For Foster Children, Every Little Bit Helps

Shortchanged foster parents in California are expected to receive long-overdue raises in payment rates, no thanks to the state Department of Social Services.
by | June 6, 2011 AT 3:00 PM

Two and a half years. That’s how long foster parents raising kids in California have been waiting for a pay raise. That’s how long it’s been since a federal district judge ruled that the state’s rates were too low to cover food, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies and other essentials.

Back in 2008, when U.S. District Judge William Alsup of San Francisco ruled that the rates were too low, he figured that the state Department of Social Services would handle it. But that didn’t happen. The state Department of Social Services took no steps to change the rates and foster parents have had to manage. As a result, Alsup had to step in last week to order California to increase payment rates immediately to cover the costs of raising a child.

State officials "have now had a full and fair opportunity to come into compliance with federal law,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “They have not done so."

It’s a disheartening situation, with effects that might not be seen on the surface. But unfortunately, it’s this type of negligence that has scarred social services across the state. The recession, without a doubt, has spared no one, but in a time of economic crisis, we can’t afford not to help those who want to help, especially when it’s so hard to find foster families willing to care for the most vulnerable children in the first place.

“It is shameful that this state has shirked its responsibilities to these children” Margaret Coyne, executive director of Advokids, a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit advocacy organization for children in foster care told the News Hawk Review. “These older children are consigned to having to grow up in institutions because it is so hard to find caring foster families for them at the ridiculously low rates the state was willing to pay for their care.”

In California, foster parents care for 18,500 children, many of them victims of abuse or neglect. But foster care rates have barely increased in the last two decades and fall way below the costs to care for a child in foster care, according to a UC Davis study completed in March. The state told counties to begin higher payments in July to meet the levels specified in the study. That means, for a child up to 4 years old, the reimbursement will increase from $446 a month to $609 and from $627 to $761 a month for youths ages 15 to 19. Payments would also increase each year to reflect rising costs of care.

According to the Chronicle, Alsup said the higher payments could actually save California money by luring more parents to the program, which could potentially cut down the money spent on the more expensive group homes. But California neglected to see this big picture, forcing the courts once again to intervene, according to Joe Mathews’ post on the NBC LA PropZero blog:

California is so cheap in so many ways that the courts have had to step in, mandating a higher standard for everything from prison conditions to, now, support for foster children.

The solution to this problem isn't more austerity; that only guarantees that more and more of state government will be effectively run by the courts.

No, California needs to rebuild its governing system, and especially its tax system, to provide the revenues required for a 21st century state government.

Hopefully, these types of issues can be identified and resolved sooner than later because, in this crazy economy, two and a half years can feel like a lifetime.