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Life as a Foster Parent: The Day to Day

It’s been 2 months since we started our foster adventure.  Today I wanted to write about our experiences so far as foster parents.  What is it like to be a foster parent?

Two Foster Placements To Date

To date, we’ve had two foster placement.    If you remember from my earlier piece we are primarily taking babies.   Our first child stayed only a week.   The second child stayed for about 6 weeks.  For the purposes of privacy I will not write much about the specific children but rather the experiences we had while they were with us.

Short Term Foster Parents

First, the thing to understand is our children were placed for exceptionally short periods.  Very few children are placed for only a period of a few weeks.  That being said because of the short duration we also were exposed to most of the parts of the system, which is really the point of this piece.

An Opaque Over Burdened System

The first thing to understand is the Foster system is full of overworked and underpaid workers.   In the course of our 8 weeks in the system we have seen first hand that the system is very loosely managed.    From the day the second child was delivered to our home until the day she left we struggled to find out any information about the child.   

Ultimately we found out a lot more from the court system then from the state.  That experience continued all the way through to the child moving on, with notification happening mere hours before the baby was removed from our home.  Lest you think we are an exception, we have a few friends who are also fostering.  Their experiences have been nearly identical.

Foster Training Shows the Should Be Rather Than the Is

This was in direct contrast to what we were led to believe during orientation.  Things were spelled out as happening on a strict schedule.  Regular communication was mentioned.  None of that happened which made things unnecessarily stressful until we learned that was the way it is.

How Does it Feel for a Child to Leave?

What about the children departing?   That was definitely as painful as you think it could be.  After 6 weeks with no indication to have a child leave suddenly is most certainly jarring.  This is the case whether you expected it as a possibility or not.  Still, this is what we signed up for.  In an ideal world we would have ample notification, it’s just often not the way it is.  The best we can do is accept it, understand by going with a family member it helps the child stay connected to where they came from, and move on.  In our case, we chose to take a few weeks break between kids to come to grips with the results.

Financial Ramifications of Being a Foster Parent

What about the financial ramifications of foster care?  Well, the state paid almost all the daily expenses for the babies.  The children both received benefits through WIC.  It felt really weird as one of the wealthier members of the community to employ WIC.  The looks and judgment were definitely in full effect.  Walk in and pull out the WIC card.  Ring up twice, once for items under WIC and once for the rest of your groceries.  Get weird looks from the people watching you as you just spent $100 on groceries and yet got 20 dollars in formula on the state.    It’s a humbling way to be reminded not to judge others.

To Take WIC or Not?

A note, some people honestly debate whether they should accept WIC for their foster child if they are well to do.  Ultimately we decided by accepting the benefits to which the baby was entitled it would enable us to better care for the children.  WIC covered most of the babies formula for the month.  In our state, the money is allocated in terms of purchase allotments to a card.  Honestly, if we were on the late stage track to the adoption of this child I am not sure we would continue to utilize the benefits.

Clothing Allowance

In addition to WIC, the state provides a clothing allowance when a child grows out of clothes.  We did not have to utilize this because of the brevity of the stay, clothes from our older children, and gifts from family members.    As such I cannot comment on this financial impact.

Day Care

In our state depending on your situation, the state may pay for child care for the child during your working hours. The kids we have taken to date are too young for daycare, so we have not had the opportunity to use this function. It is likely for a long term placement we would use part-time care to allow my wife to continue her business activities.

Community Discounts

We also received some discounts for being a foster parent from a few organizations we already utilize.  Our YMCA membership is discounted by 75% while we have a placement.  Amazon offers a discounted Prime membership for foster parents.   

We took advantage of the YMCA one.  We typically would drop our YMCA membership in the summer since we have a pool membership.  The discounted rate allows us to keep our membership over the summer.  The obvious tie in with foster care is the free 2 hours a day daycare capability gives my wife an emergency sanity break opportunity should the need arise.    3 kids at home in the summer, I know she will need a break from time to time.  Honestly, these are not huge numbers, but they do help to defray some of the costs.

Stipends for Foster Parenting

Finally, we received a stipend of $13 a day while the child was here.   The amount of this stipend was dictated by our training level and the difficulty of the child.  If we get additional training the amount ratchets up a bit with each set of training.  We are ultimately shooting to go up one level, which would lead to a $15 a day stipend. 

In our case, the rationale my wife uses to shoot for additional training is it might make us more inviting to other placements and help us in our fostering.  Honestly $13 or $15 dollars, neither amounts to much more than a rounding error for us.    So it’s not about the money for us.  But I could see how someone wanting to foster to make money would be incentivized to take as many classes as possible.  They do at least tell people fostering for money is a bad idea, but I know there are folks out there that do it.

In general, the daily stipend a foster parent receives is allocated for incidentals.    In our experience, we did spend the entire stipend on the baby, and then some.  Still, it is possible we could end up with excess funds in the future.  For now, the stipend plus additional funds out of pocket are paying for our startup costs of fostering.  Things like bottles, a new car seat, and even a used stroller cost money.    I suspect for many in the longer term more would come in via the stipend than costs, but it would take some time.   

In our case, I find it doubtful we’ll ever end up ahead financially directly from fostering.  In general, the addition of a foster child requires much higher time utilization than our existing two children.  That means in order to keep up we have outsourced some activities and decreased my wife’s business projects.  It’s highly unlikely the stipend will ever cover those costs. (nor is it designed too)  Thankfully we’re not doing this to make money, we are doing it to help children and potentially adopt.  That is the way it should be.  But I still find the financial aspects of fostering fascinating.

Taxes and Being a Foster Parent

A few more things on the financial front to be aware of.  If a child is in your custody for 6 months of the year then you can potentially claim the child-care tax credit for them on your taxes.    Also if your work, like mine, provides an adoption credit you might be able to claim it when you adopt from foster care.  That credit may very well exceed the cost to adopt.     Neither of these situations applies to us today, though they may sometime in the future.

My general conclusion from what I have seen so far is if we were to end up adopting, financially fostering would be a wash.  Comparatively, giving natural birth to our children cost $6K.  Private adoption is more like $30-40K.    Less financial and more personal, I suspect to get to adoption will require at least a handful of placements.  That is a handful of children helped, but that’s also a handful of heartache moments when some children get reunified.  You take the good with the bad as a foster parent.

7 Comments

  1. Xrayvsn
    Xrayvsn May 20, 2019

    Interesting deep dive post on a topic I know nothing about. The part about the judging looks by others in line for WIC grocery use was especially enlightening. I can imagine you are buying expensive groceries and then have to do another checkout for WIC. Good point about not judging others.

    It would be hard to have a child for such a short time and then all of sudden told that you won’t have anymore.

  2. Joe
    Joe May 20, 2019

    I really admire you and your wife for taking up this challenge. Thank you. Foster kids need all the help they can get. The short term stay sounds really tough. I would be able to deal with the emotional toll. Did you get attached to the kids?
    Best wishes

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance May 22, 2019

      Of course. I doubt anyone could have a child in your home for weeks and not get attached. Despite them leaving us we have their pictures mounted on our family wall. But at same time you adapt knowing their doing ok. For our first placement we hear from his placement parents occasionally. For the second we’ve heard nothing since she left us and probably never will.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience! As you noted, most people are who become foster parents do so to help provide a stable placement for children in crisis, as you have, rather than as a way to make money. Thank you for being so generous, it takes a special person & strong family to open up heart & home.

    I also appreciated your comments about using WIC – it’s a challenge and a hassle for low-income people to utilize these benefits, too, due to the restrictions of what can be purchased & the judgment from others. For another first-hand perspective on this, see Stephanie Land’s book, “Maid” about a single mom who struggled to make ends meet despite having a job and receiving government assistance. Sometimes (most of the time) we have no idea how hard it is for others.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance May 22, 2019

      The only way to truly understand someone’s life is to walk a mile in their shoes. But since we don’t have magic shoes anywhere the best approach is to just not judge.

  4. Radical FIRE
    Radical FIRE May 22, 2019

    Love this article about being a foster parent, I can only imagine how hard it would be to have a kid you take care of leave within a couple of weeks. It sounds like a hard, fulfilling, and amazing thing to do.

    I really admire that you take this on, great job!

  5. Crispy Doc
    Crispy Doc May 27, 2019

    It’s inspiring to read about how you and your wife are trying to heal a broken world despite a broken system.

    Each kid you touch, each bit of affection you can provide, helps tilt the odds ever so imperceptibly towards a better outcome.

    Is vs. Should Be is a problem with most of life’s institutions. Caring for kids who have no one to care for them is an incredible way to serve.

    Not much to add, just in awe of your example and grateful to you for sharing the reality with others who might follow your lead.

    Fondly,

    CD

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