About Step Up
Relative caregivers are the backbone of our child welfare system. Grandparents alone care for more than 2.5 million children, and in California, 36% of foster children are placed with relatives. In Los Angeles County, that number jumps to 43%. Relative foster placements are also legally prioritized, more cost effective and tend to lead to more long term placement stability. Yet, California’s child welfare system has historically provided inadequate information, training and funding to kinship families. Newly enacted legislation helps provide these families with funding equal to the basic foster care rate, but counties are still prohibited from providing these families with specialized care increments. In addition, relatives have a more difficult time accessing critical support services.
The Step Up Coalition is working hard to implement newly enacted reforms while continuing to pursue additional legislation to achieve full equity.
California’s child welfare system uses three funding sources to meet the basic needs of foster children placed with relatives:
1. Federal foster care benefits
Relative foster parents receive federal foster care benefits if a child meets the federal rules, but because they are antiquated, at least a third of California foster children are not federally eligible.
2. Approved Relative Caregiver Funding Option Program, ARC (at each county’s option)
Non-federally eligible children placed with relatives, can receive ARC benefits equal to the basic foster care rate, but only if the county has opted into the program.
3. CalWORKs (TANF)
For children placed through counties that have not opted into ARC, the child is only eligible for CalWORKs benefits, which provides just a fraction of the amount available through ARC.
This inequitable way of providing financial support to relative caregivers threatens the core of our entire child welfare system. Inequities in funding for children placed with relatives make it more difficult to recruit relatives to care for foster children. And, even when we manage to recruit them, it undermines their ability to do a good job, threatening placement stability and permanency.
Relative caregivers are the backbone of our child welfare system. Relative foster placements tend to lead to more long-term placement stability and offer better connections to the child’s community.
While the ARC program is a huge step forward for children and relative caregivers, by limiting the amount of assistance to the basic foster care rate, families caring for youth with specialized needs are still at a significant disadvantage. There are many specialized rates that support non-relatives that are still not available to relatives, including specialized care increments, dual agency rates for foster children with developmental disabilities who are served by Regional Centers, and infant supplements to support the child of a foster youth who is parenting. Further, while counties are required to apply for foster care benefits on behalf of a foster child, there is no corresponding requirement that counties apply for ARC or CalWORKs benefits for foster children who are placed with relatives. Requiring our relatives to apply for the funding themselves creates an unnecessary barrier to getting the support foster children and relatives need.
Given the ongoing disparities, the Step Up Coalition is working to remove the barriers that prevent families from accessing benefits currently available as well as opening up our specialized care system to support relatives caring for children with heightened needs.
The Step Up Coalition would like to see California adopt a truly child-centered foster care rate system and provide support to children based on their needs.