State agency wants to increase ‘long past due’ pay rates for SC group homes, foster families

Nearly 4,000 children and teenagers are currently in South Carolina’s out-of-home foster care system, with hundreds of them living in group homes.
Published: Dec. 21, 2022 at 7:17 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 21, 2022 at 9:06 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Nearly 4,000 children and teenagers are currently in South Carolina’s out-of-home foster care system, with hundreds of them living in group homes.

But those group homes have been receiving the same pay rate from the state for providing that care for nearly a decade, and they fear not raising those rates soon could have long-lasting repercussions.

“We’ve already seen, unfortunately, some of our providers go out of business,” Kim Beaudoin said. “More and more of them will close if they don’t get the rate increases that are long past due.”

Beaudoin works as CEO of Palmetto Association for Children and Families, which represents 50 of the state’s group homes, most of which are nonprofits.

In recent years, their workload has only gone up.

“They’ve always been a vulnerable population, but I’ve been in the field myself for 35 years, and the needs are as high as they’ve ever been and as complex and challenging,” Beaudoin said.

Group homes are also struggling with the same challenges many employers are now facing, like rising costs due to inflation and trouble finding workers, competing with employers like chain restaurants and rideshare services for new hires.

They receive money from the state, but the South Carolina Department of Social Services is asking for group homes to get an additional $8.8 million in the next state budget to increase their pay rates.

“We know that many of these group home providers, they have not had their rates adjusted since 2015. We were able to do provide some one-time kind of rate improvements because of COVID and some federal dollars that were given to the agency,” DSS Director of Communications and External Affairs Connelly-Anne Ragley said.

DSS is also asking lawmakers for another $2 million to increase the reimbursements foster families receive each month by about $30. More than 60% of the kids and teenagers in foster care under DSS’s supervision are living in family-like homes, with people to whom they are not related or had previously shared a close relationship.

These rates are determined by the child’s age. DSS wants to raise the monthly reimbursement for children younger than six from $619 to $644, for children 6-12 from $723 to $752, and for teenagers from $764 to $794.

“It’s something that we look, as a department, at every year, and we try to adjust those monthly rates based on the age of the child, and we try to keep meeting the southeastern average for the US Department of Agriculture’s guidelines for the cost of raising a child,” Ragley said.

Beaudoin said these rate increases are critical.

Ideally, she said group homes should use donations, grants, and endowment funds as “enhancements” to their work instead of fueling their necessary operations.

But for years, many homes have been using these pots of money to offset the costs of services because the funding they have been getting from the state and federal government hasn’t been enough, Beaudoin said.

“That’s a risky business model, both for providers but also, more importantly, for children and youth,” Beaudoin said. “It creates a lot of haves and have-nots, and that’s not what the system wants. We want to be able to provide equal access to all children and youths.”

Lawmakers will start taking up budget requests from DSS and other state agencies after their new legislative session begins Jan. 10.