Class action lawsuit filed against state over foster reimbursement

By Paul Drewes
Published On: Dec 24 2013 01:42:06 PM HST
Updated On: Dec 03 2013 07:14:03 PM HST

Foster parents accuse the Department of Human Services of failing to pay foster parents enough to take care of children.

Click here to read Paul Drewes' article.

HONOLULU -

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the state for failing to reimburse foster parents enough to take care of the children in their homes.

Click here to watch Paul Drewes' report.

Along with being a parent to her own son Michael, Nalani Ah Chong is a longtime foster parent.

"It takes a special person, you have to have something special to do this," said Ah Chong.

Ah Chong and the rest of her family have helped over a 100 foster kids. Over the years, their commitment to fostering hasn't changed and neither has the monthly reimbursement for families to pay for those additional expenses.

"I started fostering in 1994 and the reimbursement was $529. It has not gone up," said Ah Chong.

That money helps pay for everything from food, shelter, and utilities to haircuts, school supplies and recreational activities.

For years, foster parents have complained the money is not enough to cover the costs so kids can have a normal childhood.

"The State of Hawaii has refused to increase the amount that would come close to cover the foster parent's costs," said attorney Paul Alston.

With Hawaii's high cost of living those costs are estimated to be close to $1,000 a month.

Money, some said, would go toward rebuilding the self-esteem of disadvantaged children who are already troubled from being put into new homes.

"These kids in foster care being denied basic privileges than other families. They know what is happening and know they are being treated differently than everyone else," said Victor Geminiani, with the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.

Hawaii's legislators have heard this issue before but not taken any action.

"The system is broken. It needs to be fixed, and this lawsuit will help fix it," stated Alston.

Several years ago, California was sued and forced to increase its minimum monthly payment to nearly $900.

Supporters of the higher allotment felt it could increase the number of foster families, which stands right now around 1,200.

For Ah Chong, the higher reimbursement would simply end the heart break of telling her foster kids she can't afford the very same things other kids already have or do.

"They feel it. To always be told no, their self-esteem just hits the ground," said Ah Chong.

The state Department of Human Services Director Patricia McManaman released the following statement:

"It is regrettable that the Hawaii Appleseed Center (HAC) chose to file a lawsuit rather than engage with the Department of Human Services over the summer as we met stakeholders, including foster parents, foster children, respected non-profits, and members of the community to gather input for a recommendation to the 2014 Hawaii Legislature for increased payments to foster families. The recommendations that were developed during those discussions were based upon national standards and best practices. We invite HAC to join us at the 2014 legislative session to support legislation to implement the recommendations."

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