Our blog has gained a little following! Most of our readers are friends who have caved to my incessant facebook updates about new posts, but we also have an international audience. Hello Russia, China, Germany, and Singapore!!
I am constantly looking for opportunities to talk about foster care. I love sharing my own experiences and general knowledge about the system to anyone who will listen. Most of the people I corner (umm... I mean engage) are very interested and have a lot of questions. Across the board, though, there is an awkward undertone that there is more they want to know, but can't ask. I think I've figured it out. People want to know about the money involved in foster care.
Part of the foster care certification process is making sure the potential foster family has an income that is stable and covers all the family's expenses. We were asked to provide proof of income and our monthly budget (mortgage, utilities, credit cards, car payments/insurance, food, etc). The people we offered as personal references were also asked about our financial situation. Foster parents can not be living off government assistance (except disability, I believe), and will be questioned about collecting government assistance in the past. Although, previously getting welfare or food stamps doesn't automatically disqualify an applicant. During our very first home visit with a caseworker, she said, "Teresa, I see you collected food stamps in 1989." My response was, "That may be, but I can't confirm since I was 3yrs old". My point is- they dig in your dirt to be sure you will not be using foster care money for anything else but the child it's intended for.
We've all heard about foster parents taking in children only to treat them poorly and collect an easy paycheck. I'm not naive enough to think that never happens, but I think those cases are few and far between. The fact is that foster parents are REIMBURSED for the child's expenses, not paid. When children come into care, the county Department of Human Services has guardianship of the child. They are responsible for paying the child's expenses. The county determines how much it costs to care for a child, and contracts with individuals (foster parents) for that amount.
The daily stipend is sent to foster parents in a monthly check. This check is always a month behind, which is why it's reimbursement instead of payment. If I bring a child into my home on March 1st, I will receive the first check for him on the second Friday in April. In that time I've already fed, clothed, entertained, and carted him around for 6weeks. So when I open the check that comes in the mail, it's not adding to my household income. I guess it depends on financial savvy and lifestyle, but the checks I open every month do not fully reimburse me for the previous month. We have never had a month where money hasn't come out of our personal budget for our children, but the stipend helps relieve financial burden and allows us to take more kids or higher needs kids than if there was no support.
If I were reading this post, I'd be tapping my foot going, "Yeah, yeah, yeah! Show me some numbers!". Specific figures vary greatly by agency and area, I can only speak for what I receive. So here's the breakdown of the foster care payments in our area:
Special Board Rate is assigned to children with extreme special needs. This child is going to require a high level of care either developmentally, medically, or behaviorally. The Special Board Rate for a child 0-4yrs is $22.56/day, and goes up with age.
Clothing Allowance- A separate check for new clothes is sent out in March and August for each child and ranges from $250 to $450 depending on the age of the child and what clothes they had when they came into care.
Mileage Reimbursement- Every month I turn in a mileage sheet that lists how far I drove for foster care related appointments like trainings, visits, and family court. The rate per mile is $.51 for 2011, and is dictated every year by the IRS.
WIC- Children under 5yrs old come pre-qualified for WIC, which is a federal food assistance program. You receive vouchers for formula, baby food, cereal, fruits/ veggies, bread, milk eggs, cheese, peanut butter, and beans. This value is around $100/mo per child
Diaper Allowance- Children up to 4yrs who still need diapers are given $48.81/month
Medicaid - All children in care are fully covered by Medicaid. Foster parents pay no medical expenses for the child. All appts, medications, hospital, therapy, etc is completely paid for. We'll call this $200/mo for the avg child if you had to add them to your insurance and pay co-pays. However, special needs children might require thousands of dollars in medical interventions every month that foster parents never have to worry about.
Daycare- Should a child need daycare because their foster parents work outside the home, the county pays for it- approximately $225/week
Lessons/Activities- The county pays for soccer, gymnastics, karate, violin - $45/mo
TOTAL: $1,736.84/mo per child in daycare
Sounds like a paycheck to me, right? Wrong. It's time for some perspective.
This money is not cash in your pocket, most of it is paid directly to professionals and service providers.
The check you are actually receiving every month is around $500 per child per month.
Increase in bills:$80 (more water, electricity, higher heat setting, additional gas and vehicle maintenance)
Increase in groceries: $50
Clothes/Shoes/Outerwear(beyond the semi-annual allowance) $40/mo
Diapers & wipes:$50
Toys/Security items/Learning materials/Books $60 (Pacifiers are EXPENSIVE!!)
Parties&Playdates: $40 (Baby3's birthday was $250 for an 8 kid pizza and cake party @ indoor playcenter)
Professional Pictures & Photo Printing of Snapshots: $45-$100 depending on time of year and zealousness
Life book Materials: $10
Bath Soaps, Lotions, Toothpaste/brush:$15
Braiding for ethnic hair- $40
Babysitting:$100 (10hrs/mo at $10)
There is also increased wear and tear on your house and vehicles, and the added cost of bringing children with you on vacation, to museums, restaurants, etc
Financial support for foster parents extends into adoption as well. If a foster parent adopts a child that has been in care, but can not be reunited with the biofamilies, the adoption is paid for by the county. If the adopted child is considered "hard to place" - and most kids in care are- the foster care daily rate my continue after adoption until the child turns 18yrs. The child also remains eligible for Medicaid as a secondary insurance after adoption. This means that the adoptive parent pays for medical insurance for the child and Medicaid covers anything that insurance won't pay like medications, deductibles, and copays. President Obama signed a bill allowing the Adoption Tax Credit to become refundable. So for every foster care adoption that is finalized in 2010 and 2011 (hopefully this will be extended), the adoptive parents can collect $13,360 cash in pocket with their taxes. If this refundable credit isn't extended to 2012, the credit is projected to be $5,000 and can be used against taxes owed.
I believe the money paid to foster parents is exactly right. There should be some sacrifice involved just to weed out the bad apples who are looking for profit. There also should be adequate support for middle class families who wouldn't be able to financially support another child (or sibling group of 3), but can love, teach, and heal a child in need. We would be able to financially support one child if there was no financial help, but we wouldn't be able to take the range of special need we take now or sibling groups. We would absolutely still be fostering if there was no reimbursement, but we are so thankful there is!