Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts, #5: Mandatory Minimum on Foster Care Payments

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, with support from the Sara Start Fund.

Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of Princess Harmon, 22, a graduate of Michigan State University.

The Proposal

princess
Princess Harmon, 22, a graduate of Michigan State University

Harmon calls for a federal requirement that all states adhere to a minimum monthly foster care payment to be set, and adjusted, at a rate commensurate with the cost of “raising a child from a middle-income family in that particular state.” The goal would be to move families who were unsure of their financial ability to foster off the fence, particularly in states that lack the necessary number of homes at present time.

For potential middle-income figures, Harmon cites the Minimum Adequate Rate for Children (MARC) report published in 2007 by Children’s Rights, the University of Maryland School of Social Work and the National Foster Parent Association.

The Argument

Currently, there is no federal minimum rate or standard set for what a state must pay a family to serve as a foster home. And at the moment, Harmon notes, the number of foster youth in America is rising while “many states are also seeing an all-time high in foster home shortages,” which “puts pressure on current caregivers to take in additional children and increases the number of children in congregate care placements.”

In Her Own Words

“During my time in foster care … it was heartbreaking to hear adults commend my aunt for taking care of my brothers and me, and say they would have fostered ‘but for the cost.’ My aunt is not rich or even remotely well off, and she rarely received help from our family members.”

The Chronicle‘s Take

Harmon proposes something that the federal government is traditionally averse to: Forcing a state to set its market. The most famous example would probably be the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set a federal minimum wage that no state could go below.

This would surely antagonize a state or county where the child welfare agency felt it had a sufficient number of foster homes, but was paying a monthly rate well below a set federal minimum.

There is really only one way it could be accomplished: meet a minimum, or face the loss of federal foster care funds from Title IV-E. It would be hard to envision anything short of that standard compelling states to drastically raise their monthly payments to foster homes.

fyiportraits-128
2016 participants in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship Program

The 2007 report cited by Harmon also proposes this policy shift, but acknowledges a few steps that must be taken before a federal minimum could be discussed. The report recommends that states be required to include the underlying justification for their current monthly payment calculations in what’s called a foster care state plan, which is subject to federal approval.

Such a requirement would likely produce some interesting data for child welfare policy wonks, as it would enable a transparent comparison of the factors and calculations behind how states develop their rates. Another step toward rate-setting, we’d expect, is some study or survey that gauged how much of a factor monthly payments are in the recruitment and retainment of foster parents.

Down the road, our guess is that a package of incentives and penalties would be more politically feasible than a hard federal minimum. For example, IV-E could be amended to offer an enhanced foster care match to states that met or went above a monthly minimum, no change in matching for states within 100 percent of the monthly minimum, and a lower match for states outside that realm.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

John Kelly
About John Kelly 1131 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.