One in three New York foster parents have lost their jobs or critical sources of household income during the 8-month-old coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey of 656 foster parents in every county statewide.
The survey being released Wednesday by the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York, found that while foster family incomes have dropped, with children home from school for months, household expenses for groceries, utilities and educational tools have grown higher.
“Of course, the need for childcare has greatly increased, but foster parents seem to be left on their own to figure things out without any additional financial support,” wrote one of the foster parents surveyed between August and October.
The financial crunch is especially acute in New York City, which was under shelter-in-place orders for nearly three months as it was slammed by the virus this spring. The coalition’s report states that foster parents in the five boroughs were more likely than those elsewhere to report job losses, incomes below $35,000 and an inability to meet the needs of their foster children with the standard subsidies.
The Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition, a statewide nonprofit advocacy group, has argued in a decadelong lawsuit against the state that New York’s foster care subsidies do not cover the actual costs of caring for a child, as required by the federal Child Welfare Act, but instead come up between 25% and 40% short. The lawsuit won an incremental victory last winter when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to let stand a lower court’s ruling affirming that the coalition had standing to sue the state on behalf of foster parents. The lawsuit can now move forward on the underlying legal arguments over the meaning of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, which set rules for states receiving federal funds for foster care payments.
Lack of affordable child care also emerged as a key hurdle for many foster parents surveyed, with day care spots limited and many public schools offering only virtual instruction. Comments collected in the survey portrayed families torn between the need to both supervise their children and earn a paycheck.
Some families reported that one foster parent had cut their hours or left the workforce to provide child care. One said the cost of a private sitter amounted to their entire child subsidy, which is also intended to cover food, clothing and other expenses.
“I don’t understand where anyone thinks you can find and pay a sitter for $37 each day for about 10 hours a day,” wrote one parent.
The survey also sheds light on the demographics of New York foster parent ranks: 90% of respondents were women, and more than two-thirds were working before the pandemic. Just 23% of those outside New York City were single parents, while in the city, over 60% were single parents.
The racial backgrounds of both foster parents and children in New York City differed significantly from the rest of the state. Across the state, 75% of respondents identified as white, and half had fostered Black or Latino children. In New York City, 70% of foster parent respondents identified as Black or Latino, and more than three-quarters reported they predominantly cared for Black children.
Meanwhile, the number of licensed foster homes in New York fell by more than 20% in 2020, erasing the significant gains from the prior year, according to The Imprint’s annual data analysis, Who Cares: A National Count of Foster Homes and Families.
Given the challenges, Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy, a spokesperson for the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition, said New York’s foster families will need to make it through a winter in which rising infections threaten to bring new stay-at-home orders and business closures — and with them, more job losses and deeper budget cuts.
Her organization’s survey praised the resilience of New York foster families in the face of the “extremely difficult circumstances” the year has brought, yet D’Arcy was clear that their challenges are far from over.
“It's going to be a long, hard winter for everybody,” she said.