I often hear people claim that foster parents are only fostering for the money, not because they care for the kids or for any other reasons – purely for the money. I wanted to share a little of what “the money” has done for MY family.
Do I get paid to foster? Yes.
How much? That varies.
For long term fosters, the price continues to change as the years go by. When I first began, the amount of money for a foster child placed in long term care was $465/month. That amounts to about $15/day, or 65 cents per hour, if you really want to do the math. That was six years ago. Today, my rate is $923/month, which means the amount has doubled in six years to account for cost of living increases. That comes down to $30/day, about $1/hour.
When I was teaching, I worked 9 months out of the year, 8am to 3pm (7 hours), and earned about $65,000. It was divided over 12 months to help offset the summer month when I did not teach, so I got about $5416/month, or about $270/day, or approximately $39/hour – all before taxes. THAT was a job. That was a job that paid my bills and kept my family provided for. You can live on $38 an hour. I can’t live on $1 an hour.
But I don’t typically do long term fostering, so I don’t get paid every month. My pay is sporadic, depending upon when a child enters my home, how long they are there, and the date they leave. For emergency, my rate is $30/day. A typical placement is 21 days at the most, but varies. My shortest placement was 6 hours before the grandparents were given custody of the child (I did not get paid for that day because they count it by nights spent in your care). My longest emergency placement was 33 days because holidays prevented the workers from finding a long term home (along with some major health issues that caused a lot of problems with finding a qualified home). On average, my placments were 7-10 days. I have had 56 kids in my care, with the majority being emergency placements (to date I have taken 4 long term placements).
Emergency homes are paid AFTER the child leaves. And since there is paperwork to submit by the social worker and the county has to process this and issue the payment, it usually comes over a month after the child has left. So if a child leaves my home in August, I wouldn’t expect to receive the pay for caring for them until sometime in October since it would process in September. In some cases, paperwork was not submitted or was done incorrectly and I would have to call to find out what was going on. Some kids I didn’t receive pay for until 3 or 4 months after they left.
Hardly something I can rely on to help pay the bills.
And the money is not “pay” – it is called reimbursement in Emergency placement (since you don’t get paid until after the fact). The money is to be used to support the child. To pay for the things they need. To pay for your gasoline to drive them across town to visits, WIC appointments, Doctor’s appointments, dental appointments. (Typically I drive from my house to the department two times a week for visits. Visits are typically 2 hours. For me, it is a good 20-25 minute drive.)
Though each child receives Medi-Cal and WIC, I often had to pay out of pocket for prescriptions and food/formula. I was never reimbursed for these costs, nor was I reimbursed gasoline to drive out of town to pick up kids from the children’s hospitals or to take them to special appointments. If a baby went through more than the amount of food or formula that I was given through WIC for the month, I couldn’t get more vouchers. So I paid for the food or formula myself.
Kids in long term placement receive an annual clothing allowance. I still am unclear of what the amount is supposed to be, as I received $110 once, and for the current baby I received $135. Of course, that could be cost of living increase again. But one time per year. To clothe a child. A growing child… Any parent who has ever cared for a baby knows how fast you go through clothes. Try to clothe a growing infant on $135 for an entire year…
And taxes – if a child is in your home for more than 6 months in a year, you can claim them on your taxes (IF you can get their social security number). In my case, the kids are not there for 3 weeks. So while I have had kids in my home year round for the past 6 years, I have never been able to claim any of them on my taxes. Even my long term placements were not with me the full six months before being placed with family members.
So here is a break down of what I have had to pay for on my own, with no option for reimbursement or support from the foster agencies.
When you foster, you are responsible for providing all of the necessary equipment. I began fostering when my youngest was 5. I had NO baby items left in my home. I had to purchase everything I would need. I had to buy a crib (we have this in a designated room so the fosters have their own room), a bassinet (I refuse to put a newborn baby in a seperate room with the care they need overnight), an infant carseat, baby carseat, booster seat (and we did this double – 2 of each – since we have 2 vehicles and my husband and I both needed them), a full size stroller, an umbrella stroller, baby swing, walker, bouncer, playpen, highchair, booster chair for the table, baby bottles of all types (because some kids need smaller nipples, some need colic bottles, etc), sippee cups, baby spoons, children’s dishes, diaper bags (we have a large one for longer trips, mid-size I sent to visits, and a small one I could use for quick trips out), toys for boys and girls of all stages of development from newborn to toddler, bedding, blankets, baby gates, plug covers, door latches, drawer latches…. The list goes on. All of this was paid for at MY expense. I can only claim large items on my taxes – cribs, car seats, etc., not the smaller items like feeding, toys, bedding…
In addition to all of this, my home has a built in swimming pool out back. We had to invest in fencing around our pool before we were even approved to begin fostering. The bill for that was well over $1000.
Since I have kids of both genders coming in and out of my home every few weeks (remember, less than 21 days), I have tubs in my garage of clothing I have bought over the years. I have a row of tubs for male, a row for female, as well as a row of gender neutral. I have them divided up – preemie-6 months, 6months to 12 months, 12-18 months, 24 months to 3T. So you can imagine the amount of clothes that is – 4 tubs of girls, 4 tubs of boys, and 4 tubs of gender neutral. These tubs have to include clothes for any season. I also have to have a variety of shoes, socks, baby tights, outwear… Plus Halloween costumes, swim suits, etc.
Most kids come in to my home with nothing. They have the clothes they were changed in to after being taken to the children’s center for evaluation, bathing, and to prepare them for placement. And whatever personal belongings they have are given to me in a bag with their name on it. I inventory what they come in with so that it leaves with them. When I pick up a newborn from the hospital, they have nothing unless I stop by the children’s center and ask them for a newborn bag so that I can have a few items to send with them when they leave (all items from the children’s center are donated by the community, so are typically used).
If I want to use any hair bows or hats, I have to have them in multiple sizes. I have plenty of items, the same I did for my own kids.
Because I never know when I will be picking up a new placement (the calls come at all times, but typically after most places close, middle of the night, or on weekends), I always keep baby foods, formula, etc. on hand. I have baby cereal, baby food, finger foods, and a variety of baby formulas – normal, soy, gentle on the tummy, high calorie… I have to keep a close watch on the expiration dates and rotate it with the foods I pick up with WIC vouchers to be sure it doesn’t expire on me and my money is not wasted. Often I pick up a baby and don’t get to WIC for another 2-3 days (depending upon if it is a weekend or what other needs the child has that prevent me from getting an appointment).
My diaper cabinet is crazy. It impresses the workers every time they come by the house and ask to see all of the things I have for the baby. I have a cabinet in my hallway that is nothing but diapers. I have a complete package of everything from preemie through size 5, including swimmer diapers. I have an ample supply of wipes on hand, too. I have had times when I picked up a baby and didn’t have the right size diapers so had to do an emergency run to whatever store was open in the middle of the night to buy them.
Washes, soaps, creams, etc.
Because there are so many needs of the kids I have, I have a huge variety of lotions, creams, soaps, and washes. I have everything from sensitive skin to hypoallergenic organic to speciality items for eczema to non-scented… I also have to keep Dreft and non-scented laundry soap and dryer sheets on hand and wash all of their items seperately if they have allergies or sensitivities.
Medications and Supplies
Meds are a no no without a prescription from the doctor. But homeopathic remedies are allowed. I have had the home nurses from the department help me with what I can and cannot have, but they still caution me to have the doctor make a note on my paperwork for the homeopathic remedies, too. Any meds that are prescribed and in the kid’s name immediately go with them, but I keep other homeopathic things on hand. That includes teething tablets, gripe water, saline spray, and natural creams for rashes.
I also have the basic needs – thermometers (I have tried a few kinds – the forehead, the ear, the pacifier, the strips), nasal aspirators, up to date first aid kits in the cars, hallway, and items in the diaper bags…
Am I in it for the money? I don’t think I need to answer that. I spend far more than I make considering how much I have to replace (did you know car seats expire after so long?), restock, and add to what I have. And if I want anything extra – baby monitors, night lights, baby carriers or slings, car accessories like a mat under the car seat or baby mirrors – I have to do it all on my own in addition to the basic requirements. My family enjoys bike riding, so the only way we have been able to continue enjoying our family rides, we had to invest in a bike trailer and safety equipment for the fosters. And when we have a newborn, we have to forgo any bike riding since the baby cannot ride in the trailer.
I have two biological children that I birthed and have raised. Have I spent any less on the fosters than I did on my own boys? I would say I spend much more now than I did when raising my own boys, and not just because I need a variety of items for different ages and genders. I buy what I feel would make our lives better, what I want for taking care of these babies and giving them the best life I can for the time I have them.
It always angers me when someones claims foster parents are in it for the money or they say we get paid to take care of these kids. That may be the case for some people, but I know a lot of wonderful families who do this and spend just as much, if not more, than my family does. Don’t lump every foster parent in the same category and make blanket assumptions. Take a look at the reality of what a foster parent “makes” for fostering. It can be an eye opener.