In a sweeping victory for the growing number of Kentucky relatives providing free foster care for children, Kentucky must begin paying them — many, grandparents struggling with the costs — the same as they do licensed foster families.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to hear an appeal from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services seeking to overturn a ruling earlier this year by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the state must pay relatives who take in foster children.
"We have won, our clients have won and it's a big deal!" said Lexington lawyer Richard Dawahare, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of a great-aunt who took in two young boys but was denied foster payments from the state. "Right now, the relatives are entitled and they need to make their claim."
A cabinet spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The news will be celebrated by many relatives across Kentucky caring for children but not eligible for daily payments even as licensed foster parents are paid a base rate of about $25 a day or $750 a month.
Among them is Kimberly Guffy of Russellville, Kentucky, who said she and her husband have been caring for two small grandchildren for more than three years with no foster care help from the cabinet.
"The days of the cabinet's reliance on relatives to balance its budget are over," she said.
Guffy said she didn't hesitate to take in the children, one a newborn and the other a 16-month-old, but it has been a struggle, especially for the first year when child care costs reached $10,000.
The cabinet has since agreed to assist with child care costs but refused foster payments. Social workers at one point told her that if the family couldn't afford to care for the children, they would be placed in a foster home.
Guffy said she and her husband rejected that option.
"We really want to provide for these children," she said. "We want to keep them in the family."
Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, hailed Tuesday's Supreme Court order as a "great day for kids in Kentucky" and said he hopes the cabinet promptly begins to identify and pay relatives who are eligible.
"I think it's really important that the cabinet communicates in a clear way who this affects and how to take advantage of it," Brooks said.
Dawahare said the ruling applies to any relative approved by the state to provide foster services for a child until a case is closed through an adoption or permanent custody, a process that can take months or years.