There are a lot of misperceptions out there about foster parents and money. The problem is that “good” foster parents know it’s taboo to talk about compensation, so there’s no way to clear up the confusion. We don’t want people to think we’re in it for the money, nor do we want them to worry if we have the money to take on an additional child, so we opt not to talk about the financial impact of foster care. I want to do my best to address some of the misperceptions I have heard, but I want to be clear that I do not represent an agency and my answers may be specific to the area of the country where I’m providing foster care. These are my observations from my own experience and the research I’ve done. Feel free to do your own research about what the reality is in your area.
Here are the misperceptions I most commonly hear:
“Foster parents are in it for the money.” The rate a foster parent is paid is based on a state’s assumption of how much it costs to raise a child in that state. This varies greatly from state to state, agency to agency, and based on the particular needs of a child (kids who need more specialized care, have behavioral problems, more medical appointments, etc. may mean foster parents get compensated at a higher rate). You can imagine, getting paid close to exactly what it costs to raise a child is not a way to MAKE money, but is how you keep foster children from being a financial drain on a family. My state has one of the lowest compensation rates in the country. This was recently changed by our state legislature and the increased rates will go into effect this summer. Until that happens, we will be paid 50 cents an hour to provide round the clock care for our foster kids. This is the rate we’ve been paid for the last 5 years we’ve been fostering. Obviously, 50 cents an hour is not an amount we would take if we were “in it for the money.” There will always be unscrupulous people who manipulate the system for their financial benefit (I’ve got a future post coming about that), but for those of us who foster parent with integrity, this is not likely to be a money making venture.
“I can’t afford to be a foster parent.” While the compensation rates are not a way to make money, they should be enough to allow you to provide care for a child without it dipping into your own resources. Along with the compensation from the state, you can also qualify for WIC which helps with things like infant formula and groceries for kids up to age 5. Foster children qualify for medicaid, so you shouldn’t be responsible for their medical expenses. If a child requires services like therapy or educational help, this is something you may need to work with a caseworker to get approval for so you are not paying for it personally. The biggest expenses in foster parenting are usually the upfront costs of getting started with a child. New clothes, diapers, equipment, formula (until you get set up with WIC), school supplies can all be pricey investments that happen before you get your first month’s payment. This is where it’s very helpful to have the support of your church or community to help a new child get established in your home or else be sure you’ve saved money so you’re ready for the initial investment. Remember— you get paid at the end of the month for the days the child was in your home, so you need to be prepared.
“Adoption from foster care is expensive.” Adoption in general is a very pricey process. Just hiring a lawyer to complete the paperwork is expensive. But not through foster care! Not only were we paid to care for our children while we were fostering them, but the state paid for our home study for the adoption and then paid our lawyer’s fees. Let me make this totally clear: Adoption from foster care is FREE.
“Good foster parents would do it for free.” This is a comment I have read multiple times when I’m doing research on foster payment rates. There are always those people who say foster parents should be willing to do this for free out of the goodness of their hearts. I can tell you that foster parenting at whatever the compensation rate is ALWAYS done out of the goodness of your heart (when you are talking about quality foster parents). There is no amount of money that makes it worth dealing with the inconvenience, the heartache, and sometimes even the fear for your own safety that foster parenting can bring. This is first and foremost a calling. But that doesn’t mean that people can do it without compensation. Pastors are paid. Missionaries are paid. And we don’t assume that means they don’t really care about the people they work with or that the money is corrupting them. In fact, we know the reality that “you get what you pay for.” Poorly compensating foster parents is not a way to encourage the most qualified, educated, passionate people to get involved. Poor compensation rates also mean people who would like to foster but aren’t independently wealthy may be excluded from providing care. When only the wealthy can foster this creates a major socioeconomic gap between the people providing care and the families they are hoping to help, which is problematic.
“I can’t afford to stay at home, so I can’t be a foster parent.” Having a stay-at-home parent is not a prerequisite for being a foster family. The state will pay for childcare, so it really shouldn’t be an issue. I do know that we have be able to get infants straight from the hospital because I am at home. Infants can’t go to daycare until they are at least 6 weeks old, so you either have to be at home or have an alternative solution for those first six weeks if you want to take placement of a newborn. There may also be children who have unique needs that keep your average daycare setting from being a good fit for them. Being a working parent may help shape the kind of placement you are open to, but it shouldn’t keep you from fostering.
“Foster parenting would be a good way to bring in extra income to make ends meet.” Our agency had us fill out a form that detailed our financial situation. We needed to be able to prove that we were capable of meeting all our financial obligations without being dependent on foster care payments. You don’t want to be making unwise decisions about bringing in kids you aren’t qualified to care for just because you need to pay your bills. The purpose of foster care compensation is to repay you for what you spent on the care of a child, not pay your living expenses.
“I can’t afford to adopt my foster child because we’d lose our monthly payment.” The state doesn’t want to prevent foster parents from making longterm commitments to their foster children because it would be a financial hit. The state knows that it is good and important for kids to have consistent caregivers in their life and not go through unnecessary disruption. It is also money saving for the state to have kids in permanent homes. Having kids in adoptive homes means they are no longer paying court costs or oversight costs, so many adoptive families are offered some kind of adoption subsidy. Adoption subsidies have even been found to save the state money in future prison costs or mental health service costs because kids do better in stable environments. This website has good information about adoption subsides.
In my next post I’ll address some of my personal pet peeves having to do with foster parent compensation.
Any other foster parents have financial misconceptions you’ve had to deal with?