I recently wrote about some of the common misconceptions I hear about foster parenting and financial compensation. I work hard to help people understand the realities of foster care and I find it hard to do that in a climate that implies it’s shameful to talk about how foster parents are paid. Any family hoping to make an informed decision about if foster care is right for them needs to know the realities they are going to face and if they’re able to take on the challenges.
So while we’re clearing up some of the misconceptions, I’d also like to address some of my personal pet peeves when it comes to how foster parents are paid. Again, I don’t represent an agency and these are only my thoughts after spending years working with “the system” and doing a lot of research on this topic.
Abuse in the system. This is probably a universal pet peeve for everybody involved in the system. I once heard about a foster family who was getting highly compensated for a child because of the child’s level of need (emotional/behavioral problems). This family had the child in school all day, childcare (paid for by the state) until the evening, then brought the child home, gave him meds to help him sleep and put him to bed. The amount of care provided for this child was minimal, but the monthly check was huge. This is what I think of when someone asks if we’re foster parenting “for the money.” There are ways to make money foster parenting, but they may be less than ethical. The point of having a child in a foster family is to allow them a safe place to live where they can develop healthy relationships in a family environment. I have been involved in providing care for children with behavioral and emotional problems. I know exactly how exhausting that can be. One child we worked with went directly from our home into a psychiatric facility and he has been in and out of them ever since. Some kids require a level of care that can’t be provided by your average foster family or may not be safe to have in a family environment at all. But if you are taking a child into your home and making them part of your family, then please MAKE THEM PART OF YOUR FAMILY. Don’t just be the place they drift into a medicated sleep. I wish the system had more flexibility to look at individual situations and determine compensation based on the care the foster family is actually providing, not determining it based on a checklist of behaviors the child has. We should be providing financial incentives for doing the hard work of creating relationships and bonds with these kids.
Disincentive to stay at home. I am entirely supportive of families where both parents are employed. That is a necessity for lots of families either from a financial standpoint or because staying at home isn’t a good fit for a parent. My issue is that the foster parent who puts their child in daycare from 8-6 is paid the exact same amount (and the state pays for the childcare) as the foster parent who is at home providing care for the child during those hours. This doesn’t make sense to me. I am saving the state money by eliminating the need for them to subsidize childcare, but they don’t increase what they pay me to compensate me for that investment of time. This is another instance where I wish there was more flexibility for the state to reward the kind of behavior they feel is best for the child. For some kids a daycare environment is going to be preferable (especially when kids are able to stay in the same daycare they were in prior to coming into care), but for many kids who have been through trauma, they NEED stable adult relationships where they can learn to trust by having their needs consistently met by the same caregiver. These kids have lost the only consistent adults in their lives and need to relearn (or learn for the first time) how to trust. For some of those kids, having a stay-at-home parent is absolutely going to be the best thing for them. I wish the state had the ability to financially incentivize foster parents to make the decision that would benefit these children in providing them the stability of a single caregiver.
It’s a job. But it’s not a job. Some weeks in foster parenting are more demanding than others. Doctor appointments, team meetings, in home visits, paperwork to fill out, emails to write, dealing with visitation issues. . . it can often feel like at least a part-time job, especially if you have multiple foster kids. At other times things may be fairly simple and it’s easy to feel like this child is just part of your family. Depending on the progression of your case you may get very conflicting messages from your team about your role. It’s a job: You need to be available whenever someone needs you, file your paperwork on time, complete continuing education courses, be supportive of the reunification goal and not get too attached to this child. But it’s not a job: You need to provide clothes, toys and school supplies for this child just like you would your own, love them like your own, be willing to move heaven and earth to be sure their educational/medical/emotional needs are met, and not complain about what you’re getting paid to do it. It’s just not realistic to expect foster parents to be capable of totally loving and attaching to a child while also expecting them to be fine with whatever unpredictable outcome is coming down the road. There have been times where I have chosen to guard my heart and see foster parenting as a job and I don’t think that’s wrong. The level of care, attention and affection provided to that child was no different than it would be for my own kids, but in my heart I created a little distance to preserve my emotional sanity. I think that’s how we’ve avoided burnout after more than a decade of working with kids from families in crisis. Sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to see what you’re doing in foster parenting as a job and not feel bad about that, even if it’s just for a season. Teachers know they are doing a job, but they also provide loving quality care to our kids all day. Thinking of it as a job and reminding yourself that you are getting paid to provide this care doesn’t mean that you don’t love this child or that you’re a heartless monster. There shouldn’t be any shame in the fact that foster parents get paid to do what they do.