Most of the stories in the media about foster care seem to take the most horrendous cases into account, portraying foster children as extremely disturbed or dangerous delinquents and painting foster parents in an equally unflattering light.
One such unflattering assumption about foster parents which makes me laugh is that “Foster parents just take in kids for the money.” Clearly, anybody who believes this has never done foster care.
Michael and Sarah Gerstenzang were an upper middle class couple who were living in New York City with two young children when they took their first foster placement because, among other reasons they wanted to “give back to society and help a child.” Michael was an attorney and as a social worker Sarah always had an interest in child welfare. When reflecting on her personal experiences, Sarah shared her feelings about the low reimbursement rate foster parents receive:
[My husband ] “and I were asked numerous times by our friends and acquaintances if we thought that many foster parents were “doing it for the money.” (I think middle class people sleep better when we assume that adults are being paid to care for children whom we as a society are responsible for.) We would first explain that there wasn’t much money in foster care for foster parents, to which some people replied, “Yeah, but if they take in like ten kids?” And then we would patiently explain that taking in ten kids wasn’t permitted. But for argument’s sake, if one could take in ten kids, economize, and have a little left over, would it be worth it to have to live with ten kids?”
Thank goodness for reforms which limit the number of children in a foster home and thoroughly screen families before giving them a license to make sure they’re fostering for the right reasons. In our state, one of the requirements for fostering is that the family must be financially independent enough that they don’t have to rely on foster care as a source of income (as verified by income tax returns and paycheck stubs) which hopefully helps to weed out the people who are just doing it for the money versus those who are truly interested in making a difference in the life of a child.
Realistically, it’s not accurate to say that you get PAID for doing foster care- you get reimbursed with a stipend because children not only require much of your time and attention, but cost money to raise. I love how Gerstenzang continued to explain about stipends, drawing on her background of studying social policy as a graduate student:
“The practice of reimbursing foster parents for some of the costs of caring for a child dates back more than one hundred years. Stipends were initially paid to discourage families from putting children to work to earn their keep. They were intentionally set at levels slightly lower than the cost of covering the child’s expenses. The basic argument for the low level of reimbursement applies today: Foster parents have to want to foster for humanitarian reasons, not for profit. So the people who make the most significant difference in quality of life for the foster children, the foster parents, are the only ones not getting paid; who does get paid are lawyers, judges, social workers, and administrators. Because they are not employees, foster parents also forgo health insurance and Social Security benefits. Since the foster system depends on career foster parents and children benefit from their experience, it is a shame that the system doesn’t support and encourage these parents. And if children can’t be cared for in foster homes (due to either a lack of homes or the child’s difficult behavior) the next step for them is often a group home, which can cost two hundred dollars per day or more, depending on the level of care.”
On a related note, because of a legislative audit last year, my state’s Division of Child and Family Services is shifting its focus on how to spend funds for children in foster care, including less reliance on group homes as well as investing more money on in–home services in an attempt to reduce the number (and cost) of children being placed in out-of-home placements.
A newspaper article explaining the changes the recent audit prompted stated, “While in-home placement provides better outcomes for children, it is unsafe for some children to remain in their own homes.”
Hence the need for foster families! Herein lies the problem, which the article continues to state:
“The low basic financial reimbursement rate may discourage some people from the 24-hour, seven days a week commitment that foster care requires, national advocates say.”
Props to Utah DCFS Director Brent Platt who was quoted in the article as saying "The reality is, people don’t do it for money. These are people who want to help children, to give back to their communities."