Foster children are entering the foster care system in moderately increasing numbers. At the same time, we have fewer foster families who can meet their needs. Due to major changes in family life over the past generation, the situation is not likely to get better.
To avoid a disaster, we need to change the way we recruit and treat foster parents. As argued in my previous blog, compensating foster parents adequately is necessary if we expect her or him to remain home and care for our damaged children.
Transforming the way we are accustomed to doing things will not happen overnight. Change never happens easily. Priorities and politics will be involved. Four major problems are likely to head the list of objections. The problems are complicated and cannot be dismissed. Nevertheless, there are answers if we wish to do right by our children and possess the will.
The first objection: We can’t afford it. Won’t this be very expensive? Where will we find the money? Ultimately, paying more to foster parents may even save money. Here are a few thoughts:
- We must start by assessing our priorities. Our economy is the largest in the world. How we allocate our resources is a subject constantly being debated. Where within our financial system do our vulnerable kids fit?
- Some significant savings are delayed. Spending to minimize damages today will save money later. For every young person who ages out of foster care, taxpayers and communities will pay an average of $300,000 in social costs like public assistance, incarceration, and lost wages over that person’s lifetime. A Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative study in 2013 put the annual social costs of aging out at $8 billion.
- Offering foster parents compensation equivalent to a second family income would make recruiting and retention less costly. Contracting for services would encourage the use of standard business strategies in recruiting, hiring, and quality control. For more detail, see my companion blog: “Pay Foster Parents.”
- Weekly monitoring of both the birth and foster home would shorten the time spent in temporary care. Permanence within one year, the desired goal set by federal legislation, could be achieved more frequently. This would be good for children as well as the budget.
- As with all other business endeavors, technology offers the opportunity to reduce administrative costs by streamlining many middle- and upper-management jobs. Administrators might focus more directly on providing client services.
The second objection: Paid employment for foster parents is hopelessly complicated. How could compensation be tailored to amount to a second family income? Would separate contracts be offered for each child in care? Would they be time-limited, a pairing of part-time contracts? Would foster parents be paid a token amount simply for being available? What about benefits? For tax purposes income would need to be separated from reimbursement. Complicated, but not hopeless.
The fact that foster family shortages must be addressed nationally and locally, even county by county presents a further difficulty. No single law would suffice. Any change would be time-consuming and gradual. This will test our resolve and concern but it can be met with a concerted effort.
The third objection: Increasing compensation for foster care will hinder a child’s chances for permanence. Reunification or adoption might be discouraged by prolonging the time in foster care. This serious problem could be resolved by a judicious use of contracts and bonuses. Foster parent contracts for payment might be time-limited for each child, with a bonus offered for a permanent home.
The fourth objection: Love of money would replace the love of a child. This is bogus. Many employees love what they do and do it well. Payment for child care does not mean that foster parents will be less compassionate.
Change always involves difficulties. If the issue is important and the will is there, a way can be found.