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Aid for foster care debated
Aid for foster care debated
Bush looks to give states more freedom, limited money
By Pamela Brogan / Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON -- State welfare officials, the Bush administration and
child care advocates agree that the nation's state-run foster care
system, temporary home to 542,000 abused and neglected youngsters,
needs to be overhauled.
"It's clear the system is not functioning well," said Susan Orr, the
Health and Human Services official who runs the federal program that
helps finance state foster care programs. "All you have to do is read
the papers. It doesn't matter what state you are in. Children are
lingering in foster care."
But there is no consensus on how much the federal government should
pay states to run their programs.
The Bush administration is proposing a plan to revamp state-run foster
care programs with what it calls "flexible funding." Under that plan,
federal foster care payments would be capped at $5 billion a year and
sent to the states in a lump sum. In exchange, states would have more
autonomy to run foster care programs with fewer federal strings.
Administration officials project that the federal payment for foster
care will climb from $4.6 billion, or $625 per child, this year to $6
billion in 2013, or $966 per child.
Advocates for foster children say Bush's proposed solution would
function as a block grant subject to budget cuts by deficit-minded
"They just want to eliminate one of the last federal entitlements for
children," said John Sciamanna, a lobbyist for the Child Welfare
League of America.
Some state officials are skeptical, as well.
"It's kind of scary to think about capping funding for this program,"
said Barbara Riley, deputy director of the Ohio Department of Job and
Family Services. "It's not just about the growing number of children
but the rising costs of the services."
The number of children in Ohio's foster care program increased 32
percent from 1992 through last year -- from 17,285 children to 22,883.
Bobbi Pedersen, 45, a foster parent in Columbus, Ohio, has been a
surrogate mom to 20 kids over the past 13 years and knows how to
navigate the maze of government foster care regulations. She opposes
any cap on federal funding.
"Services for these kids are getting more and more expensive," said
Pedersen, who has three foster care children and four adopted children
who were formerly in foster care.
But Pedersen also said the system needs updating to better serve kids.
"It seems we now have accountability through paperwork, taking away
any possibility to find creative solutions to the problems of these
children," she said.
Officials in California also say a cap on foster care spending is a
bad idea. California receives more than $1 billion a year in federal
money for foster care programs, or almost a quarter of what the
government spends on those programs nationwide.
Capping the money would limit the state's ability to finance
counseling and drug abuse programs for parents and families that are
designed to keep children out of foster care, said Dianne Edwards,
director of the Sonoma County Human Services Department.
Statistics showcase the magnitude of the problems affecting the foster
* A Department of Health and Human Services review of 37 state child
welfare-foster care programs found that all 37 failed to meet goals
set by the federal government. Finding homes for foster children is
"one of the weakest areas" of state-run programs, Wade Horn, assistant
secretary for children and families at HHS, told Congress on June 11.
* State agencies field about 3 million reports each year of abuse and
neglect cases affecting foster children.
* Foster care-related programs account for more than half of what the
federal government spends on child welfare programs.
* The number of children adopted from foster care has increased from
31,000 in 1997 to 51,000 in 2001, but there are still about 130,000
children waiting to be adopted.
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