SAN FRANCISCO (October 3, 2007) -- A group of family and child advocates has filed suit in federal district court in California, on behalf of licensed foster parents caring for abused and neglected children who have been removed from the custody of their parents by state law.
Advocating for the interests of the state’s estimated 78,000 foster children, ages eighteen and younger, the plaintiff parties include the California State Foster Parent Association, Legal Advocates for Permanent Parenting, as well as the California State Care Providers Association.
Law firm Morrison & Foerster and the Children’s Advocacy Institute, representing the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis, named as defendants John Wagner, Director of the California Department of Social Services, and Mary Ault, Deputy Director of the Children and Family Services Division of the California Department of Social Services.
The complaint alleges that - despite having applied for and accepted federal funding for foster care - the state of California is not covering foster parents’ costs as they are required to do by federal law in order to qualify for such funding. These basic costs include the provision of food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, a child’s personal incidentals, liability insurance, as well as reasonable travel to the child’s home for visitation.
According to the complaint: “The rates paid to licensed foster parents in California are less than the rates paid to foster parents in Texas, where the cost of living is significantly lower. Even before Texas’ recent four-and-one-third percent rise in rates, the lowest-paid foster parent in Texas received a higher foster care rate than a licensed foster parent in California providing care to a child under the age of fifteen.”
“In fact, on average, California pays less to foster parents than it costs to kennel a dog in the state,” the complaint adds, strikingly.
According to Kimberly Van Voorhis, a partner in Morrison & Foerster’s Palo Alto office, “Having removed these children from their parents, already seriously disrupting their lives, the state is legally and morally obligated to provide for their care. This is best served by placing the children into private homes with parents who can bond with and eventually adopt them, as opposed to impersonal and exponentially more expensive group homes or alternate placements.”
“The lack of proper payments has caused a sharp decline in the number of Californians willing to become licensed foster parents to these children, which significantly decreases the chances for adoption,” Ms. Van Voorhis added.
The complaint alleges that “only 47 percent [of foster children] have been placed in the most preferred types of placements – 37 percent with relatives and only 10 percent with licensed foster families; only 46.8 percent have been placed in foster homes with all of their siblings, and only 2.5 percent have attained ‘pre-adopt’ status.”
“California counties have experienced an average decline of 30 percent in licensed foster family homes. Sacramento, Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Sonoma Counties report losses as high as 45 to 50 percent. San Bernardino County reports a decline of 61 percent,” the complaint adds.
According to Children’s Advocacy Institute senior counsel, Edward Howard, “The rates set by the California Legislature have failed to keep up with the increase in the California Necessities Index (CNI), a subset of CPI that has risen 25% since 2001. The average paid to licensed foster parents next year will be about $530 a month.”
Mr. Howard adds: “This suit is especially timely – and necessary – on the heels of the partial defeat of Assembly Bill 324 earlier this year. In addition to the 5% increase (amounting to about $25 more a month) that made it into the budget, Assembly Member Beall’s original measure would have tied future foster care maintenance cost increases to increases in the CNI, as well as established a program to train and educate foster parents.”
The action seeks to prevent further violation of federal law by the state of California and to obtain the payments to which the foster parents are lawfully entitled. The plaintiffs have requested a jury trial.
The complaint can be viewed at //media2.mofo.com/documents/childrensadvocacy.pdf.