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DHR seeks to boost pay to foster parents

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — The Alabama Department of Human Resources is advocating a 25 percent increase in payments to foster parents to help the state find and retain more people in the program.

The department will ask state lawmakers to increase the average monthly payments from $420 per child to $525 to help foster parents cover the basic expenses for the children they care for. The increase would be the first since 2002.

DHR Commissioner Page Walley said there is not a shortage of foster parents, but constant recruitment is needed to keep an adequate pool.

"As far as raw numbers and capacity, we have enough foster homes," Walley said Monday. "But the flip side of that is you never have enough. Because you have a foster bed available doesn't mean it's the right match."

If approved by the Legislature in its regular session, which starts in March, the changes would be effective Oct. 1. Last year, the Legislature rejected DHR's request for an increase in foster care payments.

Mellisa Bunch of Birmingham, who has taken in more than 40 foster children since October 2005, said the current payments don't cover her expenses, even with occasional supplements.

But Bunch, a social worker for the Children's Aid Society, said money was not a factor in her decision to become a foster parent.

"There's always someone out there that needs you," said Bunch, who has had as many as four foster children at one time. "If you give a helping hand, you may be able to change one child's life."

Increasing the monthly payments would cost a little more than $5 million, with $3.75 million of that in state funds, the rest in federal, according to the department. Alabama and other states also provide supplements for clothing, school supplies, recreation and other needs.

As of Sept. 30, Alabama had 6,555 children in foster care, with about half in traditional foster homes and about 15 percent in therapeutic foster homes.

The others were placed with relatives or in group homes and similar facilities.

There are 1,875 traditional foster homes, which has remained stable during the past three years.

Linda Williams, a vice president with the Alabama Foster and Adoptive Parent Association, said many foster parents shop at thrift stores and yard sales to buy clothes and other items.

She said the 25 percent increase would be significant.

"It's not going to help recruit foster parents, but it will help foster parents feel more valuable," Williams said. "It will make a tremendous difference for the children for things like going to the skating rink on Friday night. There's no money for that."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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