W.Va. misses out on federal foster care funds

W.Va. misses out on federal foster care funds

CHARLESTON (AP) — West Virginia’s failure to meet federal requirements is costing the state funding for foster care.

The Charleston Gazette says three of four federal reviews conducted over a 10-year period found that the state’s foster care program didn’t substantially meet eligibility requirements for Title IV-E funding.

In 2011, the state had to reimburse more than $200,000 to the federal government because it wasn’t in compliance with the requirements. The state has had to pay back $1.1 million during the past decade.

Department of Health and Human Resources officials say the requirements are “onerous and complex,” and it’s difficult to ensure that all cases will be free of errors.

The officials also say the DHHR is working to increase the amount of federal funding it receives for foster care.

To be eligible for the Title IV-E funding, a child must have been removed because of suspected abuse or neglect from a family that meets certain income guidelines.

The federal money helps cover food, shelter and clothing, foster care placement services and for training staff and foster parents. States pay the bills then seek reimbursement.

In the reviews, West Virginia failed to prove that children were qualified and failed to use federal funds for those who did qualify.

Last year, the federal review evaluated cases during a six-month period from April through September 2010. It concluded 12 of the 80 cases reviewed had errors, while another 18 were ineligible for federal funding.

The review also found that in 17 cases, the state failed to claim payments even though it was eligible.

“There does not appear to be consistent, collaborative application of the federal eligibility requirements,” the review said, “which has led to the unsatisfactory compliance level in this review.”

Doug Robinson, interim commissioner for DHHR’s Bureau for Children and Families, says outdated, income-based eligibility requirements mean that fewer children are eligible than in previous years. States use guidelines that were set in 1996 and haven’t been adjusted, he said.

The DHHR also says the wording of court orders can affect the process.

For a child to become eligible, a judge must declare the child’s home unsuitable and, within 60 days, rule that the DHHR made reasonable efforts to prevent the child’s removal.

“If those findings aren’t made, they are not eligible for IV-E,” said Nikki Tennis, director of the division of children’s services for the state Supreme Court

Judges also must have made a reasonable effort to create a long-term plan for the child within a year, including reunification with the birth family, adoption or some other arrangement.

Tennis says the court system is “always trying to improve.”

DHHR officials say they are working with the Annie E. Casey Foundation on an expert review of the state’s funding system.

However, their statement said, “until there are changes at the federal level on how foster care is federally funded, all states will continue to see a decline in the IV-E revenues.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, West Virginia’s federal foster care funding plunged from $29 million in 2004 to $17 million in 2005. The amounts have fluctuated since, with a high of nearly $37 million in 2009.

The number of children in foster care, meanwhile, has grown from 3,220 in 2002 to nearly 4,100 in 2010.

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