The Senate Finance Committee met at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday to discuss House bill 4092, which seeks to update foster care laws and provisions. The bill creates a bill of rights for foster children as well as a bill of rights for foster parents and kinship caretakers. The bill also requires the department to create a tiered reimbursement system.
The Senate Judiciary Committee amended the bill on March 3, changing the budget for the bill from $17 million to $4 million. The Senate Finance Committee created their own amendment, changing this budget to $4.9 million.
Jeremiah Staples, a representative of the Department of Health and Human Resources answered questions from the committee. He explained that the current version of the bill called for a tiered reimbursement system that grants a higher rate to foster families caring for older children and/or those with specific needs. The purpose of the system is to help prevent older children from being placed in institutionalized care in place of a family setting. Staples said that other surrounding states use this approach.
A social worker from the Children’s Society of WV answered questions from the committee.
Senator William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, asked the social worker if higher payment rates to families and agencies would attract more families into the foster care system. The social worker explained that multiple factors could improve the current foster care system, and better funding would be a component.
Senator Palumbo, D-Kanawha, proposed an amendment to the portion of the bill describing the foster child’s bill of rights. The version of the bill passed by the House included a total of 26 rights. In the amended version advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee, 7 of these were removed. Palumbo proposed that the following be restored:
14. The child should be free from unwarranted physical restraint and isolation
17. The child should have social contacts with people outside the foster home, including teachers, mentors and friends.
22. The child should be free from unreasonable searches of personal belongings.
Some members of the committee favored the amendment, saying that these additions were necessary in preserving the rights and reasonable freedoms of the child. Others were opposed, saying that these rights were either covered by other rights listed, or infringed on the rights of the foster parent.
Palumbo’s amendment failed 8-9.
Senator Ihlenfeld proposed an amendment to raise the minimum daily rate granted to an agency to $75 per child, and raise the minimum monthly allowance given to foster families to $900 per month, per child, as described in the version of the bill that passed the House. “We are dealing with a foster crisis in West Virginia,” he said. “This amendment would help provide relief for these families.”
Senator Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, spoke against the amendment, saying that the rates granted through the tier system places the state at a higher rate system than surrounding states. He instead advocated for more flexibility for the agencies and the DHHR. “I would like to see those who deal with these issues on a daily basis see an increase in flexibility, and not have to remove funds from upper tiers.”
Ihlenfeld’s amendment failed 7-10.
The committee advanced the amended version of the bill to the full Senate with recommendation for passage.