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Politics & Government

ACLU Sues Allegheny County Over Foster Parent Payments

In 2012, Tracey Schaeffer of Leechburg became the foster parent for her four grand nieces and nephews whose parents were deemed unable to take care of them. Since then, she has been fighting with the Allegheny County Department of Children, Youth and Families to get help paying for their care.

Now the ACLU of Pennsylvania has filed suit asking for payment and for a change in any policy or practices that might be illegal.

“They have an obligation under both federal and state law to let Ms. Schaeffer know that she can be a foster parent and that becoming a foster parent carries with it potentially large daily subsidies to help care for the kids,” said Vic Walczak, legal director of Pennsylvania ACLU.

The daily payment has been estimated to be between $15 and $20 per child per day. At $17.50 that would come up to more than $25,000 per year owed to Schaeffer.

According to the court filing, Schaefer has made contact with multiple caseworkers and at least one supervisor asking for the money she feels she is due. In August the ACLU became involved by sending a letter to the department asking for payment.

“The response we got was, ‘We don’t think we have done anything wrong here.’ So we just decided to file the lawsuit and let the judge decide whether they have done something wrong,” Walczak said.

Walczak does not believe there is any written policy to deny so-called kinship caregivers, family members who step up to take in family members, instead he feels it is more of a “custom or practice” that has been institutionalized.

“We strongly suspect that there are likely other relatives who are serving as foster parents who are not getting the kind of foster support they are entitled to,” Walczak said. “It really raises concerns about what is going on inside the agency.

Allegheny County spokeswoman Amie Downs said the county does not comment on pending litigation. The county has six days from the date of the federal court filing, which was Nov. 19, to respond.

State law gives qualified relatives top priority when it comes to placing abused or neglected children and the ACLU also believes it is clear the same law requires those family members be given the same financial support any other faster parent would be given.

In 2004 the ACLU won a similar case in Beaver County.