A bill making its way through the Legislature would give a cash infusion to Big Island foster families who haven’t seen a funding increase in more than two decades.
Child advocates say the current rate of $529 a month hasn’t kept pace with the cost of living and doesn’t reflect the work and sacrifice that goes into caring for children who often have behavioral issues and other challenges. House Bill 1576 passed unanimously through the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.
“It’s exceedingly difficult to find foster families, and the cost of living has increased dramatically since 1990,” said Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, Ka‘u, who is vice-chairman of the Human Services Committee.
The state Department of Health and Human Services proposes raising payments by $77 a month for newborns to children age 5, $155 for those age 6 to 11, and $183 for youths older than 12. Those rates would be on pace with U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics showing what it costs to raise a child, according to testimony submitted by DHS Director Patricia McManaman.
Charla Crabbe, a Waimea foster parent of 12 years who does not currently have a child placed with her, said $529 a month isn’t enough to raise a child.
“These kids come to our home with no clothes, no shoes, no book bag. They’re just placed on your step,” said Crabbe, who once cared for a severely abused 3-year-old boy who had almost died.
Green said the bill should see clear sailing right up to the conference committee at the end of the session when lawmakers hash out the budget. Last year, a nearly identical bill made the journey that far but failed to get out of committee.
“We have to make the case to Finance and Ways and Means to include it in the budget, then they make the call,” Green said. “Now is the time for foster families to write in support.”
There were about 1,200 children and youths in foster care statewide in 2013, according to DHS data.
In addition to the $529 monthly rate, foster families currently receive a $600 annual clothing allowance, plus medical, dental, prescription and behavioral health insurance for the foster child, and another $125 a year for athletics, prom and other enrichment.
Whether the allowance will increase or by how much won’t be known until the conference committee grapples with the budget at the end of the session, said Sen. Gilbert Kahele, D-Hilo.
“I commend the families that take in those children and do a great job doing it,” Kahele, a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said. “They need our financial support.”
Crabbe said she gets called weekly to consider a child in need, but she’s careful. She wants to make sure it’s a good fit. The last child she and her husband Russell took in had been placed in five different homes, but Crabbe had known her for years. The girl ended up staying with her for four years and is now attending the University of Hawaii at Hilo. She comes back periodically to visit.
Crabbe said it’s all about giving the best care she can to the children she accepts.
“It becomes a burden eventually to feed these kids,” she said. “And we don’t want it to be a burden because we don’t want them to feel that.”