California budget fixes foster payment disparity

Starting next year, foster children who are taken in by relatives will no longer be penalized for doing so.

As SN&R reported last month, due to a Byzantine policy change that went unaddressed for nearly two decades, California is the only state in the nation to drastically underpay foster-care benefits to kids placed with extended family.

Many relatives are getting nearly $500 less a month per foster child than nonrelatives, even though child-welfare authorities and advocates say kids generally fare better in kinship placements. “Both the law and our agency values dictate that relatives, who are able to provide care, are the first priority when looking for a home for dependent children to live,” explained Laura McCasland, spokeswoman for Sacramento County’s Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Child Protective Services.

The state budget signed by Gov. Jerry Brown includes $30 million to right this imbalance for the 36 percent of California foster children who are cared for by relatives, the Alliance for Children’s Rights announced last week.

The program, which goes into effect on January 1, 2015, will provide equitable payments to approved relative caregivers through CalWORKs in participating counties. For related caretakers, that could mean about $820 per month, compared to the $369 per month that CalWORKs had been paying.

Health and Human Services spokeswoman Samantha Mott said her department was very encouraged by the news and is in discussions with state and local officials to learn the details. “We are also aware that our foster parents are in strong support of this program, and their input will factor into our decision,” she said.

Counties have until October 1 to opt into the program, which, the Alliance states, won’t cost them anything. At last count, Sacramento County placed a smaller percentage of foster children with relatives. As of last month, approximately 700 kids—or 25 percent of dependent children in the county—resided with relatives, McCasland said.

Nearly 60,000 children in the state are in foster care.

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