New York state foster parents are in line for a major increase in support payments under the terms of a settlement announced in an 11-year-old legal battle in federal court.
The agreement means foster parents in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County could see a hike of at least 46% in the basic monthly reimbursement they receive for rearing foster children, which covers such expenses as food, clothing and shelter, as well as supervision during out-of-school hours, travel for family visits and school supplies.
Foster parents in other parts of the state may receive increases of 20% to 40%, according to the Wednesday announcement by the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York, which was represented for free by the Morrison & Foerster law firm.
In addition, the settlement will result in an average increase of 25% in support payments for the care of kids with special needs — not including a new “extraordinary” rate for supporting kids who need full-time care, the coalition said. All payments will be adjusted annually to account for inflation.
The Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) agreed to set the new rates effective on April 1, 2022, and also agreed to pursue legislation mandating that all local child welfare agencies in the state follow those rates.
If such legislation does not pass this year, OCFS agrees in the settlement to include the new rates in the state’s executive budget for fiscal year 2023-2024.
Sarah Gerstenzang, coalition president and foster parent, said the settlement will ease the chronic shortage of people who are willing to foster children who’ve been removed from their biological families’ homes due to maltreatment.
“Caring for children who have been traumatized is both an extraordinary challenge and a joy to see them heal,” Gerstenzang said in a statement. “And while we know that families will still cover extra expenses, this increase will go a long way in making it possible for many more New Yorkers to volunteer their time to care for these vulnerable children.”
A 2008 study, conducted by the advocacy group Children’s Rights in partnership with the University of Maryland, had determined that New York’s rates were woefully inadequate to pay the costs mandated by the Child Welfare Act. A plaintiff’s expert used the methods in that study to calculate the specific amounts by which New York’s payments were shortchanging foster parents.
The case brought on behalf of the coalition centered on whether foster parents had a right to sue when their reimbursements fell short of covering the full cost of caring for the child, as provided under the federal Child Welfare Act. After the foster parents’ right to sue was upheld in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, the pressure was on for the state to settle or face a trial on the remaining issues, specifically the meaning of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, which set rules for states receiving federal funds for foster care payments.
In 2019, the court of appeals ruled that the merits of the lawsuit should be determined, and that the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York had standing to represent foster parents in the case.