California State Foster Parent Association, et al. v. Wagner, et al.
On May 27, 2011, the U.S. District Court granted the Children's Advocacy Institute's Second Motion for Further Relief, which asked the court to compel the State of California to implement its new method for determining the rates of payments to foster parents. Specifically, the court ordered as follows:
Defendants have now had a full and fair opportunity to come into compliance with
federal law. They have not done so. Therefore, plaintiffs’ second motion for further relief is
GRANTED. The State of California shall send checks to foster parents at the new rates
beginning with the next round of checks.
Defendants shall implement the rate methodology and specific rates described in the
defendants’ submission dated April 8, 2011 (Dkt. No. 166), effective immediately. The rate
schedule stated in defendants’ April 8 filing is as follows:
|New Rate Structure
Defendants shall adjust the rates stated above annually, no later the first day of the State’s fiscal
year, to reflect the change in the CNI for the current fiscal year as outlined in defendants’ April 8 filing. Such adjustments shall be made, and are not subject to the availability of funds. By MAY 31, 2011, defendants shall issue an official release setting forth the above-stated rate
increases, effective that date.
If defendants William Lightbourne and Gregory Rose refuse to or fail to comply with this order, then they must appear personally (not just through counsel) and show cause why they
should not be held in contempt on July 28, 2011, at 2:00 p.m.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Click here to read the court's order in its entirety.
On August 30, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion affirming the District Court's finding that the Child Welfare Act grants foster care providers the enforceable federal statutory right to payments
that cover certain enumerated costs, a right redressable
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. View the entire Ninth Circuit opinion here. This decision affirms the right of foster parents to receive payments that cover the costs they incur when raising children in foster care.
According to CAI, California's foster family home rates need to be raised by 40% in order to comply with federal law; such an increase in rates would assure adequate supply and enhance adoptions.
First-in-the-nation ruling expected to increase family placements, adoptions, save taxpayers money, and avoid collapse of foster parenting statewide
(December 8, 2008, San Francisco) – In a stunning victory for California’s approximately 70,000 foster children and foster children nationally, a federal district court for the Northern District of California has for the first time decreed that a state’s method of reimbursing foster parents for the expenses they incur caring for abused and neglected children is illegal, ruling that the reimbursements failed to consider and pay for the actual costs of raising foster children.
U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup ruling holds out the promise of an increase in reimbursements to Californians who volunteer their time to take in and care for abused and neglected children but who are entitled to be reimbursed for their out-of-pocket costs under federal law.
“This welcome ruling will quickly result in more abused and neglected children being placed in families instead of institutions and will result in more adoptions,” said Regina Diehl, a foster parent and head of Legal Advocates for Permanent Parenting, one of the successful plaintiffs. “Every child deserves a family, especially abused and neglected children, and the federal court’s ruling will mean more family meals, family holidays, and family birthdays for our abused children.”
The federal Child Welfare Act requires the State “to cover the cost of (and the cost of providing) food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, a child’s personal incidentals, liability insurance with respect to a child, and reasonable travel to the child’s home for visitation, and reasonable travel for the child to remain in the school in which the child is enrolled at the time of placement.” In exchange for a commitment to reimburse foster parents, the federal government picks up half the cost.
But, as Judge Alsup ruled: “The record in this case indicates that California’s rates are not based on the [federal] statutory criteria; in fact, it indicates that California has no mechanism in place to ensure that it is meeting that federal obligation. It does not track foster care costs; it does not analyze the adequacy of its rates; and it has no mechanism for making adjustments to rates that may be needed.”
“California was simply breaking its part of the deal,” observed Kim Van Voorhis, lead counsel on the case for Morrison & Foerster, LLC. “It was taking millions in federal dollars but not reimbursing foster parents as required by federal law.” Ms. Van Voorhis also stated: “Indeed, the State admitted in our case that it never even tried to figure out what adequate reimbursements would be. Instead, the State admitted that it paid whatever it felt like paying, regardless of federal law.”
California currently reimburses foster parents an average of about $505 per month, less than the monthly average cost of kenneling a dog. According to a prior order of Judge Alsup’s, “plaintiffs’ evidence purports to establish that California’s foster parent rates have fallen 29 to 40 percent or more below the cost of providing for the enumerated items [.] Defendants do not challenge this evidence.”
“Judge Alsup’s ruling could not be more timely,” said Ed Howard, Senior Counsel for the Children’s Advocacy Institute and a counsel in the case. “Foster care placements are the most frequent source of adoptions for kids who don’t have families that can take them. But because California’s reimbursements have lagged so far behind what it actually costs to care for a child, the number of Californians financially able to be foster parents has plummeted, so abused children have for years needlessly been placed in far more costly group institutions instead.”
“With a recession looming, a catastrophic collapse of foster parenting will soon be on us if reimbursements are not hiked,” added Howard.
In noting the relationship between the plummeting number of placements of abused and neglected children with foster parents and the low reimbursements paid to such families, the court wrote that “[b]asic economic logic would predict this result.”
Likewise, according to the Court, “defendants offered no factual rebuttal” to the evidence showing that raising foster parent reimbursements, and thus increasing the supply of foster parent volunteers, will quickly save the State money because foster parenting is both the best placement for the child and the least expensive. When an abused and neglected child cannot be placed in an available foster home, the only remaining options are orders of magnitude more expensive for state taxpayers and potentially worse for the child.
Importantly, Judge Alsup rejected the State’s argument that the State was empowered to pay whatever it wanted under federal law: To accept defendants’ sweeping claim “would have meant that any foster care payments greater than zero dollars would satisfy the Act.”
The cost of kenneling a dog now exceeds what licensed
foster families are paid each month to house, clothe,
feed, and care for foster children.
SAN FRANCISCO (October 3, 2007) – State-licensed
foster parents in California, many of whom receive less
assistance per month from the State than the average
cost of kenneling a dog, filed suit today in federal
district court, challenging the lawfulness of these
low payments under federal law.
The California State Foster Parent Association, Legal
Advocates for Permanent Parenting, California State
Care Providers Association and the Children’s
Advocacy Institute (serving as counsel, with the pro
bono assistance of Morrison & Foerster LLP) filed
the suit, asserting that assistance rates set by the
California Legislature have failed to keep pace with
the California Necessities Index (CNI), a component
of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) that has risen 25
percent since 2001. In 2008, the average assistance
per child paid to licensed foster parents will be about
$530 a month.
Citing a recent study from the California Budget Project,
a non-partisan and nonprofit fiscal reform group, the
suit maintains that an average monthly payment of $709
is required for the State to be in compliance with federal
law. A joint report released today by the University
of Maryland School of Social Work and the National Foster
Parent Association sets the minimum average rate for
adequate care in California even higher — at $777.
The federal law requires that licensed foster parents
be paid enough to cover the actual cost of providing
food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies
and daily incidentals. According to the lawsuit, California
foster-care payments currently cover only a fraction
of these costs, resulting in a steep and steady decline
in recent years in the number of Californians willing
to become foster parents.
Some counties – for example, Sacramento and San
Bernardino – have seen the number of willing foster
families drop by more than 50 percent. Perversely, this
costs the State money, the lawsuit says, because a shortage
of foster parents means that abused and neglected children
are placed in far more expensive group homes.
Tight state purse strings also tend to make it more
difficult to keep foster siblings together in a family
or in families that live near one another.
“The data is horrifying, given our moral obligation
to these abused and neglected children,” says
Edward Howard, senior counsel for Children’s Advocacy
Institute. “Forty percent of all of California’s
homeless are former foster youth, a terrible indictment
of our foster care system. Foster children can also
experience post-traumatic stress disorder at rates worse
than that of Vietnam veterans.”
The lawsuit comes on the heels of the defeat earlier
this year of Assembly Bill 324, introduced by Assembly
Member Jim Beall. In addition to a 5% increase (about
$25 a month) in payments to families, the measure would
have tied future family support increases to upticks
in the California Necessities Index, and established
a program to educate and train foster parents.
To view the complaint, please click here.
For more information, contact CAI Senior Counsel Ed
Howard at (916) 844-5646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.