State increases foster care board rate

Staff Report

For the first time in more than a decade, Louisiana's foster caregivers will receive an increase in the monthly board rate that provides financial support for the care of children and youth in the state's custody.

The increase was included in H.B. 1, which appropriated an additional $11,946,139 for Louisiana foster caregivers for the 2021-22 fiscal year. The additional state funding will allow for an increase of about 25 percent in the board rates paid to caregivers, raising the average daily rate from $15.20 to $19. The new rates went into effect July 1. The last rate increase was in 2007.

The increase in board rates also means an increase in adoption and guardianship subsidies, which are paid at 80 percent of the current foster care board rate for eligible families.

Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters

"This increase has been a long time coming, and we are so glad to finally be able to provide more meaningful financial support to the families who help ensure the safety and well-being of the children entrusted to the state's custody," said Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters. "Our foster caregivers not only provide for the basic needs of the children placed in their home, but also provide specialized care to address the trauma experienced from abuse or neglect. We're eternally grateful to them for their service. We're also grateful to Rep. Mike Johnson for leading the charge on the budget amendment that included this well-deserved increase. He elevated the conversation around the need for the increase and ensured legislators understood what the board rate covers."

"No issue is more critical for me than the care of our children, so when foster and adoptive families in my district asked me to see what could be done to raise the inadequate board and subsidy rates, I was more than happy to do everything that I could for them," said Rep. Michael T. Johnson, R-Pineville, who previously served as founding president of the Rapides Children's Advocacy Center and Court Appointed Special Advocate program.

Foster care board rates are based on the age of the child and paid to foster caregivers and relatives whose homes are certified for children in the custody of the state. Board rates are intended to help meet the daily needs of the child for shelter, food, clothing, allowance and incidental expenses, and cannot be used for unrelated expenditures.

Without sufficient state support in recent years, foster caregivers have continually come out-of-pocket to meet the basic needs of the children in their care, creating challenges for recruitment and retention of foster homes.

Judge Adam J. Haney, of East Baton Rouge Juvenile Court, testified before the House Appropriations Committee that the state expects so much of foster parents but historically has shown little appreciation in the form of what it pays as a board rate. Foster parents are just regular people who turn their lives upside down to help vulnerable children and youth, he said. They take in a child they know little about, treating the child as their own - taking them to school, the doctor, the dentist, the therapist - all while serving as a mentor for the biological parents, coordinating visitation with the family, and trying to hold down their jobs and live their own lives.

"And we as the State of Louisiana, recognizing that without them we couldn't do this, we say, 'Thank you for everything you do. Our kids are our future. They're the most important thing that we have, and you are taking care of the most vulnerable kids in our society. Thank you. Here's $15 a day.' It costs me more than that to board my dog," Haney said of the old board rate. "We are flat taking advantage of the kindness of these folks."

The recommended foster care board rate for Southern states, according to USDA reports on the costs of raising a child, is $21.68 per day, and the recommended adoption/guardianship subsidy rate is $17.34 per day.

"The job our foster parents do is so often misunderstood and undervalued," Secretary Walters said. "I don't think there is a rate that could possibly pay them for their extraordinary service."