Oregon gives most foster parents a raise

PORTLAND — An overhaul of the way Oregon compensates foster parents means a big raise for most but deep cuts for some who care for children with extensive medical, mental health or behavioral problems.

The 2009 Legislature put an additional $13 million in the 2009-11 budget for foster parent reimbursements, boosting the total Oregon will spend this year to $52 million.

The Oregonian reports the goal was not only to increase the basic rate but also to make reimbursements more uniform. Under the old system, foster parents who care for some of the state's sickest children could negotiate reimbursement with caseworkers.

The change has brought lower rates for about 1,700 children statewide. As of last week, foster parents had appealed decisions involving 223 kids.

Child welfare officials say this is the first change in 20 years in the way foster parents are reimbursed and there are still bugs to be worked out.

For years, Oregon has reported some of the nation's lowest foster care reimbursement rates, and the state remains one of the few that doesn't help working parents pay daycare costs for foster children.

In 2005, the state had more than 5,300 private homes certified to take in youths removed from their parents because of abuse or neglect. Last year, the number dropped to slightly more than 4,700 homes.

State foster care manager Kevin George says officials hope the higher compensation rates will encourage relatives or neighbors to take in a foster child, keeping the youngsters tied to family and school.

"I've got to only hope and believe that there are people out there in the community who looked at foster parenting before and thought they couldn't afford it that may be willing to take another look at it now," George said.

The new more standardized formula assumes all children removed from their parents for neglect or abuse will have special needs. And therein lies the problem for some.

Before Sept. 1, the state reimbursed foster parent Linda Holbrook $1,200 a month each for a 7-month-old who doesn't roll over and a 1-year-old with a biting compulsion. She specializes in babies who suffer physical and emotional damage from having drug-addicted mothers.

Previously, Holbrook's special rate was determined by a nurse the state hired to assess the children's needs. Her special rate also included 48 hours a month of paid respite care.

From that, Holbrook paid an in-home assistant $700 a month to help with the children or take over when she needed a break.

With the new rate calculation, neither boy was found to have special needs; the monthly reimbursement dropped to $639 for each.

Holbrook says she laid off her assistant, and she questions whether she can continue.

"I can't do all this without a break," she said.

Foster parent Jeany Stangl, meanwhile, said was pleased on Sept. 1 when the rate for caring for a child younger than 5 went to $639 a month — a $240 increase over the $399 she and her husband had been getting for a small child.

"I wasn't in it for the money," said Stangl, who has been a state-certified foster parent for eight years. "But this means I can do so much more."

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