- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - The state of Washington has reached an agreement with a foster parents group to settle a federal lawsuit by providing about $8.5 million per year in additional funding for the state’s estimated 10,000 foster children.

Gov. Jay Inslee included the additional funds in his budget proposal. The next step will be to secure legislative approval.

Mike Canfield, co-president of Foster Parents Association of Washington State, said it filed the lawsuit in 2011 because the state was only paying 40 to 60 percent of the costs of taking care of a foster child, including food, clothing and housing. That led to a shortage of foster parents, he said.

“You lose money when you’re doing foster care - about $2,000 per child,” Canfield said, adding that he’s been a foster parent for 30 years.

Without those parents, some foster children are forced to live in hotels or 24-hour day care centers, said Beth Canfield, also co-president of the group.

“We have the worst foster parent shortage that I’ve seen in 30 years,” she said, adding that for years there was an average of 6,000 foster parents, but that has dropped to about 5,100 for the entire state. “The kids come in and we have nowhere to put them.”

After years of negotiations, the two sides agreed last month on a formula to calculate the costs of foster care, Mike Canfield said. They differ, however, on whether the agreement needs court approval, said Alison Dempsey-Hall, spokeswoman for the Washington attorney general’s office.

Friday was the deadline for the court to consider that question, she said.

Despite the lack of court approval, the Department of Social and Health Services submitted a budget request to the Legislature that includes the additional funding. Sen. Steve O’Ban, the Pierce County Republican who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, could not immediately be reached for comment on how it might be received.

Inslee spokesman David Postman said it was included in the governor’s plan “as part of a series of investments in human services.”

“After years of cuts, particularly to programs for services to children and the most vulnerable Washingtonians, this was an important investment to the governor,” Postman said. “He will work to get the Legislature to support the proposal.”

Three-quarters of the money would come from the state general fund, while the rest would come from federal funds, Postman said. In addition to settling the lawsuit, the new funds would support the recruitment and retention of foster parents, he said.

Mindy Chambers, spokeswoman for DSHS, said the department was grateful for the governor’s help and is hopeful for legislative support.

“This has been a priority focus, and we’re excited to see it headed toward closure,” she said.

If the Legislature approves the funds, the lawsuit goes away, Mike Canfield said. If it doesn’t, it will still be in play.

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Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle

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