Appeals court faults California for inadequately compensating foster parents
Foster parents have a legal right to fair compensation for taking care of the state’s wards, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the state was violating the Child Welfare Act by failing to adequately compensate foster parents caring for about 5,600 children in family homes.
The ruling in favor of three foster parent associations echoed the appeals court’s opinion last year in a similar case brought by foster-care institutions and group homes, which provide shelter, food and clothing for most of the estimated 60,000 children in state care. That case was brought by California Alliance of Child and Family Services, which operates more than 100 homes for children deemed unsuitable for foster family placements.
The California Department of Social Services pays an average of $520 a month per child, while the costs for care and services specified by the state run well over $900 a month, said Marc Peters, a Palo Alto lawyer who represented the foster parents in their suit. Compensation rates vary based on the child’s age and individual needs, but the average foster parent gets about 55% reimbursement in California, according to an academic study Peters said was introduced at trial.
The ruling by a three-judge panel doesn’t have the power to compel the state to change its compensation formula, Peters said. But it should put pressure on the state to correct the deficiencies or face possible loss of federal funds that augment the state payments, he said.
“This isn’t the end,” Peters said. “But it is another significant step on the journey to get the state to do what is right.”
Christina Riehl, senior staff attorney for the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, said the foster care advocates would try to work with state officials “to ensure that their rates do meet the standard set forth in federal law, so that they are actually meeting all the costs.”
The Child Welfare Act requires foster parents in states receiving federal funds to provide housing, food, clothing, daily supervision, school supplies and transportation to and from school, as well as reasonable travel to the child’s home for visitation where permitted.
After a district court judge in San Francisco found the foster parents entitled to sue for fair compensation and the state in violation of the federal statute, Social Services officials challenged only the foster parents’ assertion of a federal right, not the lower court’s finding that the state’s payments were inadequate.
Susan M. Carson of the Attorney General’s office declined comment on the appeals court ruling.
The state has two weeks to decide whether to appeal the ruling to a full 11-judge panel of the appeals court.