Relative Caregivers Get a Small But Significant Raise in Georgia Budget

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D) proposed a $1 per day raise for relatives caring for foster youth, a plan that found its way into the state budget for next fiscal year. Photo from House Appropriations Human Resources Subcommittee hearing.

Seeking to increase the state’s support for a rapidly growing faction of its foster care system, Georgia’s House and Senate included a $1 per day raise in its payments to relatives.

“I am pleased that Georgia is doing more to support children living with family members when taken into state legal custody,” said State Rep. Mary-Margaret Oliver (D), who introduced the idea of a kinship raise, in an e-mail to The Chronicle of Social Change. “Georgia has too many children living in poverty, and closing the gap between per diems paid to relatives and licensed foster care parents will help a little, particularly to help those low income grandmothers who step up for their grandchildren.”

Oliver, the Georgia legislator with perhaps the longest track record of legislative action on child welfare issues, announced in late January that she would seek to narrow the gap between payments to licensed foster parents and unlicensed relatives. The number of youth in Georgia foster care skyrocketed from 7,761 in 2012 to 14,942 in 2018, though it has declined somewhat since then. Like many other states that have seen foster care surges in the last five years, Georgia has become increasingly reliant on relatives to care for foster children as overall numbers have ballooned.

“Research is convincing that children taken from their parents do better when placed with extended family,” Oliver said in January. “A policy to pay low-income family members less than state recruited foster care parents for care doesn’t help the child.”

At a subsequent appropriations committee hearing, leadership at the Division of Family and Children Services said that the gap had recently been narrowed from about $10 to $3 per day. The inclusion of the dollar raise this week, which is projected to cost $2.6 million, narrows the gap even further.

“This $1 per day increase for relative caregivers is a clear sign that Georgia values – in a very real, tangible way – the stability and commitment that relatives offer for children in foster care,” said Melissa Carter, executive director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at the Emory University School of Law. “Children’s extended families will be better supported to come forward and offer temporary sanctuary to the children they love and want to protect and, in turn, children will experience better outcomes.”

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