California Is "Deadbeat Parent" to Foster Kids

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Foster kid poster boy, Steve Jobs.
The California Alliance of Child and Family Services is accusing the Department of Social Services of violating the Child Welfare Act by not providing sufficient funds for foster family agencies. The group filed a lawsuit last week in San Francisco, following a previous court decision that allotted foster group homes more money. 

The Child Welfare Act says that the state and federal governments must  share the cost of foster care with the Foster Family Agencies (FFAs), which oversees the state's 16,000 dependent children and wards of the state.

And like almost every other state agency, FFAs have been hit hard financially, and having no increase in funding over the last decade has made matters worse.

"The state is the deadbeat parent of the year," said Jay Berlin, executive director and founder of Alternative Family Services, an FFA.

The funding rate provided to FFAs is based on the cost of living, which has increased 80 percent in the last 21 years, according to the Alliance. But FFA funding rates have only increased 10 percent in that time. California's Department of Finance estimates a 70 percent increase in the next state budget to restore FFA rates to their original levels.

If a court approves this much-needed funding increase to offset the state's increasing cost of living, the agency would use that money to pay staff or to increase the foster parents' monthly rate, which is currently estimated at $900 a month, Berlin said.

The funding crunch forced Berkeley's foster agency, A Better Way, to discontinue its foster care program three years ago. Instead, it focuses on adoption options for foster kids. To put it into context, Shahnaz Mazandarani, the organization's president and CEO, said her foster program was cut from 110 kids to 30 as of now. "We lost $300,000 in three years," Mazandarani.

The Alliance filed a similar claim in 2006, asking for more money to finance foster kids placed into group homes. After years of fighting, coupled with more budget cuts, the court ruled in favor of the Alliance, and in 2008 granted the funding rates that matched the state's cost of living.

Money given to FFAs are used to cover costs of basic needs, such as placement, food, clothing, shelter, supervision, school supplies, and insurance. According to the Alliance, foster parents can no longer afford to send their foster children to preschool or participate in activities such as soccer or art class.

"[The state] has a legal obligation to these kids" said Berlin. "It's disgraceful that their needs are at the bottom of the food chain."

The Department of Social Services says it has not publicized a plan of action. 

"We do not comment on pending litigation," Michael Weston said in a statement on behalf of the department. "However, the California Department of Social Services remains committed to its mission which is to serve, aid and protect needy and vulnerable children and adults in ways that strengthen and preserve families, encourage personal responsibility and foster independence."

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