COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The difference in foster care payments between licensed caregivers and relatives stepping in to help “is neither ideal nor even satisfactory,” a federal judge said as he dismissed a lawsuit seeking to close that gap.
Federal Judge Michael Barrett acknowledged that children cared for by relatives deserve more money but said advocates suing over the payment discrepancies didn't have a claim under federal law.
At issue are relatives who aren’t licensed caregivers but are approved to care for children taken from their parents. The arrangement is often referred to as kinship care.
Child advocates argue the state must follow a 2017 federal appeals court decision ordering equality in payments to kinship caregivers, and in November sued to force adherence to that ruling.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law late last year providing a partial fix. The plan authorizes a $10.20 per child per day payment for kinship caregivers for up to nine months.
Advocates say that money falls far short of what licensed foster care parents receive, citing as an example the $1,500 to $9,667 monthly payments per foster child in Hamilton County.
Earlier this year, the state asked Barrett to dismiss the 2020 lawsuit, arguing the new payment plan fixes the problem. Lawyers representing children in kinship care disagreed, saying the plan doesn't come close to bridging the financial gap.
Barrett said Ohio isn't paying kinship caregivers less money because they're related to the children in their care, but because federal law requires those caregivers “to be fully licensed by the state before a caregiver is eligible for foster care maintenance payments.”
Barrett said he didn't dismiss the lawsuit lightly.
“A foster child’s need for food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, personal incidentals, and travel does not vary by the licensure status of the home in which the children lay their heads down at night,” he said in Thursday's ruling, adding that nonlicensed foster parents do the same work as licensed parents for a fraction of the money.
“This difference in payment due to a difference in placement, in a licensed home or not, is neither ideal nor even satisfactory,” Barrett said.
The families that sued the state will appeal, their lawyer said Friday.
“We remain steadfast in our conviction that the law requires the same support to approved relative foster caregivers on behalf of the children as it provides to licensed foster caregivers,” said attorney Richard Dawahare.