(CN) A federal judge in San Francisco ordered the California Department of Social Services to increase by 32 percent the rates it pays to care for foster children in group homes, to comply with a 9th Circuit ruling that the state must cover the full cost of care, not just part of it.
U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said the state must pay providers the new rate as of the 9th Circuit's Dec. 14, 2009 ruling, under the federal Child Welfare Act.
Fully funding care is expected to cost an additional $242 million a year, with responsibility shared by the state, counties and the federal government.
Judge Patel said the court will retain jurisdiction over the program until a new rate system is agreed upon and implemented.
"Judge Patel's ruling means that kids who need the level of care provided by group homes will finally receive the funding for care they need and deserve," said Carroll Schroeder, executive director of the plaintiff California Alliance of Child and Family Services.
"Foster kids have essentially given the state a $1 billion gift since we first filed this case in 2006, and far more when you include the years of underfunding dating back to the start of the current rates system in 1991."
The California Alliance is collaborating with the department and county child welfare departments to implement a new system of residential services designed to return youth to their homes, schools and communities as quickly as possible.
"We've always believed that group home care should be reserved for those kids for whom family- or community-based care is not appropriate, and should be designed and funded to get them back home as soon as possible," Schroeder said.
Fully funding group home care will require $77 million in state general funds, $115 from counties and $50 million from the federal government.
California Alliance members have pioneered alternatives to group home care, such as wraparound and intensive treatment foster care, that can be less expensive and more effective for many youths. "We hope to see the use of those alternatives expand," Schroeder said.
The Alliance was represented pro bono by William Abrams of the Palo Alto office of Bingham McCutcheon.