Today, Washington State stopped forcing parents involved in the child welfare system to pay the state for the costs of caring for their child in foster care. Credible studies show that doing so often results in children lingering in foster care, causing needless damage to the child and costing taxpayers more than is likely to be collected.
As of now, Washington State is one of the first states in the country to put a stop to child support collections that cause financial hardship for parents and keep children in foster care longer.
Historically, when a child was placed into foster care, parents were automatically referred to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) Division of Child Support to begin collection efforts. When parents paid child support, DCYF was required to use the money to reimburse itself for the cost of caring for the child in foster care.
Under new federal guidance, DCYF is partnering with DSHS to stop the unnecessary child support enforcement actions that, according to one study, may actually increase the amount of time a child remains in foster care. Once a child is in care for a year, reunification rates drastically decrease.
We know that most parents are already facing financial hardships when they come into contact with the child welfare system. This old and misguided policy only deepened that hardship and made it harder for parents to get their kids home.
It is also abundantly clear that child support referrals were a poor investment of time and money. A DSHS cost-effectiveness study shows that Washington collected only $0.39 on these cases for each dollar spent trying to collect.
This was a bad policy rooted in outdated thinking. DCYF and DSHS will continue working together to stop unnecessary child support enforcement actions that remain on the books for no reason other than the fact that the child entered the foster care system.
I want to thank Jilma Meneses, Secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services, and her staff for their help in taking this important step to support children and strengthen families.
For more information:
Cancian, M., Cook, S., Seki, M., & Witmer, L. (2016). Making parents pay: The unintended consequences of charging parents for foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 72, 100-110.
Joint Letter Regarding the Assignment of Rights to Child Support for Children in Foster Care, Children’s Bureau, an office of the Administration for Children & Families.
Washington’s Cost Effectiveness for Foster Care Child Support Cases, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services