We’ve been talking about some of the common fears people have about being a foster parent. So far we’ve covered these topics:
Today, we’re tackling another potentially uncomfortable topic: money. There is a lot of misinformation about both the financial cost of being a foster parent and any reimbursement or income that comes with it. I’m going to attempt to address these concerns based on my experience, but please remember that some of this information is specific to my state and county. If you need more details about the way things work in your area, reach out to a local agency to ask more questions.
Let’s break it down by category.
With the possible exception of kinship care, foster parents are provided with a stipend to cover a foster child’s expenses. This stipend is not income for the foster parent but is intended to cover things like housing, food, clothing, and activities. The exact amount of the stipend will vary by state and sometimes county. In some cases, the rate for older children may be higher. Children with significant behavioral or medical needs may also require a higher level of care, usually called therapeutic care, and that may come with an additional stipend. Note that you will most likely receive the stipend the month after you are eligible for it (for example, you would receive the stipend for January in February), so you will probably need to cover many of these initial expenses out of your own funds.
If you may need to find full-time or after-school childcare for the foster children in your home, do your research about the cost of childcare in your area. Some states reimburse for childcare, and some don’t. In my area, they do reimburse up to a certain amount (and it differs for in-home and center childcares), but the actual cost for the childcare is far higher. Also, there is usually an enrollment or registration cost that needs to be paid, and depending on the childcare provider, you may need to pay up front and get reimbursed later by your adoption agency.
Even if you are only planning to take school-aged children, keep in mind that you may need after-school care or childcare during the summer. There may be scholarships or grants available at the agency to help defray these costs.
The stipend you receive is intended to cover the cost of the child’s food, including formula for infants. Foster children up to age five are eligible for WIC, and school-aged children typically qualify for free or reduced meals at school. But keep in mind that your monthly food budget may go up more than just the amount the child eats. When my home is filled with children, and especially at the beginning of a placement, we tend to eat out more often and purchase more convenience foods.
Clothing and other supplies
Your foster child’s clothing needs are also covered by the stipend you receive, but what happens if the child comes to you with virtually no clothes at all or nothing appropriate? Your agency may provide you with an emergency clothing allowance (either in the form of gift cards or reimbursement after submitting receipts), but it may not be enough to furnish a child with enough clothing. Depending on the individual child’s needs, you may also need to purchase hygiene supplies, car seats, age-appropriate toys, bedding, diapers and wipes, and bottles or sippy cups. Some areas have nonprofit community associations to provide these supplies (sometimes new, sometimes used), and over time, many foster parents end up building their own arsenal of clothes and gear to help get through at least the first few days. After four years and 13 placements, I have a decent stash in my basement, and yet, I still assume with each new placement that I’ll need to make a Walmart or Target run in the first few days. The hardest part is reminding myself not to buy all the things, especially until I have some idea how long the child will be with me and what he or she actually needs.
For the most part, the cost of transporting your foster child to medical and therapy appointments, court hearings, family visits, and even school or daycare is the responsibility of the foster parent, at least at the beginning of the placement. Some agencies will reimburse for these expenses, and others only do if it is over a certain distance. The cost will vary significantly depending on where you live, your foster child’s specific needs, and your proximity to the services that meet those needs.
Most all foster children should be eligible for Medicaid, which can significantly help with any medical, dental, vision, or therapeutic needs of your foster child. Your agency may be willing to reimburse you for some expenses (for example, prescription medication needed and purchased before state medical insurance as in place). Other expenses (for example, over the counter medications or specific dietary needs) are expected to be covered by the stipend.
The cost of extracurricular activities is difficult to pin down because it is so variable. Some of these expenses might be covered by agency funds, or there may be full or partial scholarships. But some are the responsibility of the foster parent.
In addition to the categories above, consider any indirect or convenience costs for services that can help lighten your load as a foster parent. I am just one person, and I try to save my time and energy for the stuff that only I can do, which sometimes means paying someone else to clean my home or handle outdoor maintenance. When I have a lot of kids in my home or just kids with a lot of needs, I am more likely to call someone to fix issues around the house I would otherwise handle myself. I am also more likely to use a grocery delivery service or order the more expensive version online because it’s easier than going to a store. These additional costs as well worth it in my book, but they do impact my budget.
Fellow foster parents, what other expenses am I forgetting? Was there anything about the financial cost to being a foster parent that caught you off guard?