You Get Paid For This, Right?

Art of the Brick

When you are a foster parent, you get asked a lot of questions by people who are curious.  Some of the questions are awkward or personal, but we like to think of ourselves as an open book for people to learn about the foster care journey. One question that seems to come up repeatedly is about compensation for being a foster parent. Depending on the company, this question usually comes up one of two ways.  The first scenario is as follows:

“So forgive me for asking, and please, don’t feel like you need to tell me, and definitely let me know if this is too personal…but, you get paid to do this, right?”

The second scenario that often occurs is:

“Wow, that sounds crazy and like a lot of work, how much do they pay you to do this?”

Honestly, no matter how it comes up is fine with us. We are happy to answer these questions. We want people to see how foster care works in real life, what it feels like for ordinary people, all of the ups and downs, the triumphs and tribulations, the beauty and the blemishes.  So, this post will be about the financial aspect of foster care.  Typically, personal finances are a taboo subject for conversation and a private affair, but personally, Aaron geeks over finances, and it is of course an important aspect of being a parent, foster or other.

Reimbursement

Technically, we do not get paid for being foster parents, we get “reimbursed” for the foster care we provide.  The word reimbursement is in quotes because it actually has nothing to do with our expenses, it is just a payment made to us by DHS at the end of every month.  There are various “reimbursements” paid to foster families for different types of children (those who are developmentally delayed, those who have extreme behavior issues, etc.) all of which can be viewed on the DHS websitebut the base monthly rates in Oregon are as follows:

Age:            Monthly Reimbursement
0-5 years        $575
6-12 years      $655
13-20 years    $741

So yes, we receive compensation from the state for caring for children in foster care, at the end of each month they are in our home.  Depending on your current financial status, as well as the current number of children you are providing for in your home, you may think that this is a lot of money or a small amount of money for raising a child.  The reimbursement rate provided to Oregon foster families from DHS has not been increased in decades, but there is currently a provision in the current fiscal budget to increase the foster care reimbursement rate.  This provision states that it would increase the reimbursement rate to equal approximately 60% of the average monthly cost to raise a child.  This shows us that yes, we are being “paid” to foster children, but according to the state, it is not intended to cover the entire cost of raising a child, and at current rates, it is less than 60% of the average national cost of raising a child.

The reimbursement rate provided to Oregon foster families from DHS has not been increased in decades

Some people say parenting is a full-time job. It isn’t. It is much more than that. It is exhausting and it is 24-hours a day.  Raising a child can also be expensive.  The reimbursement table above shows that the government has determined what they feel is the appropriate amount of reimbursement for foster parents to adequately provide for a child in their care. To some, at first glance, the lump sum reimbursement rate may look like a significant amount of money.  When broken down though, it starts to seem a little less generous.  The reimbursement table can also be broken down to hourly reimbursement, assuming parenting is a full time job, and a standard 40-hours a week, the hourly reimbursement rate looks like this:

Age:               Hourly Reimbursement 
                         @ 40-hrs/week

0-5 years        $3.59
6-12 years      $4.09
13-20 years    $4.63
So in Oregon, where the State Minimum Wage is currently $9.75/hr, the State has determined that the reimbursement rate for a foster parent, assuming they only receive reimbursement for 40-hrs/week, should be less than half of the minimum wage.  If you take more of a pessimistic (or realistic) look at the time it requires to be a parent (foster or otherwise), and view parenting as something that occurs 24-hrs a day, the reimbursement rate looks a little but worse…
Age:               Hourly Reimbursement 
 @ 24-hrs/day

0-5 years        $0.79
6-12 years      $0.91
13-20 years    $1.03

*Side Note: there are two adults in this home, and together we struggle to keep up with all the needs and appointments of our kiddos, as years of neglect require a lot of catch up appointments. Our current kids have an amazing caseworker who is the third parent in this team. We couldn’t do it without her.

Context

Ok, so those are the numbers.  The reimbursement rates are all public information.  The idea of being reimbursed for caring for a child is a touchy subject, and we have learned that there are a lot of opinions about it in the foster parent community and the general public. We too, are also a bit conflicted about the idea. On one hand, nobody makes you become a foster parent, it is a choice you make, and it is not a choice that is driven by the prospect of making money. It is a decision you make because it is something your family wants to do,  you want to love and care for the most vulnerable children in our society. In the purest sense raising children, foster or bio, is not about money, but… obviously money is a factor and kids can be expensive.  On the other hand, if you have a bio-child, you do not get money from the state to raise your child, you are forced to figure it out with the resources your family has available, and it is probably a foreign concept to think about “being paid” hourly to care for your child.  And finally, on the third hand (yes, I know), there is a myth out there that really riles foster parents up, and that myth is that foster parents are doing it for the money and are living a luxurious lifestyle off of funding from the state to care for kiddos in their home.

Nobody makes you become a foster parent, it is a choice you make, and it is not a choice that is driven by the prospect of making money

Like I said, we are conflicted. We are thankful for every dollar of reimbursement we get for the kiddos we care for.  We also fight tooth and nail for every dollar we are promised, because it is not uncommon for checks to go missing, payments to be wrong, reimbursement promises not kept, etc., but when we do this, it makes us feel a little dirty. It is really awkward for us to ask for money from the state, because we would still be doing this even if there was no reimbursement. Also, in the back of our minds, whenever we receive a reimbursement payment at the end of the month, we know that if these were our bio-kiddos, we wouldn’t be getting this assistance. Kids, bio or foster are expensive, and we feel for our friends and family who are going through the budgeting nightmare that is the parenting journey. Finally though, as I hope this post demonstrates, if you are fostering correctly, there is no way you are making money on this journey, and when this commentary comes through, it does hurt.

Placement Expenses

It has been our experience that the cost of raising a child goes down, and normalizes, the longer you are caring for them. So, although the monthly reimbursement may be considered approximately 60% of the cost of raising a child, we can tell you from experience, that it definitely does not cover 60% of the initial costs.  When we were notified of our first placement, Ava, we had 4-hours to purchase everything we needed to care for an infant, since we were anticipating school age children.  So, in 4-hours, we rushed to Ikea and Target to purchase a crib, mattress, bedding, bottles, clothes, diapers, bottles and anything else an infant would need.  Needless to say, we spent multiple times over the first months reimbursement rate in the 4-hours leading up to our first placement.  These purchases also did not include the diapers, food, formula, hygiene products, and additional clothes we needed to purchase the next day, when we realized that our little girl came to us with a small bag full of clothes and not much else.

The thing with being a foster parent is that you cannot plan for your next placement. When we purchased everything for Ava, we thought, “well our next placement will be able to use the crib and other basics we purchased”. Unbeknownst to us, our next placement would be in a month, when we still had Ava, and it was Iliana and Evie, 9 and 12.  It was an emergency placement, and we needed to quickly purchase a couple mattresses and a lot of food for their first night. It was an emergency placement, so we knew that whatever we purchased in the few hours before they arrived would not be covered by the couple of days of stipend we were anticipating.  When they arrived with their trash bag full of clothes that were too small, worn out, and soiled, we knew that the first thing we would do the next morning would be to go shopping for clothes. A few hundred dollars at Old Navy and Fred Meyer provided these kids with confidence, clothes, and hygiene products, which is priceless…but DHS does not provide a stipend for these necessities.

The thing with being a foster parent is that you cannot plan for your next placement.

On Monday, we learned that DHS still had no place for Evie and Iliana to go for a long term placement, so instead of allowing them to staying in a hotel with DHS employees, we found  a summer camp through the City of Portland that had capacity for them, and paid for them to attend, for two weeks, since we both work. Again, typically, DHS does not provide reimbursement for these activities, no matter how short or long your placement is with you.

When Trevor and Ariel were placed with us, along with purchasing a bunk bed, two dressers, and age appropriate toys and clothes for them, we also had to purchase school uniforms.  Within the first week of their placement, I can guarantee our purchases for them exceeded the next 3-months of state reimbursement.

Daycare

When having conversations about foster care and reimbursement, what seems to surprise people the most is that we do not get a stipend or reimbursement for childcare. The total reimbursement listed above is for ALL expenses. 

We both work full-time.  Prior to our first placement, we had told DHS that school age children would be the best fit for us, since we would both continue to work full-time while being foster parents.  Then Ava arrived in our home, and at 11.5 months old, she was not quite ready for school.  To accommodate this, we re-arranged our work schedules as much as possible to limit the number of hours we needed to hire a babysitter to watch Ava. Then we hired an amazing friend/babysitter to care for Ava when we were at work.  At $15 an hour for a babysitter (which is very reasonable for infant care), the reimbursement rate covers about 38 hours of care a month for Ava.  With nothing left over for food or clothes… but that wasn’t a concern for us, because the reimbursement was already spent multiple times over during the 4-hours we raced around making purchases before Ava arrived.

When Evie and Iliana arrived as an emergency placement, we quickly signed them up for summer camps through Portland Parks and Rec, which allowed us to keep them for an extended stay, so DHS had more time to find a long term placement for them. At about $180 for the week at camp, or $36/day, the combined reimbursement rate of $44/day for Evie and Iliana actually covered the camp! But again, we were not too concerned about that, since the initial placement purchases meant the reimbursement was long gone before the first day of camp. None of that mattered though, because at the end of the week we got to watch these two beautiful girls at their camp finale performance. Evie and Iliana beamed with confidence in their new clothes, grinned from ear to ear as they introduced us to their new friends, and for a brief moment forgot about everything they were going through. It was the first time anyone had shown up to any type of performance for them, and we were there, along with Aaron’s Mom, who brought flowers for the girls.

Evie and Iliana beamed with confidence in their new clothes, grinned from ear to ear as they introduced us to their new friends, and for a brief moment forgot about everything they were going through.

When Trevor and Ariel arrived, we finally had our ideal placement, school aged children during the school year. Unfortunately though, we learned pretty quickly that kids these days have it extremely easy and do not go to school from 8am to 5pm.  When we were growing up, I could have sworn we were at school being rigorously tested for at least 12-hours a day.  Also, during their first month of placement we learned about “no-school November”, where kids only go to school 3 days (maybe 15) out of the entire month.  Luckily, we were able to enroll them in camps to fill in the gaps, and we weren’t worried about the cost of the camps compared to their reimbursement rate, because we had donated many months worth of the reimbursement rate to Ikea and Target a few days earlier.  In exchange for our donation, Target and Ikea provided furnishings for a safe, comfortable room for Trevor and Ariel, along with some new clothes with Pokemon and My Little Pony graphics…because that is what they wanted.

We had donated many months worth of the reimbursement rate to Ikea and Target a few days earlier.

Since school is no longer 12+ hours a day like it was when we were kids, we needed to enroll Trevor and Ariel in after school care while we were at work.  We were able to get a great rate for the kids because their school offers a lot of amazing support. Unfortunately we quickly learned that Trevor’s behavioral issues did not allow him to succeed in after school care. After numerous calls to come pick him up early, we decided to hire a babysitter, to basically watch him at after school, and take him home, if it was a rough day for him. So now, we pay for after school care, because it is important that he has that experience and learn to appropriately interact with his peers, but we also pay a babysitter to be an inclusion aide at after school.

Day to Day

Kids are expensive! Having had kids ranging in age between 11-months and 12-years, we have learned that no matter what the age, they cost money. Diapers, rash cream, wipes and formula are expensive.  Clothes for little humans are expensive and extremely cute and you want to buy them all. The amount of baths, loads of laundry and dishes that need to be done will make you consider a larger water heater, and really increase your water bill. Kids ages 6 and up eat more than full grown adults and your grocery bill can very easily double.  If you are lucky enough to have kiddos that are able to go out to a restaurant with you every once in awhile, then you surely know about the scam that is “the kids menu”. This scam consists of a Kids Menu where your kid orders the grilled cheese that you make at home, but here they charge $7!!!! And why don’t these kids ever remember to turn off the lights?!?!?! Don’t they know electricity costs money?

Kids ages 6 and up eat more than full grown adults

This is all in jest.  We are happy to pay an exorbitant amount of money for kids food at a restaurant, if it means we get to go out to our favorite local brewery every so often. It reminds us of our past time, before we embarked on this crazy journey. From our experience though, it seems like the reimbursement rate would do a decent job of covering the “day to day” expenses, save for the overpriced PB&J at the restaurant.  Unfortunately, all of the other expenses listed previously have never allowed us to just have a reimbursement for the “day to day” expenses of a “normal month”.

Taxes

The only thing certain in life is death and taxes. Someone smart and famous said that. As we write this, it is tax season.  It is a geeky topic and apparently Aaron is one of the few people who enjoys talking about it, so we will keep this short.  Unless a child has been in your care for 6 months and 1 day, you are not able to claim your foster children as your dependent on your taxes, and therefore you do not receive the child tax credits.  So although we have had six kids this year, and have been fostering for over 6-months this year, we are not able to claim any dependents on our taxes.  It would have been a nice little perk, and one that is typically afforded to parents. It is like we didn’t care for anyone…

We Have Help

We are lucky. It takes a village to raise a child, and we have a village. We will be posting about our village soon, but we definitely need to acknowledge them here. Our parents have provided a ton of care for our kiddos. Aaron’s mom is a teacher, so she has been an amazing help over the summer and holiday breaks.  Aaron’s dad has bonded and played with all the kids, and has been helpful around our house, allowing us to complete long delayed projects. Jewell’s parents have been amazing, cooking dinners, picking up our kiddos from school, watching our kids whenever we ask.  Our babysitter is phenomenal. She has an amazing amount of patience for us and our kiddos, understands the situation, and for what she does, her rate is incredible.

We are lucky. It takes a village to raise a child, and we have a village.

We also have a very solid Certifier, who has stepped up for us on numerous occasions, advocating for reimbursement of some of our expenditures. We have also had strong caseworkers who have pushed through our reimbursement requests for some expenses. Although not the norm, and we certainly do not expect it, it can be possible to get some “one-time” purchases, like clothes or camps reimbursed through DHS.  This has happened for us on a couple of occasions, and we are very appreciative of it.  If you have a child under 5 years old, your child may also be eligible for WIC, which can be very helpful for purchasing formula, which infants in foster care need, since they can’t typically breastfeed.

Conflicted Conclusion

Why did we write this post?  Because the question “you get paid for this, right?” comes up a lot in conversation. Also, because in Oregon, there are a lot of very public conversations occurring about the reimbursement rate for foster parents. This is a state where there are not enough foster homes to care for all of the foster children in custody of the state. This is a state that is very publicly failing the children it is supposed to be caring for. Where children are spending multiple nights in hotels with State employees (being paid overtime), while foster parents are struggling to budget their lives. Yet there is still a conversation about foster parents “getting rich” off of the state.

Some voices in the foster parent community talk about the fact that they are not raising their own child, that they are caring for another person’s child, as part of the justification for the reimbursement. This is true. Whether or not you were interested in fostering children because you wanted to adopt or because you just wanted to foster, you never know if legally, your child will ever be yours. Until adoption day, you are caring for a someone else’s child who is a ward of the state. But it does feel weird to say it like that, and use it as an argument for reimbursement.  At the end of the day, we would still make every purchase we have made for our kids without the promise of reimbursement. We also understand that we can say this because of our financial situation, but for many foster families, making it work month-to-month is a stretch, the purchases they make for their foster children have a real affect on the entire family budget.

At the end of the day, we would still make every purchase we have made for our kids without the promise of reimbursement.

Others talk about how everything you purchase for the child while you care for them should be sent with them if they leave your home. This is true, and if you are doing this for the right reasons, should not be an issues, but adds evidence for the want for reimbursement for school supplies, clothes, toys, etc. that leave your home with your kiddos, as you purchase them again for your next kiddo.  Some talk about how it is hard to have a baby shower for a newborn placement who is arriving in 4-hours, or a bah-mitzvah for a child you have only had for two-weeks, and instead, they need to make all of these purchases on a credit card, immediately.

There are a lot of reasons why foster parents would appreciate more financial support from the state for raising foster children. It should also be noted that Oregon needs more foster parents. Right now, becoming a foster parent is both a huge time and financial investment, and this can be a deterrent to many thinking of becoming a foster parent.  Providing additional support, such as child-care reimbursement, and monthly or annual clothes allowances may reduce the financial burden enough to allow more people, especially working couples and individuals to open their homes to foster kids. It seems like reducing the amount of money spent on hotel rooms and overtime for DHS workers to stay with children over the weekend, and increasing the funds available to foster parents for day-care may be a more sustainable and appropriate approach.

 Providing additional support, such as child-care reimbursement, and monthly or annual clothes allowances may reduce the financial burden enough to allow more people, especially working couples and individuals to open their homes to foster kids.

Money, personal finances, and parenting are all very personal topics.  This post is not advocating for a more substantial reimbursement.  We did not become foster parents because we knew there was a reimbursement rate.  We could be foster parents without any reimbursement.  We are very lucky to have an amazing support system to help carry the load of parenting, something that not everyone, especially the bio-parents of the kiddos we care for, are lucky enough to have. This post is to answer the questions that we get asked a lot, and that even more people want to ask but are afraid to. This post is to shed light on what reimbursement looks like, and what providing for a foster child looks like. Being a foster parent is not a decision that should be taken lightly, and seeing a monthly reimbursement rate should not influence your decision. If you cannot afford to raise a child without the reimbursement rate, we can guarantee you will not be able to raise a child with the reimbursement rate, because it is pennies on the dollar of what you should be spending to raise a child. If anybody is getting rich off of being a foster parent, they are doing it the wrong. Monetarily, we lose every month, but seeing these kiddos feel safe, loved, confident and happy is priceless.

 Photo: Trevor and Ariel in awe of the Lego T-Rex at OMSI Art of the Brick Exhibit
Thanks for reading, if you have questions or comments, feel free to post them in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you.  To receive updates when a new post is published, click the “Follow” button, we appreciate your interest in our journey.

6 thoughts on “You Get Paid For This, Right?”

  1. I continue to be struck by your motives for doing this….because you love kids! It’s been very eye-opening as I read about your journey.

  2. Thank you for this well thought-out and informative post. I have some friends who just became foster parents…last week actually. So it has been on my mind a little more than usual. Thank you for your service to these kids and to our community!

  3. You don’t even mention the emotional cost to you. You give love, compassion, empathy, concern. Those are priceless to a foster child, who has known little or none of these.

    1. Wow, yes you are correct. Every day we are frustrated and imperfect. Every day these kids remind us that we are doing our best. They feel safe and they feel loved. Thank you for your support.

We would love to hear your thoughts!