same time. If the young person is in foster care placement on Dec. 31, 2014, the DOC assessment will continue to be used to determine the level of benefit until they enter into Northstar Care for Children. A young person will enter Northstar Care for Children when one of the following occurs:
Upon entry to Northstar Care for Children, the young person’s benefit level will be assessed using the MAPCY, with some specific exceptions involving transitions arranged by the commissioner of human services. (last updated (04/22/2014)
MP-7. When a child moves from foster care to a permanent home under Northstar Care, does an agency need to complete a new assessment?
There is no requirement for a new uniform assessment simply because a child is moving toward transfer of legal and physical custody or adoption.
A new assessment is not required if the following four conditions are all true:• The child is in Northstar Foster Care • The most recent uniform assessment is with the prospective permanent caregiver • The assessment is current (usually less than a year), and • Nothing major has changed that would suggest that a new assessment should be conducted.
There are situations when the Social Service Information System (SSIS) might require a new MAPCY assessment. An example is when certain birthdays occur between the previous assessment and the beginning of the eligibility determination. Two specific birthdays (ages 7 and 13) affect supplemental payment amounts. (last updated 11/06/2014)
T4-1. What changes in how county and tribal staff determine Title IV-E foster care eligibility under Northstar care?
Under Northstar Care for Children, there will be no change in the process for determining Title IV-E eligibility for foster care. (last updated (01/05/2015)
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