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Calif. Repeatedly Resisted Foster Parent Reimbursement Hike, Despite Court Orders

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The state has repeatedly balked at boosting how much it pays the people who care for society’s mistreated children.

— Patty Boles of San Marcos got $345 dollars per month to look after a young foster child more than 30 years ago. Up until last week, the pay was just $100 more -- hardly enough, Boles said to cover the actual expenses of foster kids.

“They need shoes and they need clothes," Boles said. "And they need food. They need the real things of life that all children need. And the sad thing is that the money just isn’t there always to take care of those needs.”

Statewide, the number of foster parents declined about 30 percent over the last decade, according to child advocates. They blame California’s lousy track record on foster parent reimbursement.

Foster parents sued California in 2007 to force an increase.

“What happened in this case was actually very shocking," said Children's Advocacy Institute Attorney Ed Howard who worked on the case. “What we found out was for 30 years, the state had no methodology whatsoever to figure out whether or not the money that it was paying to reimburse foster parents for caring for abused and neglected children bore any relationship whatsoever to the cost of taking care of those kids. It was pulling the reimbursement numbers out of thin air.”

In 2008, a federal judge told the state that was illegal and California had to come up with a plan. The state appealed, but not on the judge’s findings.

“Their appeal was that foster parents didn’t have the ability under federal law to stop the illegal conduct," Howard said.

The state lost the appeal. As time passed, gas and food prices went up but the state’s foster parents still didn’t see their monthly checks rise.

Last year, lawyers filed a Public Records Act request to find out what the state had done to comply with the judge’s 2008 order.

“Unfortunately, the answer turned out to be almost nothing," said lawyer Marc Peters.

Peters and others returned to court. The same judge ordered the state to finish a study on foster-care reimbursement and implement new rates by April 8.

“What their own study found was that the state was dramatically under-compensating foster parents for their expenses," Peters said.

But the state missed the April 8 deadline, so foster parents went back to court yet again last month.

This time, the judge instructed the state to immediately start reimbursing foster parents more money for their work. Just days later, the state asked for a clarification, among other things, on what the judge meant by immediately.

“It’s inexcusable squared and cubed that after a federal court told them that what they were doing was blatantly illegal, they did nothing to change their ways to implement new rates by April 8 and they still haven’t done it," Howard said.

Greg Rose of the state said they were just double checking.

“We just wanted to make sure we get the date right," Rose said.

Rose is deputy director for children and family services at the California Department of Social Services. When asked why it’s taken the state so long to follow the court’s 2008 order, he said:

“My response is that we are implementing the judge’s order.”

Despite the difficult history with the state, lawyer Peters said he doesn’t fault whom he calls the dedicated public servants at the California Department of Social Services. But state law bars the department from spending money it’s not authorized to spend by the legislature and governor. Both, he said, have failed to give the state enough money for foster programs. And that should worry California citizens.

“Especially when we’re considering that we’re talking about dealing with some of the neediest and most vulnerable members of our society -- abused kids.”

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