Friday, July 4, 2008

The Inadequacy of Foster Care and Adoption Assistance Payment Rates.

Foster Care Minimum Adequate Rates for Children (“Foster Care MARC”)

An October study 2007 of foster care rates across the country reached the provocative conclusion that “on average, across the U.S., current foster care rates must be raised by 36 percent in order to reach the Foster Care Minimum Adequate Rates for Children (the “Foster Care MARC”). The Foster Care MARC represents the projects’ calculations on the minimum expenses involved in providing care for a child in a foster home. According the reports’ estimates “in some states, rates are less than half of what it actually costs to care for a child in foster care.

The Inadequacy of Adoption Assistance Rates

According a 2008 study by the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), The Value of Adoption Subsidies, “59 percent of children adopted from foster care were adopted by foster and parents and 26 percent were adopted by relatives.” Since adoption assistance rates more often than not fall below foster care rates, it is clear that adoption assistance rates are also inadequate.

Ending The Foster Care Life Sentence, a 2006 study by Children’s Rights of New York, surveyed 250 adoptive and prospective adoptive parents from Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, and Texas. Children’s Rights found that 47% of the survey respondents received an adoption subsidy that was lower than the foster care rate. Thirty nine percent received the same amount of adoption assistance as foster care support and 14% received a higher level of adoption assistance, probably due to additional state funded support.

In Fiscal 2001, the median foster care rate in Ohio was $590 per month, while the median Adoption subsidy rate was $544 per month. The median adoption subsidy payment probably reflects the relatively higher levels in the larger counties such as Cuyahoga (Cleveland) and Montgomery (Dayton). In many Ohio counties the median and mean adoption assistance rates are noticeably lower than $544, even in 2008. (See Understanding Adoption Subsidies:An Analysis of AFCARS Data, January 2005).

The 2008 NACAC report notes:

"Most foster families are in the low to lower middle income range,23 and many grandparents and other relatives who care for children in foster care are on fixed incomes. Without subsidies, many parents would not have the means to adopt children from foster care. Just as foster care maintenance payments do not cover the true costs involved in the basic care of a child,25
adoption subsidies are modest financial supports that provide adoptive families
with additional resources to meet their children’s needs."

It is hardly surprising that the Children’s Rights survey found:

"more than half (57%) of survey respondents who had already adopted said the subsidy amount was not sufficient to meet the child’s needs. Of those survey respondents considering adoption, 59% anticipated that the available subsidy would not be sufficient. Additionally, 7% of adoptive and prospective adoptive parents who responded that the subsidy was sufficient to meet the child’s current needs indicated uncertainty that the subsidy would be sufficient to meet
the child’s needs in the future."

The Foster Care MARC Study

The report, entitled HITTING THE M.A.R.C.; Establishing Foster Care Minimum Adequate Rates for Children, represents the joint efforts of Children’s Rights of New York in collaboration Ruth H.Young Center (RYC) for Families and Children at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA). The project compared its “minimum adequate rates for foster children state foster care rates collected from April 2007 through July 2007.

According to Foster Care MARC estimates, foster care rates are inadequate to cover the food, clothing school supplies the basic expenses of caring for the child cited in federal and state laws. Noting that foster care rates do not typically rank very high among state budget priorities, the report concludes that “foster care rates in many states do not appear to be based on a real assessment of children’s basic needs.

Thus, it is no surprise that foster parents and other advocates routinely report that current rates fall far short of the actual costs of providing care. And, if foster parents are not financially able to pick up the shortfall by paying out of their own pockets for expenses that the state or locality is legally obligated to cover, then children may do without.

If the Foster Care MARC report is accurate, the study also calls the adequacy of adoption assistance rates into question, in as much as they are consistently lower than levels of support for children in foster homes. In the end, when all the warm rhetoric is expended on the value of adoption, it ranks even farther far down the list of state budget priorities, than foster care in spite of studies that claim the advantages of a permanent family over the problems encountered by young adults who age out of the foster care system. (See Value of Adoption Subsidies).

In 2007, average monthly foster care rates ranged from a low of $226 in Nebraska to $869 in the District of Columbia. Given the report’s focus on meeting the foster child’s daily care needs, the figures cited do not reflect the more specialized “difficulty of care rates” paid in support of foster children with severe special needs.

The Foster Care MARC includes the allowable expenditures in the Federal Title IV-E Foster Care Maintenance Program, food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, personal incidentals, insurance and travel for visitation with a child’s biological family.” The MARC methodology establishes basic foster rates for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia by:

· analyzing consumer expenditure data reflecting the costs of caring for a child;

· identifying and accounting for additional costs particular to children in foster care;

· and applying a geographic cost of living adjustment

The resulting monthly cost figures for minimum adequate levels of support cover basic daily needs as well as what the report refers to as “normalizing” activities. The report contends that sports, art and other activities “are particularly important for children who have been traumatized or isolated by their experiences of abuse and neglect and placement in foster care.”

Interestingly, adoptive parents frequently mention such programs in negotiating adoption assistance agreements with state and county agencies. Although, they clearly fall under the rubric of meeting the child’s “ordinary and special, current and anticipated needs” set forth in the federal Child Welfare Policy Manual as criteria for negotiation, agencies frequently attempt to reject the cost of “normalizing: activities and indeed of all ordinary daily expenses as unallowable expenses in deliberations concerning the amount of adoption assistance.

The Foster Care MARC cost estimates do not include the cost of travel allowing the child visits with members of the birth family or child care for working foster parents. The authors explain that “given the variability in these expenditures from case to case, states and localities should reimburse foster parents based on their actual expenditures, in addition to the Foster Care MARC.”

The report’s authors also claim that the Foster Care MARC provides superior standard to annual U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates of the costs of raising children because USDA estimates “include expenses that are not typically part of a foster care rate, such as mortgage or rent, health care and education, and they exclude other expenses particular to the care of children in foster care.” It should be noted that the USDA expense categories do apply to adoption assistance negotiations which are required to consider both the “needs of the child” and “circumstances of the family” and place no strictures on how adoptive parents determine to sue adoption assistance payments on behalf of their children.

According to the report, the national averages representing the Foster Care Marc compare with the 2007 national foster care payments as follows:

Age 2: Average Monthly MARC Rates - $629 National Monthly Foster Care Averages - $488

Age 9: Average Monthly MARC Rates - $721 National Monthly Foster Care Averages - $509

Age 16: Average Monthly MARC Rates - $790 National Monthly Foster Care Averages - $568

Based on Cost of Living estimates, the MARC Foster Care Estimates for Ohio were:

Age 2 Foster Care MARC Estimates Ohio - $635 National Monthly Foster are Averages - $488
Age 9 Foster Care MARC Estimates Ohio - $727 National Monthly Foster are Averages - $509
Age 16 Foster Care MARC Estimates Ohio - $797 National Monthly Foster are Averages - $568