Maybe you’ve heard the stereotype, “Foster parents are just in it for the money.” For those of us that are actual foster parents, we laugh and say, “What money?!” Truth is, foster parents receive a stipend in exchange for stepping up to the plate. Trust me when I say it isn’t paying for luxury vacations and sport cars.
There’s an existential question that gets asked as well. As a friend once inquired, “Why should I, the American taxpayer, pay you anything for your desire to have children.” Deep breath. Lord, where do I begin on that one? It should be moot by the end of this post.
There are different levels of foster care. In North Carolina, you’ll find family, therapeutic and intensive alternative family therapy (IAFT). Children are placed with families in one of these three groupings according to the intensity of their trauma experiences. Let’s be clear, children who experience foster care come because of the actions of others, not their own.
Foster parent training and requirements grow more complex from family to IAFT. As a therapeutic family, we have additional training that allows us to work with children who have endured more intense experiences and need additional love and care. This also means that we are expected to manage a heavier load of doctor appointments, therapies, school needs and more in depth legal issues. Translated: more time, more gas, more energy, more financial resources.
Foster parenting is 24/7 volunteer service to the community. One should not become a foster parent if they aren’t ready to roll their sleeves up and get to the hard tasks. Helping children heal from trauma and providing a safe place while parents work a reunification plan is the most wonderful thing you’ll ever do. It is also one of the hardest experiences any person will ever undertake. There is no right compensation for the hours of tears, sweat, hugs, hard conversation and advocacy any good foster parent pours into the role.
Pragmatically speaking, IAFT parents, who provide intensive round-the-clock care for heavily traumatized children are the equivalent of full-time, professional foster parents in our state. For family and therapeutic parents in NC, monthly stipends range from $475 to about $2,000 each month, in rare cases, based on the child’s age and complexity of needs.
But why? Children in care have medicaid, so medical bills are covered. Except for over the counter items like tylenol or cold/flu medicines. Or items that help children overcome trauma such as heavy-weight blankets, special clocks, therapeutic toys and other items.
Children who come into care often need an entire new wardrobe. Sadly, many times a child comes to your home with just the clothes on their back. That requires continual wardrobe-building as you acquire a complete wardrobe over the course of many months.
Then, there are the appointments. It’s very common for children in care to have many therapies, doctor visits and other healing-related appointments each week. At our peak, we were averaging about 400 miles a week just keeping up with a heavy therapy schedule, not to mention transporting the child to their visits with the bio parents (DSS can’t always do it) and our licensing classes, court hearings and other care-related appointments. We were frequent visitors to the gas pump, to put it mildly.
Then, there are the added expenses that come with adding children to your home. Food, water, electricity, other utilities. Add to that small luxuries such as eating out, going to the movies (well, when we could do that) and fun trips and getaways and vacations. Also, don’t forget the expenses related to extracurricular activities such as soccer, piano, dance and martial arts.
That stipend doesn’t go very far. Most parents I know pour out far, far more than comes in from the county. That’s why foster care is a labor of love — certainly not a “job” for a paycheck. When I hear people talking about how much we get paid, I shake my head and keep on keeping on. When you’re not in the trenches, you really don’t understand.