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CAI Litigation:
California State Foster Parent Association, et al. v. Wagner, et al.

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NEW U. S. District Court Orders California to Increase Foster Family Home Rates Immediately (May 27, 2011)

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:

Age range
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.


Click here to read the court's order in its entirety.

Ninth Circuit Affirms the Right of Family Foster Parents to Challenge California's Failure to Pay Rates that Compensate for Specific Costs of Caring for Foster Children

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.

Federal Court Strikes Down California's Reimbursements to Foster Parents, Rules That California Illegally Shortchanges Abused and Neglected Children

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 Stateto 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.”

CAI and Morrison & Foerster File Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of Foster Parent Advocacy Groups, Seeking More Money for Parents Caring for Abused and Neglected Foster Children

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

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Children's Advocacy Institute
University of San Diego School of Law
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