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Court settlement boosts Hawaii’s funding for foster care

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Foster parents will see a boost in the amount the state pays them to care for foster children under a settlement announced today that’s expected to resolve a federal class action lawsuit and related case filed in state court in which parents claimed that state stipends were woefully inadequate to cover the basic expenses of the foster children they were caring for.

The class action lawsuit was filed against Hawaii’s Department of Human Services in December 2013 by foster parent Raynette Ah Chong on behalf of more than 1,000 foster parents in Hawaii.

When the lawsuit was filed, foster parents were provided with a monthly stipend of $529, which was intended to cover all the costs of caring for a foster child, according to a press release from the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice; Honolulu’s Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing and global firm Morrison Foerster, law firms representing the foster parents.

That rate remained in place for 24 years, even though applying inflation would have increased that amount to $950 per month.

Six months after the lawsuit was filed, DHS increased the stipend to $576 for children aged newborn to five years-old; $650 for ages six to 11; and $676 for ages 12 and up, even though the agency had previously claimed that there were insufficient funds within the state budget to increase the stipends, according to the press release.

Under the terms of the settlement, the payments will increase to $649 for children aged newborn to five years-old; $742 for ages six to 11; and $776 for ages 12 and up.

The annual clothing allowance will increase by between $210 to $426, depending on the age of the child.

DHS has agreed to pay a separate payment of $35 per month to foster parents for each child they were caring for between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014.

The increases are expected to cost the state an extra $8.5 million annually.

The settlement will remain in place for 10 years, during which time DHS has agreed to pursue adjustments to account for inflation.

“This means so much to the keiki in the foster system and the families that care for them,” said Ah Chong, who has been a foster care provider for 20 years, in a statement. “Over the time I’ve been a foster parent, it has gotten more and more expensive to provide for the keiki that come to my family, and we have had to make difficult financial trade-offs that affected my own kids. We are so grateful to have more support to help the keiki and make their lives better.”

The agreement is subject to court approval and the funding for the settlement still needs to be appropriated by the Legislature.

“Foster parents make extraordinary sacrifices to care for some of the state’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged children,” said attorney A.C. Johnston of Morrison and Foerster, in the news release. “They give their homes, their time and their hearts to make these children a part of their families. This change will help reduce the significant financial sacrifice that foster parents in Hawaii have been making to perform a selfless service to the community and the children in their care.”

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