South Carolina Cleared on Adoption Subsidy Cuts

     (CN) – South Carolina did not violate a federal law intended to protect adopted and foster children when it reduced adoption assistance subsidies by $20 a month, the 4th Circuit ruled.
     The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act is a federal law setting forth specific requirements governing foster care maintenance payments.
     States that wish to receive funding under the act must win U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approval of their plans for a subsidy and maintenance program.
     A key provision of the act prohibits adoption assistance subsidies that exceed foster care maintenance payments.
     South Carolina determines the subsidies and maintenance payments it allots after consulting with the adoptive or foster parents, and after taking into consideration such factors as the specific needs of the particular child and the parents’ circumstances.
     In June 2002, the state’s Department of Social Services announced that it would reduce both adoptive- and foster-care-support payments by $20 a month because of a budget crisis.
     Thought the state rescinded the reduction to foster care maintenance in 2004, it never made a commensurate adjustment to the adoption assistance subsidies.
     Kenneth and Angela Hensley, the adoptive parents of a special needs child identified in the court record only as BLH, quickly filed a class action.
     The Hensleys had adopted BLH in 1999 after serving as her foster parents for two years. If they had stayed on as BLH’s foster parents, the Hensleys would have continued receiving a $674 subsidy, which factored in an upward “difficulty of care rate.” As adoptive parents, however, they were now entitled only to $655.
     In addition to monetary damages, the Hensleys sought declaratory and injunctive relief from aid-reduction decisions of the current and former Social Services directors.
     Although Senior U.S. District Judge G. Ross Anderson Jr. certified the class, be declined to grant either side summary judgment.
     A three-judge panel of the Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit reversed last week, saying the four directors deserved immunity.
     The federal law “establishes a right to parental concurrence in subsidy readjustment determinations except when the subsidy must be reduce due to reductions in foster care maintenance payments,” Judge Diana Motz wrote for the panel.
     When South Carolina reduced all foster care maintenance payments by $20 in 2002, federal law compelled it to reduce BLH’s adoption assistance subsidy by the same amount, according to the ruling.
     “For these reasons, the Hensleys cannot establish that the directors violated the Hensleys’ rights under the act and therefore the directors are entitled to qualified immunity.”

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