It’s Time to Really Pay Foster Parents

Our current foster care structure is based on an outdated model: families with one breadwinner and a stay-at-home mom. This traditional family had sufficient income and personal resources to take in foster children. Not for money, but for love.

Blogger Co-opThe per diem they receive is not considered income, but simply a reimbursement for expenses. In fact, while data on the amount of per diem varies throughout the United States, most reports show it well below what it actually costs to care for a child in foster care. Foster parents were, and still are, volunteers.

Family life has changed dramatically over the past generation. As a result, significant shortages of foster homes are being reported in many large states today. Recruitment is becoming more difficult. Why is this? Because women have joined the work force in large numbers, leaving very few stay-at-home parents. Most households today have two wage-earners, with children in out-of-home care of some kind, and families who state that they are busy all the time.

Our current foster care system pays everyone but the ones who work 24/7 and bear the heaviest burdens of care and responsibility. Not only that, we treat foster parents poorly. They are given little say in conferences and in court where decisions are made. And when the birth parents complain or things otherwise go wrong, the foster parents often face allegations. We have relied on their love of children to recruit and retain them.

We don’t expect volunteers to handle other serious problems. We pay people to care for those who are seriously ill, to provide residential care for our elderly, or daytime child care for working parents. We value these tasks and expect to pay for them. Yet we call on volunteers and lean on their generosity to take care of our most vulnerable children.

If we wish our wards to have family homes, the answer to our foster home shortage seems both obvious and inevitable: stop depending on volunteers.

In order to compete with the lure of a job in the outside world, provide the stay-at-home foster parent with reasonable compensation, the equivalent of a second income. Adequate compensation for foster parents offers many advantages:

  1. Recruitment would improve dramatically. The offer of a reasonable salary with benefits would attract a considerably larger number and variety of family homes. No more need for begging within a shrinking pool of homebound parents willing to work for free. Child welfare departments and agencies would not have to settle for just anyone who “makes the cut” but would likely have choices.
  1. Standard hiring practices, using references, resumes, background checks, and interviews would replace the current variety of home study formats.
  1. Employment opportunities would be available for those who value the opportunity to work from the home.
  1. Interpersonal skills, an underrated resource in our technological society, would become a job skill. Those persons who have the desire and capacity to offer nurture and effective discipline to children would be valued.
  1. Better maintenance and control are possible with a contract for services. As volunteers, foster parents are free to drop out as other choices beckon or the task becomes too difficult. A volunteer system is fluid and hard to count on. By signing a contract for a defined time period, the critical foster home resource would stabilize.

Some may object on the grounds that paying foster parents will prove too costly. Others may warn that money might replace love as a primary motivation, or that better compensation for foster care will delay permanence. These important issues will be discussed in a forthcoming companion blog: “For Love or Money.”

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Jim Kenny
About Jim Kenny 36 Articles
Jim Kenny is a retired psychologist with over 50 years of clinical experience. The author of 13 books on family and child care, Dr. Kenny’s recent books are Attachment and Bonding in the Foster and Adopted Child and What Foster Parents Need to Know.

7 Comments

  1. I’m a single foster mom. I have had my child since birth and have to work from home. They don’t even compensate me at all for the well being of my child. I did it for the love of her and now it’s just insane. It is a struggle everyday just to get by but I am a mom and i find a way every day. I really wish law makers would step in . I feel used by the system as well as the family. I would love to adopt her……she only knows me ……what am I supposed to do

  2. Please, please, please send this to law makers and government. As a foster mom for two years holding an infant in my arms now it is so ridiculous that I get paid $14 a day for 24 hours of work, diapers, clothes, gas to doctors, etc. I definitely come out in the red. My husband happens to have a good job so I can but I still feel used. So much is required of us and the hoops to jump through are far more than employment. These hoops are fine because I do not want children to go from one bad home to another but we should definitely be considered government employees and have the benefits and pay that we rightfully deserve. Thank you for this awesome, necessary article!!!

  3. As a single foster mom, the costs of childcare and housing in my expensive California county are my main concerns as I imagine and worry about my family’s future. But if you’re only talking about a “second income” wage for a stay at home caregiver, it wouldn’t help single parent households (or potential SP foster homes) like mine. I’d rather see increased subsidies to cover costs of childcare. When I have a child under 3, the foster stipend only covers 68% the cost of childcare alone. Another stipend I apply for separately makes up the difference, but it only lasts for 6 months. And how about housing assistance? I imagine housing grants for existing licensed families could add rooms=beds in households that have already proven their parenting potential. 35% of my income goes to my 2br apartment, no yard. Since I can only afford one bedroom for children, and common sense and regulation allows only 2 kids per room, I’m maxed at 2 and I concurrent plan for boys only. I cant afford boy-girl sibs who will need separate bedrooms when one turns 6. (And I choose boys because they suit me!) So I continue to dream and plot of another bedroom and yard and the family that could be!!

  4. Single foster dad here and I work about 35 hours per week. 30 hours of training per year. I want to adopt but can’t afford the child care during the summer. It’s tough now doing this but I love the kids and get by. To be honest my foster care money helps give myself and the foster kids a pretty good life. Adopting however then would not be as comfortable. The system today does not promote permanency nor new foster homes. Just no incentive. At least monetary

  5. Last year we had four foster children from three different counties in our home. All of whom we were planning to adopt. We both run businesses from our home. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to do this. It requires BOTH of us to be at home, not just one of us.

    In a single moth, between three different sets of county social workers, FFA workers, ILP workers, CASA workers, lawyers, doctors, dentists, counselors, adoptions workers, family visits, music lessons, horseback riding, tutoring, 504/IEP meetings, teacher conferences, and much more, we had over 72 meetings and appointments in town.

    This is with FOUR children. We live an hour from town, so this means a two hour round trip every single time. They are in independent learning through a Charter school because if they weren’t, they’d never be in school and fall behind. They’re lucky that my husband and I share 3 Master’s degrees between the two of us and are equipped and capable of teaching them, even helping them excel in school but many foster parents are not this educated or well-trained. Few hold degrees in behavioral health fields as I do and few are provided the degree of training our FFA affords them.

    If I were an average foster parent trying to run children all over Northern California between three different counties over 4 hours apart from one another, for 72 different appointments a month, and NOT being compensated for my gas or mileage, I’d have been burned out a long time ago. However, these kids are our lives, they are our family. We are lucky enough to be blessed with a good income and we would do anything to ensure our children are successful in life.

    I don’t blame foster parents for burning out. Their hearts are broken time and again by pain and loss. They connect to children that sometimes can’t bond or love them in return or when they do, they are torn away from them to return to families that only hurt them again. They hear horror stories about group homes, foster homes, and bio families that would break a heart of stone. They rail against a system designed to beat them down, use them, falsely accuse them (it happens to each of us at some point by bio families, foster kids who think this will get them back with their parents, or even county workers who just don’t like you because of your religion, your methods, or you standing up for the kids), dismiss their input (the people who spend 24 hours a day with the child), and then toss them aside when they develop secondary trauma as a result of all the horrors they have seen. How can a good, loving foster family win in such a situation?

    We can’t. The system is broken, not just for us for EVERYONE. It is broken for the parents, it is broken for the foster families, but most of all it is broken for the kids who get tossed around again and again learning not to trust adults or the system and getting abused further by those foster families who really don’t care anymore because they have burned out and become desensitized to it all.

    Foster parents should be provided free counseling services. The things we hear from our children is traumatic and painful and we cry into our pillows at night. We feel useless to do anything to help when we report other foster parents for abuse and nothing happens. We feel unsupported when we’re accused of wrongdoing and no one stands up for us. We are wounded by the love we give that is often not returned, even though we do it knowing and expecting it probably won’t be, but we are still human and it hurts. Not that we aren’t receiving love back but that the little wounded soul we love so much isn’t able to, can’t do it, can’t trust, that’s what hurts us.

    It should hurt this country that so many of these young people are being hurt like this. That we know through so much research how we could be doing better and we haven’t yet done it. We could tear this system down and rebuild something better, more effective, and more affordable. That we’d have less people in prison, less young former foster children becoming pregnant before age 20, less 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation foster children entering the system. We could do that but we won’t because we’re too dam worried that foster parents might be “in it for the money.”

  6. I’ve thought about this a lot. I think Canada has “professionalized” foster parents in this way? As a working foster parent I am extremely frustrated by how my time is disregarded along with having no place at the table to make decisions in my foster child’s life.

    Two concerns. First, foster parents who burn out but have become dependent on the income and benefits (health insurance anyone?). Abuse is already a problem in foster homes, take out the voluntary piece and the stress “needing” the foster child sky-rockets and is an equation for disaster.

    Second, foster kids feeling as if they’re foster parents don’t love them and are “only in it for the money”. This is already an obstacle- one I plan to deal with as my adopted-from-foster-care daughter grows older.

    Why not just get real about the cost of raising a foster child and adjust the stipend? Or even if foster care paid for a proper day care and not just a neighbor’s basement “center”. I’d much rather have multiple vouchers to help with accountability rather than cash. Daycare, taxi money to visits (multiple toddlers on the train/bus adds hours to a day), swim lessons at the YMCA, clothes to match the [birth] parents wishes, maybe a stipend for every day I take off work for a meeting at the foster agency so that everyone else can be accommodated during their paid hours? Things like that would be a start!

    • Physical and verbal abuse, along with neglect, is the result of being stressed, frustrated, overworked, with extremely high expectations and no real help, respect, advice, etc. Feeling stressed would be reduced with compensation because foster parents would feel appreciated and respected. Foster parents often pay for things such as clothes, childcare, gas, etc. out of their own pockets because the per diem is not enough. The foster parents’ lives and interests are put on hold while they spend nearly all of there time caring for foster children, scheduling appointments, traveling to and from visits, doctors appointments, therapy, etc. These things are work and they take up more than 40 hours a week, in addition to a full-time job. By being compensated, like any other job, foster parents may even be able to quit their full-time jobs and focus more on caring for these hurting children. Teachers, social workers and day care workers often times care and even love the children they work for and face similar burnout. They also depend on a pay check. Rarely do they abuse their charges. They have a lot less work, they get insurance, are paid and get more time off. Most people would never assume that teachers or doctors should work for free because they should love people. If the job of foster parenting is important, which it is, it is worth paying a competitive salary for. As the article says, by paying the foster parents, DCS can fire them and have a better pool of candidates to select from. Foster parents are not real parents. There are many things they do not have the authority to do, and they never know when the children will be moving on. The real concern is why would a person pay to take care of children that are not their own? I can come up with three reasons: A calling from God; they hope to adopt; or a reason that is very scary. Paid employees can be very loving, there is a larger and better group to select from, they can be fired, and they don’t usually feel used.
      Supposedly DCS pays for gas, clothes, extracurriculars, childcare, etc. But when you try to get approved or reimbursed for these things, it doesn’t happen. You’re told to pay for it out of your $20 a day per diem. Think about the cost of childcare per day. That’s at least $20, everything else, including most of the food bills, comes from the foster parent’s pockets.

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