Should Foster Parents Be Paid a Salary?

They're doing what some consider to be a great service.

Robyn Chittister November 23, 2016
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A recent post at The Chronicle of Social Change asserts, It’s Time to Really Pay Foster Parents.

But should foster parents be paid a salary?

No.

Shortest post ever.

OK, it’s really not that simple—nothing in adoption ever is.

The blog post asserts that foster parents should be paid a salary, equal to that of a full-time job, for a stay-at-home foster parent. However, the author doesn’t actually seem to know how foster care works. His reasons for paying a living wage include:

“Standard hiring practices, using references, resumes, background checks, and interviews would replace the current variety of home study formats.”

A standard home study includes references, a biography, background checks, and interviews.

“Better maintenance and control are possible with a contract for services.”

You can’t really force people to take and keep kids they can’t handle, contract or no contract. However, foster parents do sign contracts with the state, so this is a moot point.

Two of his other five reasons that he supports paying foster parents a salary are puzzling at best. I’m not here to rip apart his argument though. I do think it’s reasonable to ask ourselves if foster parents should be paid a salary.

Across the board, stipends for foster care do not cover the expenses foster parents incur. One foster mom says the stipend she receives breaks down to 25 cents per hour. Another receives $13.00 per day.

The first reaction some people have is to say that biological families aren’t paid, and some of the reasons why children are taken into foster care are associated with poverty, or at least a lack of income. Why wouldn’t the state pay people to stay home and raise their own children?

Parenting and foster parenting are not the same things. Foster parents are held to higher standards than biological parents. That’s why there’s a home study they must pass. (Granted, there are some bad foster parents out there nonetheless.) The children, whom you’re supposed to love “as your own” are not your own, and you must ensure they get services, go to visits, see doctors and therapists, and so on. As a foster parent, you are caring for someone else’s child, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Caring for someone else’s child is usually a service for which people are paid.

It is also difficult to recruit and retain good foster parents. In some counties, children are placed in group homes or worse, sleeping in offices, due to the shortage of foster parents. Many argue that the problem isn’t finding foster parents, it’s keeping foster parents.

The idea of paying foster parents brings up even more questions:

  • Would paying foster parents bring out more people who  just foster for the money? Or would it bring in more qualified people?
  • Would foster parents be given health insurance? Paid time off? Other benefits?
  • Would we expect more qualifications, such as early childhood education units or backgrounds in health or psychology?
  • Would we allow people who didn’t have sufficient income to support a family of their size before fostering to become foster parents?
  • Would paid foster parents be more likely to support reunification, because they treat foster parenting as a job and are not necessarily motivated by wanting to adopt? Or would they be less likely to support reunification for fear of losing their paychecks?
  • Would paying foster parents mean that children who live in poorer areas are able to stay in their neighborhoods, because their neighbors could now afford to care for them?
  • Would paying foster parents take funds away from paying for social workers, who are already stretched thin?
  • Would paying foster parents create an emotional separation from the job of parenting? And, if so, would that positively or negatively affect the children?
  • Would foster parents be expected to do more for the children in their care?
  • Would people considered to be kin be paid?
  • Would state labor laws, such as overtime and workers’ compensation, apply to foster parents?
  • How can we even consider paying foster parents when we remain one of the only countries in the world to not offer paid family leave after a child’s birth or placement?

Many foster parents have said that, while perhaps they should not be paid a salary, they would like to see reasonable stipends—stipends that actually covered the children’s care. Some point out that finding child care for a foster child should not be as difficult as it is, that states should do more to cover higher-quality daycare and preschool. Currently, the state doesn’t provide for extracurricular activities for foster children, such as music lessons or sports, which are important experiences for children to have. Those might be better uses of funds, rather than making foster parent full-time employees.

I think people might see this question and have a knee-jerk reaction. Either they immediately think paying foster parents is a terrible idea or that foster parents should absolutely be paid for the round-the-clock care they provide. I know my opinion has changed several times, just in writing this one article.

What do you think?

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Robyn Chittister

Robyn is a full-time writer and mom through private, domestic, open, transracial adoption. She resides in New Hampshire with her family of two adults, two children, and a fluctuating number of animals. She is seriously passionate about adoption and tries to use her words wisely--both here and at her personal blog, Holding to the Ground.


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