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Foster care bills ask for increased reimbursement for caregivers; extending age for foster children

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Jan 29 2013 06:02:00 PM HST

Lawmakers are being asked to raise foster children's caregivers stipend and more.

HONOLULU -

The cost of living has risen, but the reimbursements for caregivers who take in foster children have been frozen for more than two decades.

Kaui Keola is an Aiea mother who is caring for two foster children.

That is in addition to three others she adopted, as well as her three biological children.

The $529 a month she receives for each of the two little ones barely covers their needs.

"The pre-school cost is $450 and that comes out of the $529, so the balance is what you are using for diapers, wipes car seats. You cut corners. We don't go to movies we don't go out," said Keola.

And there is little left for outside sports for her 9-year-old adopted son.

"I like to play football and baseball,” said Keolanui.

Lawmakers are being asked to consider increasing the aid, because the state stipend hasn't been raised in twenty-two years.

The low reimbursement makes it hard to find new families willing to take needy children in.

The Abercrombie administration supports the intent, but realizes the potential impact to the state budget.

Hawaii has an estimated 1,200 youngsters in foster care.

Another idea gaining momentum is raising the age that a child can continue in the foster program, from 18 to 21.  

"Eighteen, for any child is kind of young to find a job and find a place to live. So if we could increase that to twenty one, there would be more support for them until they get settled in adult life, and help them have a brighter future," said Keola.

"Upping the age will cost some money but will not cost  as much, because there is federal reimbursement and there is a much smaller number of people we are talking about," said family advocate Judy Wilhoite.

"The key component is the youth themselves have to petition to be in this program," said Human Services Director Patricia McManaman.

She said they also have to be working toward their high school diploma or be enrolled in a trade school or college.

Wilahoite said 13 other states have raised the age-out ceiling to 21.

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