Forty-Nine States Falling Short of Adequate Reimbursement Rates for Foster Care, Study Shows

NEW YORK, NY — States across the nation must raise the rates by which they reimburse foster parents by an average of 36 percent to cover the actual costs of supporting a child in foster care, according to a new report released today by Children’s Rights, the National Foster Parent Association, and the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Titled Hitting the MARC: Establishing Foster Care Minimum Adequate Rates for Children, the report represents the first-ever nationwide, state-by-state calculation of the real expenses of providing for the basic needs of children in foster care–including housing, food, clothing, and school supplies–and proposes a new standard rate (the Foster Care MARC) for each individual state. According to its findings, only Arizona and the District of Columbia are currently meeting or exceeding this standard; 23 states must raise their rates by 50 to 100 percent to reach it, and five states must more than double their rates to comply.

“There is a growing body of evidence that the inadequacy of current reimbursement rates is taking a heavy toll on foster parent recruitment and retention,” said Julie Farber, director of policy for Children’s Rights. “At a time when increasing numbers of abused and neglected children are housed in institutions and the number of foster parents is in steady decline in many places, this constitutes a crisis. Adopting the standards proposed in Hitting the MARC is an important step toward addressing it.”

On any given day, there are more than 500,000 children in foster care in the U.S. Seventy-five percent of them are placed by the government with foster parents, and nearly 20 percent are placed in group homes and institutions.Hitting the MARC cites evidence that inadequate foster care rates negatively affect foster parent recruitment and retention, potentially increasing the likelihood that children will be placed in institutions or shuttled from one foster placement to another–and decreasing their chances of finding permanent homes.

Although state and local child welfare systems are required by federal law to reimburse foster parents for the cost of providing for the basic needs of children in foster care, there is no standard federal minimum reimbursement rate. States and localities are free to set their own rates on whatever basis they choose, and many states report using no particular methodology in establishing their standards. The resulting disparities are stark. Current monthly rates range from $226 in Nebraska to $869 in the District of Columbia–a greater spread than can be accounted for by differences in the cost of living.

“The bottom line is that when these rates don’t reflect the real expenses that foster parents face, it’s the children who suffer,” said Karen Jorgenson, executive director of the NFPA. Hitting the MARC provides desperately needed guidelines for rates that would ensure that the basic needs of children in foster care are met no matter where they happen to live.”

The Foster Care MARC was calculated by analyzing consumer expenditure data reflecting the costs of caring for a child, identifying and accounting for costs particular to children in foster care, and applying a geographic cost-of-living adjustment to arrive at specific rates for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The new proposed minimums include sufficient funds to meet a child’s basic physical needs and cover the cost of “normalizing” childhood activities such as after-school sports and arts programs–particularly important for children who have been traumatized or isolated by abuse, neglect, and the experience of being placed in foster care.

“The best result for any child in our nation’s foster care system is placement in a healthy, stable, permanent home–whether through a safe return to their biological families or adoption,” said Diane DePanfilis, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and director of its Ruth H. Young Center for Families and Children. “Inadequate foster care rates set off a chain reaction of problems that undermine that objective, and the standards we propose in Hitting the MARC are designed to begin correcting those problems at their root.”

The authors of the report will begin a nationwide advocacy campaign for the adoption of the proposed standard rates with a congressional briefing today at 3 p.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, Room B318, in Washington, DC.

The full report is available at

Children’s Rights is a national watchdog organization advocating on behalf of abused and neglected children in the United States. Since 1995, Children’s Rights has used legal action and policy initiatives to drive lasting reform in child protection, foster care, and adoption.

The National Foster Parent Association is the national voice of foster parents, supporting foster parents in achieving safety, permanence, and well-being for the children and youth in their care.

The University of Maryland School of Social Work graduates policymakers, legislators, educators, researchers, therapists, community organizers, and leaders in direct services to children and families. It is one of the largest schools of social work in the nation and is ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News and World Report.

Chris Iseli or Brooks Halliday // 212.683.2210