Children's Rights, the National Foster Parent Association, and the University of Maryland School of Social Work released a report to Congress on Oct. 3 that shows state-by-state the real cost of supporting children in foster care and offers a report card of how well states are covering foster children's basic needs.
The report reveals widespread deficiencies in reimbursement rates across the nation-and major disparities among the states-and proposes a new standard rate for each state to use in fulfilling the federal requirement to provide foster parents with payments to cover the basic needs of children in foster care, including food, shelter, clothing, and school supplies.
The project's goal-based on true expenses for caring for a foster care child-was to develop an economic model that establishes minimum adequate rates, adaptable on a state-by-state basis reflecting the differences in the cost of living. According to Diane DePanfilis, PhD, MSW, associate professor and associate dean for research at the School, and director of its Ruth H. Young Center for Families and Children, foster parents and advocates report that rates frequently don't cover actual expenditures by foster care parents and that such low rates inhibit the recruitment and retention of foster parents.
"An inadequate pool of foster parents may result in more children experiencing multiple placements, more reliance on group homes, and fewer children achieving permanency," said DePanfilis.
Foster parents from Virginia participated in a congressional briefing on Oct. 3 and discussed financial trials and tribulations of having anywhere from two to nine foster children in their home.
Of the more than 513,000 children in foster care nationally, the study showed 74 percent are placed in foster homes and 18 percent in group homes or institutions. The study did not include certain expenses particular to foster care children because these expenses should be covered separately: travel for visitation with parents and siblings, travel for administrative and court reviews, child care for working foster parents or medical care.
The report found that two jurisdictions-Arizona and Washington, D.C.-hit the mark, but 10 states should raise their rates by up to 25 percent, and 11 states need to raise it by 26 percent to 50 percent. Fourteen states need to raise their rates by 51 percent to 75 percent, another nine need to raise their rates by 76 percent to 100 percent, and five states need to raise their rate by more than 100 percent to meet the basic costs of raising a child in foster care, the report said.
Researchers recommended that states should raise their rates to appropriate levels and that a federal policy should require states to submit the methodology they use for setting foster care rates when they submit their annual child welfare plan.
"Many foster parents who can, dip into their own pockets to cover the costs, and those foster care kids with parents who can't do that, it means they often go without," said Julie Faber, MSW, director of policy at Children's Rights.