LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Payments to foster parents haven’t been adjusted in 15 years, leading state officials to seek a 25% increase this year at the Nevada Legislature.
A presentation by state officials hit on a wide range of requests in the budget for child welfare programs in the state. The budget increase amounts to $79 million from the state, with another $14 million from the federal government. Overall, it’s an 18.9% increase, boosting the budget to almost $775 million.
Nevada used a contractor, Mercer, to study rates across the U.S. as it prepared its budget. “We found that due to a decade of inflation, all rates are insufficient to meet the needs of foster families, and to recruit and retain,” according to Dr. Cindy Pitlock, administrator of the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS).
The funding is a complicated mix of federal, state and county money that keeps changing.
But the bottom line: payments could go up across the board if the Division of Child and Family Services budget is approved.
Through the blizzard of dollar figures and budget classifications during the meeting in Carson City, one message was clear: foster parents don’t get into it for the money.
Most foster parents, I would bet my bottom dollar that aren’t doing it for the bottom dollar. They are doing it out of the love for taking care of those children.
Nevada Senator Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas)
Jill Marano, deputy administrator for DCFS in Clark County, testified from Las Vegas about what’s currently happening as pay for foster parents has lagged. Talk turned to the waitlist for foster children.
Marano said Clark County currently has 76 children on the waitlist — and 40 of those children need “specialized” care, a higher level of care for children with mental or physical disabilities. Those children are often cared for at Child Haven until a home can be found.
“Do you anticipate that you’ll be able to move some of the children out of Child Haven into homes with the increase in the rate for specialized foster care?” asked Republican Senator Heidi Seevers Gansert.
“Yes, that is our hope that this additional funding can be used to support foster parents more effectively, so that they’re able to take and manage placements,” Marano said.
Foster parents receive higher rates when they take on specialized care children. Clark County currently has between 320 to 350 foster children in specialized care.
The rates vary widely based on the circumstances of the child. Current and proposed rates for foster care:
The current monthly rate paid to foster families for “Relative and Family Foster Care” is $682.94 for a child 0-12 year old, and $773.17 for a child 13 years or older. Those rates would go up to $858.02 (0-12 years old) and $971.38 (13 years or older). Advanced foster care rates would go from $1,233.40 to $1,549.59 (0-12 years old), and from $1,323.73 to $1,663.09 (13 years or older).
Specialized foster care rates would increase from $3,497.92 a month to $4,394.66.
Part of the division’s budget request includes adding seven positions. Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno asked how realistic it is to expect to find those workers.
“We’ve heard time after time in the last few weeks of this legislative session that finding staff has been increasingly difficult,” she said. “Do you think you’ll be able to fill those 7 positions, and what timeline?”
Marano said she has noticed an increase in interest recently, and expects competitive pay will attract applicants. She said it generally takes 90 to 120 days for the agency’s “onboarding process,” including eight to 10 weeks for background checks.
Another lawmaker challenged Marano on whether the agency was even using the funding it had, pointing to a fund for respite services. Democrat Rochelle T. Nguyen said only $20,000 of a total $155,000 allocation was used.
Marano replied, “It took us some time to realize what we didn’t have and what we needed to do instead.” The program was in place in the year that followed and all the funds were used, she said.
As the hearing closed, Dondero Loop talked about the need for making foster kids feel like they were in a normal family setting. She criticized rules that require, for example, putting on surgical gloves before giving an aspirin to a foster child.
The story led to more discussion of policies that really make it hard for foster kids — and parents — to reach a state of normalcy: rules against steak knives on dining room tables, and required approvals for sleepovers or out-of-town trips with other families.
Pitlock emphasized an important goal of her agency: “Normalize this in a family-like setting while still keeping children safe.”
Pitlock said the only adjustment in rates paid to foster families came under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) during the pandemic — a $20 increase.