Lawsuit seeks funding for foster parents

A group sued today, claiming the state violates federal rules regarding costs to care for children.

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A lawsuit filed today with the U.S. District Court in Seattle alleges the state violates the federal Child Welfare Act by failing to reimburse foster parents for the cost of basic care provided to foster children.

That act requires states to cover -- not augment -- costs of providing food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, a child's personal needs, liability insurance with respect to a child and reasonable travel to the child's home for visits with birth family, as well as reasonable travel for the child to remain in the school in which the child is enrolled at the time of placement, explained Mary Gaston, an attorney with the Seattle law firm of Perkins Coie.

She represents the Foster Parent Association of Washington State. The action is meant to compel the state to make foster care maintenance payments that comply with the federal law, Gaston said today.

Washington, like most states, has historically made "consistently low" payments to foster families is sums considerably lower than the actual costs incurred in raising a child in the foster system, she added.

Federal law mandates states pay for "100 percent of the care of the children," said Mary-Jeanne Smith. She serves as the board director for Region 2 of the foster parent association, covering the area from Ellensburg to Walla Walla.

Foster parents in California recently won a lawsuit under the same circumstances, she said, opening the door for Washington foster parents to file a similar action. "Because they won it, we can qualify for it."

The state's economic climate has nothing to do with the situation, Smith said. Foster parent payments come from the federal government and should be the right amount to provide for the children for whom the money is intended. "Instead the state is requiring foster parents to pick up the extra."

The lawsuit references a national study entitled "Hitting the MARC: Establishing Foster Care Minimum Adequate Rates for Children." According to the study, Washington's basic foster care maintenance rates need to increase by more than 60 percent on average, and at least 75 percent for the rate for children from birth to 5 years old, Gaston said. "Washington is in the bottom third of all states when it comes to reimbursing foster parents for the cost of basic care provided to foster children."

And the money is definitely for the kids, said Mike Canfield, co-president of FPAWS, while addressing social workers, state employees and state leaders affiliated with the state Children's Administration.

"Foster parents are not paid for their time. They do not receive a salary or a paycheck. In fact, foster parents are required to demonstrate that they independently have sufficient money to care for their family before they can even be licensed as foster parents."

Parents can calculate the cost of caring for their own children, he said. "Could you do what is being asked of foster parents? Keep in mind that this money is designed to build as normal a life for these children as that sought by those who raise their own children. Sometimes these children arrive at our homes with almost nothing, sometimes simply the clothes on their back."

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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