Settlement Reached in Foster Care Case

In late August 2016, Hawaii Appleseed and its co-counsel Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing and Morrison Foerster reached an agreement with the Hawaii Department of Human Services in a case regarding the amount that should be paid to cover the expense of caring for children in foster care. The agreement is intended to bring to a close a federal class action lawsuit that was filed in December 2013, and a related case filed in state court.

The foster care trial team along with two of the foster families involved in the case—the Ah Chongs and the Sheeheys.

When the lawsuits were filed, foster parents were provided with a stipend of $529 per month, which was intended to cover nearly all the costs of rearing a foster child. The rate had remained in place without adjustment for 24 years, during which time, applying inflation would have increased the stipend to over $950 per month. In the years leading up to the cases, foster parents and others from the community had made repeated requests to increase the stipend to account for the increasing costs of caring for children. DHS had responded to the requests by stating that there were not sufficient funds in the state budget to allow for the increase, though by the time the suits were filed, DHS had been studying the issue and preparing a request to the legislature for additional funding.

Approximately six months after the case was filed, DHS adjusted the stipend rates to three different amounts based on the age of the children in care: $576 for ages 0 to 5; $650 for ages 6 to 11; and $676 for ages 12 and up. The case continued as foster parents and the state debated whether the increases were truly enough to provide adequate care for the children in the foster care system. Under the terms of the settlement, the payments will increase to $649 for ages 0-5; $742 for ages 6 to 11; and $776 for ages 12 and up. Additionally, the annual clothing allowance for each child will increase by between $210 and $426, depending on the age of the child.

The settlement will remain in place for 10 years, during which time DHS has agreed to pursue adjustments to the stipend amount as inflation increases the costs to care for foster children. All told, it is estimated that the increases will provide more than $8.5 million each year in additional support for the care of children in the foster system. Additionally, DHS has agreed to provide a separate payment to foster parents who were caring for children during the time period from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014—$35 per month for each child involved in the foster care system during that period.

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