As a result of a hard-won settlement obtained by a Morrison & Foerster pro bono team this summer, the families who care for Hawaii’s approximately 2,800 foster children will receive a much needed additional $86 million over the next ten years to cover the foster children’s expenses.
The settlement resolves a dispute that began in 2013, when MoFo and other parties brought a class-action suit against the Hawaii Department of Human Services on behalf of Hawaii’s foster families, who were receiving just $529 per month for each foster child in a family’s charge. The suit alleged that those foster care payments, which had not been raised to keep up with the cost of living in 25 years, violated the Child Welfare Act, which requires that foster care payments be high enough to cover a child’s basic needs.
The terms of the settlement obtained this summer by MoFo partner Marc Peters and associates James Hancock and Alessa Hwang will increase the reimbursement rates to $649 for foster children ages 5 or younger; $742 for children ages 6–11; and $776 for ages 12 and older. Also, each foster child’s annual clothing allowance will increase by between $210 and $426, depending on his or her age.
“Foster parents make extraordinary sacrifices to care for some of the state’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged children,” said attorney A.C. Johnston when he was a member of the MoFo team working on the case. “They give their homes, their time, and their hearts to make these children a part of their families. This change will help reduce the significant financial sacrifice that foster parents in Hawaii have been making to perform a selfless service to the community and the children in their care.”
Hancock, another MoFo attorney on the case, said the settlement process with the Hawaii Department of Human Services was unlike anything he’d ever experienced.
The settlement “required buy-in from the attorney general, legislature, governor’s office, and Department of Human Services,” Hancock said. “After contentious litigation and tough negotiation with opposing counsel, we thought we’d finally reached a great result in August 2016, but that only marked the beginning of a political process that was all new to me.”
Despite the settlement, Hancock explained, the legislature had failed to provide the required funding for the settlement, so the case went back into litigation mode. But the team did not give up on negotiating an increase. Finally, in the summer of 2018, settlement was again reached and the increased reimbursements have now been approved by the court, passed by the legislature, and signed into law by the governor.