It is no secret that with fostering children comes reimbursement in the form of a monthly check. So how do we know that those funds are being properly used on the child’s needs? Well, we don’t. As a matter of fact, there aren’t very many statistics that track how the monthly reimbursement checks are used. There is a lot of trust in a system that could very easily be abused. It’s said that money is the root of all evil, so we need to take precautions to make sure that we do not put money into the hands of people who foster for the wrong reasons.
I think there needs to be mandatory open dialogue about these payments at the monthly check-ins between the social worker, foster parent and youth (depending on age). The payments should not be treated with secrecy. A separate worker who specifically handles all financial education, questions and concerns would benefit not only the foster, but the parents as well. This worker could also perform other tasks, such as audits and gathering statistics on the reimbursement checks so that there can be a better understanding of the system.
By the time I had entered foster care at the ripe age of 17, I had already been supporting myself as best I could for years. I had been completely financially independent for over a year. As an already self-sufficient teen, I trusted my friend’s mom to become my foster parent in order to avoid having to move into a group home an hour away from where I was already established. I figured she would get a couple hundred dollars a month to house me. Meanwhile, I would continue to work two jobs to cover other expenses such as my $300-a-month car insurance bill, food for my newly diagnosed food intolerances, and really any of my other needs and wants.
It wasn’t until a year later when my foster mom had gotten plastic surgery that I confirmed that something wasn’t right. Her minimum-wage/part-time job would not have covered the cost of a cosmetic plastic surgery procedure. I wondered just how much money she was being paid every month to “care” for me. Any audit that year would have shown that I did not directly see even a fraction of the monthly checks. But most importantly, I had nobody to talk to about my concerns. Many federally funded resources enforce audits to be sure the resources are being used for what they are meant to be used for. So what makes these monthly payments any different?
I still wonder why my social worker did not react any of the times I had told her I was hungry, struggling to pay my bills, and overall just exhausted from working seven days a week on top of high school and college courses. She did not question where the reimbursement check had been going, which justified my initial assumption that the reimbursement check was not big enough to help pay for anything besides a portion of rent. As a teenager, I did not feel comfortable enough to bring up the checks at the monthly meet I had with my social worker, especially in front of my foster mom. My younger brother also expressed his needs were not being met in his placement. His foster parent depended on the reimbursement checks as some of their only income, which left the fridge empty most days. Regardless of how blatant the misuse of funds were, it was never addressed so nothing changed.
We need to start talking about what goes on with these funds — the good and the bad. The more attention that is brought to it, the less likely it is to be taken advantage of so confidently. It is not the Foster’s job to ensure that their foster parent is doing what they are supposed to — it’s the state’s job. I believe that having someone whose sole responsibility is to enforce and encourage the proper use of reimbursement checks would prevent a lot of financial neglect from slipping through the cracks. Engaging in open conversations about the monthly checks and ensuring that a Foster’s needs are being met should be a social worker’s job, but it is something that we as people who care about Fosters can do too. Start the conversation so that we can be sure the state, the county and the foster parents are doing what’s best for the children in their care.