Sunday, December 1, 2013

Wait A Minute, Don't Foster Parents Get Money?

About a month into our decision to pursue foster care, I distinctly remember standing in my office breakroom pouring myself a cup of coffee when I thought "Huh, wait a minute, don't foster parents get money or something?"

About a month and a half into our decision to pursue foster care, I saved this blank blog post draft with the above title.

About fourteen months into our decision to pursue foster care, I'm finally getting around to writing this post about foster care reimbursements and subsidies.

Money wasn't part of our original decision.  We didn't even realize/remember until weeks later that it was even available.  And therefore, it wasn't at the top of my priority list of things to blog about.  But in the interest of information and transparency, here are some topics related to the financial side of foster care.  Please keep in mind that these policies apply to the state of Texas and may be different or not present in other states.  Also, these policies and laws may change over time but are current as of the date of this blog post.

Monthly Reimbursement
Foster parents receive a monthly reimbursement for each child in their care and it is exactly that: a reimbursement.  It is not a paycheck for the foster parents' time and effort.  It is a payment from the state that is intended to help cover the cost of clothes, diapers, food, supplies, toys and activities for the children in care.  It is for the child.  And it truly is a reimbursement, beginning after the end of the first month the child is in care.  It is set at a standardized rate per day, per child based on the level of needs of the child.  You can view the current rates by clicking here.

A note about these "service levels": each child's case is given a level of basic, moderate, specialized or intense.  This is not an attempt to label a child and fit them into some kind of cookie cutter mold, but rather an attempt to make sure that children with varying levels of need are sufficiently getting those needs met.  A child who is doing really well given whatever circumstances occurred to bring him or her into foster care would be in the basic care category.  However, a child who has major behavior, social, mental or medical issues will need a higher level of care, skill and resources, hence the incremental reimbursement scale.

According to that page, we as a foster family will be reimbursed $23.10 per day, per child, for the basic care level.  We do not have to keep receipts or show how much of our grocery bill was for the child and how much for the rest of the household.  Nothing like that.  The payment is made at a standard rate regardless.  The social workers have other ways to tell if foster parents are truly providing for the child or are just cashing in on the reimbursement for themselves and neglecting the needs of the child, which sadly does happen (see the last section of this post).

Daycare Subsidy
Foster parents are not expected to have a stay at home parent and in fact, most do not.  For foster families where both parents work full time, the state provides a daycare subsidy that covers the cost of daycare at a state licensed daycare center which is approved to take the Childcare Services (CCS) payments.  Unlike the reimbursement described above which is paid to the foster parent to reimburse prior costs, this daycare subsidy is paid directly to the childcare center and the foster parents never touch it.  In some cases, the daycare's actual fees may be greater than the CCS payment amount, so foster parents may have to make up the difference.

We're not entirely sure if we will qualify for this daycare subsidy since Trent technically works part time, but if you look at school plus work, he is gone from home full time.   We've been told by an 11 year veteran foster mom "His school will count as his work too" and "You'll get it."  We've been told by the director of the daycare we have picked out that in her years of experience caring for foster children at her daycare, she "has never had one that didn't get the subsidy".   So we'll see.  If we are not eligible for the subsidy, no biggee.  We can swing it on our own.  Remember, money wasn't part of our original decision.

Regardless, we have picked out what appears to be a stellar childcare center which is a 4 star Texas Rising Star center. The director is a licensed social worker who has had many children attend there who have been in foster care, including those of the veteran foster mom I mentioned above who gave us her thumbs up for the place.  The center is obviously set up to take CCS payments and the director told us that for foster parents, if there is a difference between their fees and what CCS pays, the foster parents do not have to make up the difference.   Class sizes are kept intentionally small at all times so that allows them to work well with our unknown time frame, making it possible for us to call her up and say "just got a placement" and her to say "come on over."  Win!

WIC Program
WIC stands for Women, Infants and Children and is part of the Texas Department Of State Health Services.  It provides nutrition/health education and nutritious food items, including baby food, to low income pregnant women and new mothers.  Foster parents are eligible for this program as well and can either go to a local WIC location to pick up items for an infant or young child in their care, or can receive a WIC card for use at the grocery store on eligible items.  Next time you are shopping, look for labels next to things like cheese, eggs, milk and baby food that say "WIC item".  This is what that means.  Learn something new every day huh?

Health Insurance
Foster children receive health insurance coverage through STAR Health which is a division of Medicaid.  Foster parents must take children in their care to health providers that accept STAR Health. This includes other health services such as therapy and counseling.  Besides incidental First Aid type care at home (bandaids, lots of bandaids, we've been told), foster parents don't have to cover medical costs out of pocket and are not allowed to place a foster child on their own private insurance plan.

Once A Child Is Adopted
This sounds like a lot of help available to the foster parents, huh?  No kidding, we think so too.  Once a child is adopted from foster care, these services come to a halt, with some exceptions.  For certain adoption situations, "adoption assistance" payments may continue but these situations involve pretty specific criteria related to age of the child when adopted, whether the child is a minority, and whether special needs are present.  Otherwise, an adopted child is viewed by the state no differently than a biological child. No monthly reimbursement, no daycare subsidy, no WIC, and have to put them on the family's own health insurance.  But that's to be expected right?  Who wouldn't give a child who is now their own child the dignity of being provided for no differently than a biological child would be?  One more note on the adoption itself: there is no fee to the adoptive parents for adoption of a child through foster care, whether through a foster-to-adopt situation or a waiting child situation.

Possible Free College Tuition To A State School
IF a child's adoption fits into the adoption assistance criteria mentioned above, free college tuition to a Texas state supported college or university is available to them. This also applies universally to children that age out of foster care (turn age 18) without being adopted, which sadly happens a lot.

Yes, Some Foster Parents Abuse The System
I bet if you already knew about the financial side of foster care it's probably because a) you know me in real life and I have told you about it, b) you are interested in foster care yourself and have learned about it or c) you heard about it in the news from a case where foster parents abused or took advantage of it.  It happens.  Sadly, it happens a lot.  Stories of foster families whose biological kids got to eat steak and potatoes and cake with the parents while the foster kids sat at a different table and were given ramen noodles.  Stories of foster families whose biological kids got brand new clothes from Holister and the foster kids got clothes from the thrift store that were worn out or didn't fit.

The good news is that if these stories have made it to the news then those foster parents' licenses have made it to the trash.  The bad news is that these stories give foster parents a bad rap.  Since the negative stories are what make it to the newspaper or tv, it makes it look like foster parents are just "in it for the paycheck".

Here's my news story to try to counteract the bad ones.  Any financial benefits in place are for the benefit of the child and are there to assist the foster parents in being better able to care for the child.  There are many quality, caring foster parents out there and many foster care success stories of reunification or adoption.  They don't make the news, but they're out there, trust me.

Anyone who actually read through this whole thing to the bottom gets an imaginary cookie.

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