Underfunded Foster Care Sparks 'Crisis' in U.S.

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 18, 2007

In nearly every state, including Virginia, the cost of providing basic care for a foster child exceeds the government's foster-care reimbursement, according to national research released this month.

Only the District and Arizona have reimbursement rates that meet or exceed the estimated cost of caring for a foster child, according to a report by the University of Maryland School of Social Work, the national watchdog group Children's Rights, and the National Foster Parent Association.

The study, "Hitting the MARC: Establishing Foster Care Minimum Adequate Rates for Children," provides the first nationwide, state-by-state calculation of the real expenses of providing foster care. The researchers factored in the expenses of housing, food, clothing and school supplies to determine a standard monthly rate for each state and the District.

"There are such major disparities between the states and how they reimburse foster families, from as little as $200 in Nebraska, for example, [to as much as $800 in the District," said Diane DePanfilis, the report's co-author and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Federal law requires state and local child welfare systems to reimburse foster parents for the cost of providing children's basic needs, but there is no federal standard for a minimum reimbursement rate. State and local governments are free to set their own rates, and the report found that many states have no particular methodology in doing so.

"In some states, they've had pretty sophisticated methods for coming up with rates," said DePanfilis, who directs the university's Ruth H. Young Center for Families and Children. "In most states, however, there's been no actual method for how they construct the rates that they provide to foster families."

In Virginia, foster parents are reimbursed from $368 to $546 each month, depending on a child's age, according to the report. But the researchers concluded that the cost of raising a child is higher, ranging from $605 to $760. There are about 7,000 children in foster care in Virginia and about 10,600 licensed family foster homes, according to the report.

Marianne S. McGhee, director of public affairs for the Virginia Department of Social Services, said that the monthly reimbursement rates reflect an increase that went into effect in July, but that the department supports additional increases.

She noted that an annual clothing allowance for children, which is in addition to the monthly reimbursement, also increased recently for some older children. The allowance now ranges from $300 for the youngest children to $450 for children 13 and older.

"There is still work to do, and we understand that," McGhee said. "We are continuing to work with our General Assembly and receiving support from our governor and first lady Anne Holton."

In Maryland, the government's monthly foster care reimbursement rates range from $735 to $750, depending on the child's age, the report says. But it costs foster parents as much as $789 per month to provide proper care for a child, researchers found.

Brenda Donald, Maryland's secretary of human resources, whose department oversees the foster care program, said the new report will help the state determine its foster care reimbursement rates.

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