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Sam Carwyn came to the Omaha area 30 years ago from the Bronx as a 4-year-old foster child.

She was joined by her 3-year-old sister to live with her aunt until she could be reunited with her parents. But within months after coming to Nebraska, her father died and she lived out her childhood here. 

And so Carwyn can speak with first-hand experience about kinship foster care and adoption. 

She showed up Thursday to tell her story at a Department of Health and Human Services hearing on proposed foster care licensure updates being considered to match federal foster guidelines enacted by the Trump administration. 

Most of the changes proposed are because of what’s recommended through the National Model Licensing Standard under the Family First Prevention Services Act, said HHS spokesman Lee Rettig.

Carwyn came to defend kinship, or relative, placement homes. The department says those homes remain a priority, but they are trying to get more kinship homes licensed, rather than just approved. 

Carwyn has worked for social services providers in child and family support and training, and in case management. 

When she came to Nebraska, Carwyn said she was excited to be reunited with her sister Renee, although another sister remained in New York and other siblings were scattered in other places.

Kinship care has to be protected, she said.

Even with a placement with a relative, she struggled badly at times, especially as a teenager, separated as she was from most of her family. During that struggle, having a sister with her who understood her pain, grief and loss saved her life, she said. 

"Kinship care is the best, not only for all children, but especially for children of color," she said. 

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She testified as someone who has worked in the field for 10 years and lived the experience for 34 years. She said any proposed updates in policy must take into account what black children need and address why overrepresentation of children of color in the foster care system continues to be a problem. Foster care must be addressed in a way that reduces trauma and prevents children from feeling isolated, she said. 

Foster care regulations that were outlined in regulations presented at the hearing included: 

* Foster care applicants must be able to communicate with a foster child in the child's own language, and also with the department and health care providers.

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* Applicants must be functionally literate. 

* All household members must disclose current mental health and substance abuse issues, and physical and mental health history, and alcohol/drug abuse and treatment.

* Applicants must submit to criminal record and child abuse and neglect registry checks.

* Weapons and ammunition must be stored separately, locked, unloaded and inaccessible to children.

*  Applicants or their guests cannot smoke in the home or any vehicle used to transport children, or in the presence of a foster child.  

* Children must be permitted to participate in extracurricular, enrichment, cultural and social activities.

* Children will be permitted to practice their own religious beliefs and cultural practices. 

One proposal that could be in the regulation proposal, but that the department says it will not include at this time is a requirement to have all children in the house up to date on immunizations and adult caregivers up to date on whooping cough vaccinations. This could be incorporated later.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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