Sunday, November 05, 2006

12,000 California foster youth are housed in group homes

California Alliance of Child and Family Services wins right to trial on behalf of California's most vulnerable children in group homes
California Alliance press release, Nov. 1, 2006.

SAN FRANCISCO-- A federal court in California ruled on Friday, October 27, 2006 that the California Alliance of Child and Family Services (the Alliance), a statewide association of private, nonprofit accredited human services agencies, has the right to sue the state of California as the caretakers for approximately 12,000 vulnerable children in group homes.

Defendants in the case include The California Department of Social Services Interim Director Cliff Allenby and the Children and Family Services Division of The California Department of Social Services Deputy Director Mary Ault.

The suit charges that California has failed to comply with the federal Child Welfare Act by setting group home rates that fail to cover the actual costs of providing round-the-clock care for children and youth who require specialized and constant care and supervision.

As a result of inadequate payment, quality group homes are closing down and qualified staff are leaving for jobs that pay a living wage. The starting wage built into group home rates for entry level child care workers is $7.83 per hour and those rates have not changed since 2002.

If the Alliance prevails in the litigation, much of the additional revenue will go to recruiting and retaining skilled and qualified staff to work with children in group homes.

"Perhaps the single most important ingredient in successful foster care is the foster child's relationship with a committed caring adult," says Carroll Schroeder, Executive Director of the Alliance. "Under the current rates, group homes cannot begin to recruit and retain the necessary skilled staff, and it is the kids who suffer as a result."

In denying the state's motion to dismiss the case, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel's ruling affirms the Alliance's right to bring suit under the federal Child Welfare Act on behalf of its member agencies and the children they serve.

The State, through the California Department of Social Services (DSS), is responsible for complying with the federal Child Welfare Act's mandated factors in setting rates for foster care payments to child care institutions.

Payments are supposed to cover the basics of caring for foster children and youth: food, clothing, shelter, supervision, school supplies, incidentals and insurance, as well as the reasonable costs of operating group homes that provide these services.

The DSS's methodology for calculating payment rates to foster care group homes is based on the complicated, outdated Rate Classification Level (RCL) system which relies on points earned by the group home through the number of "paid/awake" hours worked per child, per month and the qualifications of the staff.

Foster caregivers, including group homes, have not received cost of living rate increases in 11 of the past 15 years, have received zero increases since 2001-2002, and will receive none next year. The Alliance's member agencies have privately fundraised to make ends meet and fulfill the state's obligation to provide quality services to improve the lives of foster children and youth.

Now at a point of crisis and having exhausted every available recourse, the Alliance is suing the state to come into compliance with Federal law and cover the cost of care.

The Alliance is represented in this case on a pro bono basis by William F. Abrams and Roxanne Torabian-Bashardoust of Bingham McCutchen LLP in Silicon Valley.

Abrams, a partner at Bingham and faculty member at Stanford University, said "this decision confirms that the Alliance can proceed to enforce the rights of group foster homes to receive funding as required under Federal law. We think this is a sound decision and look forward to pursuing resolution of this issue so that the foster children will obtain the full benefits that Congress intended."