Children should be raised in loving and caring homes. In order to ensure that every child is raised in a family, California generally provides a family who finds it in their hearts to provide a home for children in foster care reimbursement for the added costs associated with caring for these children. Unfortunately, until recently, California treated relatives of children who find themselves in foster care differently and did not provide relatives with access to the same funding when they were the ones providing the loving home.
In June 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Approved Relative Caregiver Funding Option Program, also known as ARC, to provide $30 million of the State’s general fund to participating counties so those counties can provide relatives caring for their foster youth the same basic rates as a non-related caretaker would receive to care for a child in foster care. So, instead of receiving a below poverty CalWORKS benefit of around $387 per month, families living in a participating county who provide a foster home for their relative will receive a benefit between $688 (for a 0-4 year old) and up to $859per month (for a 15-20 year old), with rates increasing based on the age of the child. To say that more simply, our State has offered State funds to counties so that those counties can provide more money to some of the neediest families in their counties – families who have taken it upon themselves to provide a loving home to relative child who is in foster care. Without these families stepping up to the plate, these children would likely find themselves in more costly and less preferred group home placements at the county’s expense.
So, this is great news, right? The State is providing funding to help individuals in our counties. Individuals who shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants, and contribute to our local economy will have more money for these contributions. Well, this is true if you live in a county choosing to fully implement the ARC program. Luckily, one of our State’s largest counties is proving to be a shining example.
While the ARC program became effective on January 1, 2015, to date only 43 counties have opted into this program. While we have reason to believe the State will still permit counties to opt-in even after the June 30th cut-off date, currently there are 15 counties that have elected to leave these critical State funds in the State coffers instead of providing these dollars to their local citizens who have stepped up to provide a home to a foster child.
Additionally, counties will need to follow the lead of Los Angeles County to both assure their citizens have adequate access to the resources being offered and to provide their relative caretakers with all the funds the State has made available.
While the ARC first became effective in January 2015, it was not until June 1st of this year that the program was actually implemented. That means six months passed where relatives continued to provide care for children in foster care relying on the subpart benefit offered by CalWORKS or, in many cases, with no funding whatsoever since many relatives find the CalWORKs system too confusing and complicated to navigate on their own. Thankfully, the law allows us to right this wrong. Each county has the option to provide retroactive payments of state-only funds to these relative caregivers for the months in which the program was effective but the county had not yet been providing ARC payments. Los Angeles County is choosing to implement this option to the benefit of not only the relative caretakers in the county, but also to the benefit of the greater local economy.
In fact, Los Angeles County appears to be implementing the ARC program in a way that should be emulated by all counties. The county has created a specific ARC Unit that houses both CalWorks and Child Welfare benefits workers. These individuals can work together to assure their relative caretakers have access to all state funding available to help support them. Earlier this year, the ARC unit sent notices to all of their eligible relative caretakers. These letters requested a return application and, if applications were not received, the ARC unit followed up with the relatives. Additionally, these applications are also being provided to the child’s caseworker to help facilitate relatives signing up for the program, rather than forcing relatives to apply themselves or find their way to a different benefits (or other) worker to help them with the process. The Los Angeles County model has been developed with the needs and ease of the relative caretakers in mind. We are confident that due to this structure, Los Angeles County will do a fabulous job of supporting the relatives residing in their county who need this funding to do the job that the county is asking of them.
We strongly encourage each county to follow the example of Los Angeles County. By adequately supporting the relatives in their county who have stepped up to care for children in foster care, counties across the state can bring money from Sacramento to the local level for the benefit of everyone participating in the local economy.