Most likely, you are here for numbers. Maybe you’ve heard foster parents get paid and you are curious how much. You might be considering becoming a foster parent. Perhaps you have heard of a family “doing foster care for the money” and you want to know what they “make.” Okay, let’s talk about the numbers.
The first thing to understand is that foster parents are not actually paid. They do, however, receive reimbursement that is not taxable income. Monthly reimbursement is meant to be given at the beginning of each new month for the previous month. However, it can take longer based on each state’s individual system. In Family Foster Care Reimbursement Rates in the U.S.: A Report from A 2012 National Survey on Family Foster Care Provider Classifications and Rates by Keri DeVooght, Child Trends, and Dennis Blazey (ChildTrends.org), reimbursement rates are listed for 40 states. Between the states, rates vary greatly. Each state classifies different types or levels of care and provides reimbursement rates accordingly. For example, the reimbursement rate for children with special needs will likely be higher than the basic rate in that state to help provide for the child’s extra needs. The rate of daily reimbursement is also based on factors like age. Generally the rate will increase as the child gets older. Some states also provide additional allowances for things like clothing or diapers. However, the report explains that, in general, the reimbursement rates are less than what it costs to care for a child. In fact, several states have basic rates that equal less than half the estimated cost of care.
After a quick glance through the list of reimbursement rates by state, you might estimate that $20-$25 per day (or about $1 an hour) is an average amount. Let’s talk realistically about how far that money goes.
My first placement as a foster parent was with me for two and a half days.
We had to drive a distance to pick up the child because CPS was too short-staffed to bring the child to us. With the child came a couple of too-big outfits from CPS and a special blanket the child was very attached to. Things we had already purchased and had ready include a bed, bedding, extra clothing, towels, toiletries, and a car seat. Also, we had upgraded to a minivan to be able to fit another child in our vehicle. We also figured that we spent about $1000 between gas and paying a babysitter to be with our other children during foster care training classes. That first day, I bought pull-ups, a sippy cup, apple juice (which was the only thing the child was willing to drink), swim diapers, a toothbrush for the child, and a few personal items. The child was very physical. Things in my home and yard were used and broken. Because the child was not in our home three full days, our reimbursement was only for two days. Did I mention that my husband and I were unable to leave during the time this child was with us, other than my quick run to the store? It took both of us constantly engaged to make sure all the children were safe.
Our second placement came with just a diaper bag of baby items. Luckily, we once again were able to provide for a lot of the child’s needs with what we already had on hand. However, formula, diapers, and wipes alone cost more than the daily reimbursement for short-term placements. This second child was with us less than a week. Appearing not to have been held often, the child didn’t know how to be held in a caregiver’s arms. The entire backside—the head, neck, and back—were like one flat plane. I spent as much time as I could holding the child and babywearing in an effort to help provide human connection and bonding as well as helping the child gain mobility. By the end of the week, the child had gone from only knowing how to lie flat on its back to rolling and beginning to crawl.
Maybe you think we are crazy. Maybe I think you are right. On the other hand, let’s look at this one more time without the numbers. What do I, as a foster parent, make? With the help of some fellow foster parents, I’ve compiled a list of what else we make.
Foster parents make countless appointments; extra carpool stops, laundry, and food; a child feel safe, loved, and like they matter; change in their communities as they help to rebuild families and provide stability for those without it; sacrifices in every area of their lives for the sake of the children they care for; the best of difficult situations; memories; peace; and room in our homes, hearts, and families.
When it comes down to it, our greatest hope as foster parents is to make a difference.