As budget hearings continue this week on health and human services programs, Idaho’s Division of Child Welfare is requesting a 20 percent increase in the stipends paid to foster parents for caring for children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned or who are unsafe in their own homes. “There is no doubt our foster families are tasked with difficult work, caring for children traumatized from abuse or neglect,” Gary Moore, division administrator, told legislative budget writers this morning. “The state must work diligently to ensure our foster families do not face an additional burden.”
The proposed increase – which Gov. Butch Otter is recommending funding – would come to $347,800 next year in state general funds, and would draw $491,300 in federal matching funds, for a total increase of $839,100. For children from birth to 5 years old, the current monthly rate that Idaho pays foster parents is $329; for kids age 6-12, $366; and for kids age 13 and older, $487. The state surveyed surrounding states, and found that Idaho was far below the average of those states.
“Where we are today, if we were to reach that average, from birth to 5 we would have to increase 75 percent; 6-12 62 percent; and 13-18, 43 percent,” Moore told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
Last year, Idaho had nearly 2,300 children in foster care, Moore said, but the number of families willing to care for those kids has been declining. “We are seeing kind of a decline in foster families that relates to a variety of things,” he said. “Sometimes people go into foster care for a particular relative that’s coming in, and so they come and go. We are seeing situations where foster parents are giving it a go, but then bring children back because they just can’t handle the stress that’s involved with some of those that are traumatized so heavily.” Moore said his division does have a “glimmer of hope,” because when Idaho foster parents were surveyed, a very high number – close to 75 percent – said they would encourage others to be foster parents, too.
“So what we have to do is ensure that those people that come in are well-trained, especially in the trauma that they’re presented with now, and that they have every resource available to them that we can,” he said. An interim committee of the Legislature met six times over the summer on foster care; Moore praised its work. “One of things we found out in our interim committee, one of main things we need to give them is communication. ... We cannot let them go more than a day if they have questions.”
The division is also requesting to hire six support staffers to coordinate transportation of vulnerable children and supervised visitation with parents, to free up social workers from those tasks so they can focus on the needs of the children. That request, at $82,300 in state general funds and $264,600 in total funds, also is recommended for funding in the governor’s budget.