PA Officials Routinely Deny Federally Mandated Aid To Relatives Acting as Foster Parents

August 16, 2000 12:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA — State and county officials are withholding tens of millions of dollars per year in federal benefit payments to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and others caring for the children of troubled relatives, according to a federal class action lawsuit filed today in Philadelphia by the Juvenile Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Federal law could not be clearer about the obligation of states and counties that receive federal funds, like Pennsylvania, to pay kinship care-givers the same foster care benefits as non-relative foster parents,” said Marsha L. Levick, Legal Director of the Juvenile Law Center. “Yet we have heard stories from across Pennsylvania of caring relatives taking in the abused and neglected children of their own family members, only to have the door to financial assistance shut on them.”

The Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center and the Pittsburgh chapter of the ACLU filed the case on behalf of the relatives providing “kinship care” to approximately 7,500 foster children, as well as nine family caregivers in Philadelphia and in Beaver, Washington, Lancaster, Monroe and Montgomery counties.

“It is shameful that some public officials have chosen to balance their budgets on the backs of needy children,” said Witold J. Walczak, Director of the ACLU of Greater Pittsburgh chapter.

In legal papers, the law center and the ACLU said the state’s failure to provide foster parents funds “to cover such basic necessities as the cost of food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, and school supplies, contributes to the cycle of poverty in which so many of these children find themselves.”

Federal law mandates that states that receive federal funds, such as Pennsylvania, pay the same amount to all foster parents, kin and non-relatives alike. The law also encourages states, where possible, to place foster children with relatives or friends of the child’s parents. The failure to pay child support to kin foster families makes it harder, and sometimes impossible, to fulfill the responsibility of placing abused and neglected children with kin.

But, according to the lawsuit, officials in some counties explicitly told foster parents that agencies were trying to eliminate kinship care payments and refused to provide funds. Others simply did not advise foster parents that they were entitled to such payments, or told caregivers who asked that they were powerless to help them.

In one case, officials asked a woman to care for her niece’s infant child for two weeks on an emergency basis; after leaving the child in her care (eight years ago), the agency never contacted the woman again.

According to figures released by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, as of last March, 28,266 children were living in foster care; an estimated 30 percent of them (nearly 8,500 children) with relatives. That figure is consistent with nationwide estimates from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Levick said she hoped that news of today’s lawsuit would encourage more kinship care foster parents to come forward. Anyone who thinks that they may be entitled to kinship care payments should call the Juvenile Law Center’s toll-free number at 800-875-8887, or contact the ACLU of Pittsburgh at (412) 681-7736.

Walczak expressed concern that the six counties names in the complaint may be “just the tip of the iceberg.” He added, “I expect that we will hear from countless kin foster parents telling us that other counties throughout the state of Pennsylvania are similarly discriminating against them.”

In Beaver County, Jodi Rae and Sheppard Pope have repeatedly been denied foster care maintenance payments for their grandniece and their grandnephew.

Sheppard Pope is on disability and Jodi, who has received certification as a foster parent, works as a nurses’ aide for a county geriatric facility. The couple are not on welfare because they earn enough to support themselves, although they do collect federal aid for the two children because otherwise they couldn’t make ends meet. Even so, Jodi has to work some double shifts just to be able to pay for a telephone. The household is currently without telephone service.

“It’s not fair that the children must suffer because they are placed with a relative,” Ms. Pope said. She said that she would use some of the additional foster care money to move the family to a larger apartment and save for the childrens’ college education.

ACLU clients in the case are caregivers Edward Anderson, Thelma Outen, Lillian Longs and Ella Tate of Philadelphia; Patricia Haus-Hernandez of Lancaster County; Jodi Rae and Sheppard Pope of Beaver County; Billie Mae Klinzing of Washington County; Evelyn Urquhart of Monroe County; and Cynthia Wodarsk of Montgomery County.

Named as defendants are state Welfare Secretary Feather O. Houstoun; Jo R. Lawer, Welfare deputy secretary for the Office of Children, Youth and Families; and the child welfare agencies and their directors in six counties — Beaver, Washington, Philadelphia, Montgomery, Monroe and Lancaster.

Attorneys in the case are Walczak of the ACLU in Pittsburgh and Levick and Susan A. Snyder of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. The legal complaint is online at

Background information on plaintiff kinship caregivers is available online at

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