A group representing 14,000 foster parents in California has threatened to refuse to accept abused or neglected children starting March 15 unless the state Legislature provides liability insurance for them, the association's president said Tuesday.
Susan Gambini of Visalia said about half of the California Foster Parents Assn.'s members are prepared to join the moratorium.
"That's our plan right now. The whole intent of a moratorium is to basically bring to light the seriousness of the problem and our own vulnerability," Gambini said in a telephone interview. "We're still hoping progress will be made. Otherwise, we can't afford to stay in the program."
A moratorium on emergency child placement would not affect four counties--including Orange County--that provide their own liability insurance for individual foster homes. However, counties that do not now carry their own insurance would have to find temporary housing for abused or neglected children in private, unlicensed homes or juvenile halls if the association begins its moratorium.
Orange County Now Insured
Orange County is now insured for $1 million covering foster parents, but the premium this year is $52,568, more than triple last year's premium of $17,000, said Maria L. Bastanchury, manager of the risk management division of the county administrative office.
"It was very hard to get the insurance this year and we were lucky. I don't know what the situation will be next year," said Bastanchury, who added that three years ago the premium was $8,200.
Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego counties also provide liability insurance for foster homes.
Gambini said that the association wants the Legislature to push through an emergency measure to solve the liability problem. She said legislation appropriating the costs of the insurance premiums for counties now without a policy, or a bill to limit claims filed against a county's foster care program, are the solutions that the association and legislators have largely discussed.
Many counties have not been able to find insurance after many companies backed off insuring child care centers and foster care programs because of an increase in claims. Other counties have found insurance, but at high premiums that they cannot afford.
"We need something now so that somebody can get us the insurance," she said.
The association has enlisted the help of Assemblyman Bill Jones (R-Fresno) and other legislators. Jones said Tuesday that the foster care insurance problem can be tied to the "deep pocket" initiative before California voters on the June ballot.
"If that goes through, then maybe some insurance companies will get back into business," he said.
That initiative would limit the amount of liability claims filed against legal entities in the state.
But Jones, in a telephone interview from his Sacramento office, said the Legislature has failed three times in the past three years to support a measure to alleviate the foster care insurance problem.
"It is a broadly based problem," Jones said. "And it bothers me to have to go through the initiative. The Legislature has not been responsible to the people. I see an opportunity for us, as a Legislature, to move aggressively to find some solution between now and June."
Gambini said the association initially voted to begin the moratorium Feb. 15 but delayed action for a month to give the Legislature more time to find an emergency solution. She also praised the counties that have been able to find their own resources to pay the steep insurance premiums.
"Some counties, especially Orange County, have placed a high value on foster parents," she said. "But many counties are in trouble financially right now and can't afford to pay for their own insurance."
Social Workers Concerned
The foster parents association's threat of a moratorium, however, has some social workers concerned that the ploy may hurt foster care programs in counties where insurance is now in place.
"If the state association sends out a message like this, I would hope that not everyone would think all foster parents are involved in the moratorium," said Barbara Labitzke, Orange County's foster care coordinator.
Labitzke said the county now has 563 licensed foster parents caring for about 1,450 children, but many more are needed to handle the over-burdening problem.
"I just don't know what kind of implications (the moratorium) would have, and if it would hamper our ability to recruit (new foster parents)," she said. "I would like people to know that our county is standing behind our foster parents and we are wanting new people."