Whenever a foster parent hears the question, “Aren’t you getting paid for this?” it is an immediate, bite-your-tongue and try-to-keep-your-eyes-from-rolling-out-of-your-head moment. I assure you, foster parenting is NOT a lucrative way to make money. Yes, foster parents get paid monthly. No, this does not cover the costs of adding another child (or children) to the household.
In order to become a foster parent, one of the requirements is to show you are financially stable. This is so that the agency can be assured that you won’t be “counting” on any monthly stipends you may receive when fostering a child. Why don’t they want you to actually need these payments? They know, as do all experienced foster families, that these payments are not enough. They also do not want your family to become dependent on receiving a payment to make ends meet, because you never know when a placement will arrive or leave. These payments are not meant to be considered income.
So, what are these payments for?
Monthly stipends given to foster parents are meant to help offset the costs of the basics: food, clothing, transportation, and daily needs.
Each state has its own way of determining what the stipend will be, based on the cost of living and other factors. This article has a wonderful breakdown of each state’s range of pay and links to each state’s information on fostering.
State’s often give a larger amount for older kids and kids who have special needs.
Often, kids come with very little as far as clothing and personal care items. Some kids come with nothing at all. In some areas, there is a reimbursement for clothing expenses, but the reimbursement typically doesn’t cover the full amount. Outfitting a child from head to foot, in one shopping trip, can be expensive. Added to clothing expenses are basics like toothbrushes, hair products, deodorant, shoes, coats, and other necessities, and the $500 or less that they are willing to reimburse is usually insufficient.
You may also need to buy specialty items for individual children. For example, if you take in a baby, you may need to make the initial purchase of a crib or baby swing. The cost to stock up on baby essentials, such as bottles, burp cloths, teethers, and bouncy chairs adds up especially quickly.
Or, if you have a school-aged child placed in your care, the cost to purchase all that they need for school in a timely manner can be overwhelming. As mentioned, the kids often do not come with many items. Some kids will require special school items like expensive graphing calculators, sports equipment, school activity fees, etc.
And, let’s not forget the special occasion fees. If you have an older child placement who wants to attend prom (those dresses are hundreds of dollars these days), or a child who plays sports and wants to attend a special camp, a child who is learning to drive and will want help getting a car, or those expensive amusement park tickets so they can join in the fun with their friends. There are also instruments that you may need to purchase, the cost of field trips, school photos, and cell phone bills.
I can assure you, the monthly stipend for foster care is not going to cover all the needs of a child.
Another thing to consider when thinking about monthly payments is the time you are dedicating to helping your foster child. Fostering a child is a big time commitment. It is not like a job, where you clock in for 8-10 hours per day and are allowed time off after hours. There is no time off. As a matter of fact, you will likely dedicate much of your time to a foster placement’s schedule and may even miss time at your regular job.
Most foster care placements will need transportation to and from their visits with their families. They will often have doctor appointments weekly for therapy. They may have appointments or visitations more than once a week. These appointments may not be nearby, and each may take hours out of your day in drive time and waiting.
It can be challenging to maintain a regular job and be able to also accommodate the time required for fostering children. On top of that, if you have other children in your home, you must also coordinate things with their schedules. Often, other children will feel a bit left out as you may miss events due to your foster placement’s visitation or therapy schedules. If your child has sports every week that happen to fall on the same day as your foster child’s weekly visit with their family, you are now in the tight spot of disappointing your child in order to accommodate the schedule of your foster child.
If you are trying to keep a job outside of the home at the same time as you foster, you may need daycare. Some states will help with daycare costs, but not all of them do. So in some areas, the hundreds of dollars you will need to pay monthly is taken from that monthly stipend. Sometimes, the daycare costs will exceed that stipend, and you are paying above and beyond for all other needs.
And while you may think that some foster parents are doing this for money, I hope this helps you realize that they are likely spending far more than they are receiving. The average amount as estimated here that a foster parent receives monthly is approximately $20-25 per day. With a day being 24 hours long, this is about $1 per hour.
I know many people are thinking, “But the kids are asleep for 8-10 hours per night.” I am here to assure you that that is not always the case.
Infants will have you up every few hours for feedings and to be changed. If you take an infant placement, you will likely be sleep deprived.
What about older kids and teens? Surely, you will not need to worry about them during the night, right? WRONG. Many children (not all) will experience sleep issues when placed into foster care. Let’s face it, they are in a stranger’s home, in an unfamiliar bed, without their comfort items. Teens can also face difficult nights. In some cases, kids will sneak out of their rooms to hoard food or to try to run away. If a child is feeling depressed, you may find you need to take them for evaluations at the emergency room for hours in the middle of the night. These are all scenarios that foster parents face. We do not get “nights off.” We are full time in caring for the children who are placed with us. Even when it means we get less than three hours of sleep after a long, hard night, and still need to wake up and get everyone where they need to be on time (which may include a full day of work for themselves).
Is this $1 an hour sounding like it is a good deal? Remember, food and clothing for them is also coming out of this $1 per hour. So, your “take home” pay, if this were considered an income, would be far less.
This is why foster parents struggle to get others to realize that the monthly stipend is not a lucrative offer from the state to pay them for taking placement of foster kids. They are not making money, and the monthly payment is not intended to be income for them, but rather to help offset the costs of adding a child to the household.
Because there is money involved though, many people fail to see that this money is not an income for the family. A family should not come to depend on these monthly stipends, as they can stop at any time should the child be reunited with their family. This is part of the reason you must prove financial stability prior to becoming a licensed foster parent.
Children who realize that their placement comes with a monthly stipend to the family often have a hard time understanding that foster parents are not “making money” from caring for them. Some older kids are told that stipends are involved by family members or other members of the community. Oftentimes, this conversation is meant to discredit the intentions of the foster parents. It can often cause some serious household tension. If a child believes they are not truly wanted and just a few extra dollars for the family, they will not feel as though they are really a part of the family or that they are wanted and cared for. I have even experienced kids asking for “their share” of the stipend after they learn of its existence. Kids do not often understand that the cost of food, fuel to and from appointments, time taken off work to accommodate those appointments, and extra costs of having another person added to the household often costs money above and beyond the stipend. Children do not always see the rationale behind the monthly stipend and feel they are owed some money too.
This can be difficult for foster parents to explain to kids who are told that foster parents do this for profit.
No kid wants to feel they are being cared for “just for money.” And the truth is, foster parenting is such an emotional journey that I cannot comprehend that anyone would take on this responsibility hoping to profit or expecting to. The emotional toll alone is definitely not worth the amount you are given each month. Foster parenting is a very emotional journey. And there is no real price to put on that emotional roller coaster that is a foster care placement.
If you are a member of the community, or relative of a child who is in foster care, please think twice before discussing foster care stipends with them. While the stipend is not intended to be a big secret, it is also not really intended for the children to deal with. Financial issues should be adult issues and not a burden for children to deal with. When a child learns about stipends, it can be hurtful to them emotionally if they do not truly understand how they are meant to be used. It can cause family disagreements and hurt feelings. Foster care is difficult enough without the extra hurt that financial issues can bring.
Again, I want to point out that the financial aspect should not be considered a secret though. If a child asks, “Do you receive money?” you should not lie. Answer the child with honesty, but also with examples of how the money is used to meet the child’s needs. Explain how your regular job also pays you a salary to meet financial needs and the cost of living. Allowing a child to understand the stipend after they are aware of it is better than lying about its existence.
It is difficult to discuss the stipend, as it seems to bring about negativity, for foster children, foster parents, and those in the community. People often misunderstand the intentions, and the amounts and expenses that go along with these placements. I hope that reading this gives a better understanding of the purpose of the stipend, as well as an understanding that these stipends are not making any foster parent wealthy.
There are some areas changing the way foster care is done.
Some states are beginning to realize that the monthly stipends are typically inadequate, and are moving toward making some foster parents into “professional foster parents.” These states are requiring at least one parent to be home full-time, and for them to receive additional training. In return, these families are receiving a greater payment that is considered equivalent to a job salary for being available at all times and for caring for at-risk foster care youth.
This new trend is still in early phases in most areas, and it is not yet clear if extra training and having one person devote themselves entirely to caring for the children for a salary is something that will improve or hinder the system as a whole.
I know, for myself, as a foster parent, money was never a motivator for me. I would like to believe that most people feel the same way and foster because they love children and want to help families.
Jennifer is a mother to 3 children (one biological, two adopted). She is also a mom to numerous pets. She enjoys volunteering in her children’s classroom, reading, and crafting in her spare time. She has been married for almost 15 years.