NPR has a good article on how a federal law combined with bureaucratic inertia can compound the trauma of foster care. When biological parents lose custody of their children to foster care, paying for the foster care often is part of their reunification plan. For parents already struggling to pay bills, these costs can just lengthen the time that children are kept in foster care. The article predictably spends a lot of time blaming the 1984 law, and at the very end notes that it allows states to forego collections when "appropriate." With no definition or standards, however, states often don't look at the best interests of children in deciding when to charge their parents for the state's decisions. I can see the good intentions of the law, but unfettered discretion always backfires. State agencies and state legislatures need to tighten up the standards so that the rules benefit children, not continue to harm their families.
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Charging Parents for State Decisions
States don't actually have to go after all this money. There's some leeway in the 1984 federal law. It says parents should be charged to reimburse some of the cost of foster care when it's "appropriate" — but it does not define what that meant.