As California grapples with massive changes to its foster care system, a plan to dramatically alter the way that foster parents are reimbursed could cause costly hiccups for those taking in older youth.
Starting today, some families taking in older foster youth will be paid about $180 less under a new rate structure than what the state had previously paid under the old reimbursement system, according to the California Department of Social Services (DSS). DSS also announced earlier this month that it would push back by two months the implementation of the new rate system for caregiver payments, which based on the needs of the child instead of their age.
Until the new rate structure is finalized, new foster families will only be paid at the basic rate.
The new payment plan is part of a series of state reforms meant to ensure that foster children live in family-like settings as much as possible. Under the Continuum of Care Reform (CCR), the state is working to move more foster children out of institutional facilities like group homes, and into the homes of foster parents and relative caregivers.
The state says it needs more time to figure out the details of a new reimbursement system, especially as it is integrated into current county assessment practices.
“County agencies and the California Department of Social Services (DSS) agreed that the additional time will allow county agencies to train their workforce and establish clear procedures regarding the appropriate use of the LOC [level of care] Protocol,” said a letter written to state county welfare directors earlier this month.
But foster care providers and child advocates are worried that the new system may discourage caregivers from taking in older foster youth. And delays in assessing foster youth under the new system could place more stress on foster families in California.
The state is hoping to iron out the issue soon, but with California Gov. Jerry Brown nearing the end of his term next year, there is mounting urgency to making sure the reforms are ironed out.
“Every month you push this off, you’ve got less time to make adjustments until this administration is gone,” said Carroll Schroeder, executive director of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services.
Under CCR, California is banking that an influx of foster parents and relative caregivers, or “resource families” as they are now collectively known, will result in less reliance on group home care. California is also proposing a new way to reimburse them for taking care for some of the roughly 60,000 children in the state’s foster care system.
Under the new, and now delayed reimbursement plan, age will no longer be the determining factor in the amount of money paid to caregivers. Instead, there is now a four-tiered rate structure for all families based on the level of services needed to support each foster child.
Under the new “level of care protocol,” social workers and probation officers would use an assessment to place foster children into one of four levels. A point-based system helps direct children to the appropriate tier based on answers about each child’s physical, behavioral, educational and health attributes. More points would place the child in a higher level of care, and earn the foster parent a higher amount of money.
The goal of the system of payments is an attempt by the state to better standardize expectations of resource families and find ways to meet the individual needs of each child in a home. In the past, some foster youth have had to be placed in group homes and residential treatment centers in order to get the support they needed.
The new rate structure is a welcome change, according to many advocates.
“There’s not a lot of logic to using an age-based system,” said Angie Schwartz, policy director of the Alliance for Children’s Rights. “Some infants are going to have greater needs than 15-year-olds, and some 15-year-olds are going to have greater needs than an 8-year-old.”
The needs-based system will now start on February 1, 2018, for all caregivers in the state. It has been pushed back a couple times over the past year and a half.
The biggest issue so far is that some child welfare providers fear that it may remove the incentive for resource families to take in older foster youth. Under the old rates, families in foster family agencies that take in foster youth ages 15 to 21 years old would be eligible for a monthly check of $1,106 under the basic rate. The new system would pay them $923, the same amount for a foster child of any other age.
Under the new system, foster family agency caregivers of older foster youth — between the ages of 15 and 21 — would be due to receive $983 for youth without special needs, or $183 dollars less than the $1,106 they would be receiving under the current allocation.
This could all make it much more difficult to find homes for older foster youth, according to Schroeder of the Alliance, a membership organization that represents the interests of child welfare providers in the state.
“The big concern that our members have is that they’re going to start losing foster families who say, ‘I can’t support this young person. I’m not going to be able to take in this older foster youth. It just costs more,’” Schroeder said. “Many families have come to expect a certain amount in terms of the reimbursement for the care of these kids and some of them don’t think they can do it for less for that.”