Do Foster Parents Get Paid?

State Compensation for Foster Parents

Foster care parents don't technically get paid but get reimbursement from the state intended to help cover the cost of caring for a foster care child.

Thinking about being a foster parent? Foster care parents, also called foster care providers, care for children who have been taken out of their homes due to abuse or neglect. As a foster care provider, you are responsible for the safety and well-being of the child placed in your home. You must provide everything the child needs to grow and prosper, including shelter, food, clothing, education and supervision. While foster care providers don't technically get paid, they do get reimbursement from the state in which they are providing foster care services. The reimbursement is meant to help cover the expenses associated with providing foster care. Reimbursement rates vary by state, and each state offers different levels of reimbursement.

Varying Reimbursement Levels

Some foster parents get reimbursed the standard rate, sometimes called the general or basic rate. This rate is usually the lowest reimbursement rate. In most states, the standard rate varies with the child's age, increasing incrementally the older the child is, generally up through 17 years of age. For example, once a child turns 5 or 6, his foster parent might get a higher reimbursement rate than when the child was an infant and toddler. When the child turns 12 or 13, his foster parent might again get a higher reimbursement rate. This rate increase reflects the fact that the costs of raising a child usually increase as the child gets older.

Just as reimbursement rates vary by state, the different reimbursement levels a state has also varies. Some states have only two rate levels, while other states have 10 or more rate levels. The rate depends on the category classification your foster child has been placed into. For example, if the child has a physical or intellectual disability or for whatever reason needs more specialized care, the child might be categorized in a higher-level rate. Some states also place foster care providers in different reimbursement rate levels. For example, if you have a childcare-related certification, you might receive a higher rate.

Besides the daily reimbursement rate, some states also give additional allowances, which vary widely. These allowances might be for things such as books and school supplies, diapers, clothing and holidays and birthdays.

Typically, foster care providers are issued a check once a month for the days they provided care to a child the previous month. This means you should be prepared to not receive any reimbursement money until the month after you provided care.

Are Reimbursement Rates Adequate?

If you're thinking about fostering a child, be aware that you might not get enough reimbursement to cover the actual costs of caring for the child. In 2012, the nonprofit organization Child Trends issued a report on foster care reimbursement rates in the United States. Using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the 2012 report presented estimates of the cost of caring for a child in various regions of the country. The report concluded that most states' basic rate reimbursement levels were below their childcare cost estimates. Only a small number of states had basic rates that met or exceeded the estimated childcare cost for that region. Some states even had basic rates that were only half of the estimated childcare cost for that area.

Examples of Reimbursement Rates

Lagging rates in Utah: In July 2016, Utah's Desert News published an article stating that the daily reimbursement rates hadn't increased in eight years. Utah's foster care reimbursement rates in 2016 consisted of three levels, with the higher levels representing more specialized care. For foster care children ages 0 through 5, the Level I daily rate was $15.60, the Level II daily rate was $18.60, and the Level III daily rate was $28.95. For children ages 6 through 11, the daily rates for the three levels were $16.60, $19.60 and $29.95. For children ages 12 and up, the daily rates were $17.60, $20.60 and $30.95.

The article cited a study finding that Utah's reimbursement rate for a 9-year-old child would need to be increased by as much as 70 percent to reflect the actual cost of care. Laurieann Thorpe, a foster parent and president of the advocacy organization Foster Families of Utah, said that foster care providers often face higher-than-expected costs and don't get reimbursed enough. She pointed out to the news publication that while the Level I daily rate for a newborn was $15.60, a can of infant formula could cost about $18, while a bag of brand-name diapers could cost about $45.

Two levels in New Hampshire: In New Hampshire, the 2017 daily general reimbursement rates were $16.59 for children ages 0 through 5, $18 for ages 6 through 11 and $21.41 for ages 12 through 17. For foster children needing specialized care, the daily general reimbursement rates were $21.48 for children ages 0 through 5, $23.31 for ages 6 through 11 and $27.74 for ages 12 through 17.

Increased rates in Georgia: The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services approved an increase in 2017 of $10 a day for the basic reimbursement rates. This increase, which was the highest-ever increase approved by the state, brought the basic daily rate to $25.27 for children ages 0 through 5, $27.26 for ages 6 through 12 and $29.65 for ages 13 and older.

Becoming a Foster Parent

Since states' reimbursement rates are often lower, and in some cases much lower, than the actual cost of caring for and raising a child, you should only become a foster parent out of a genuine desire to help children rather than a need to earn money. Foster care reimbursement is not intended as income, which is reflected in the fact that the federal government generally doesn't count foster care reimbursement as taxable income. Generally, foster care providers can work outside the home, so long as they arrange for daycare, which the foster care provider usually has to pay for, if the foster child is young.

Up to the task? If you're interested in becoming a foster parent, contact your state's department in charge of foster care to learn about the requirements and process, as well as the reimbursement rates and whether any other additional allowances are provided.

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