Introduction to Foster Care

I’m going to go a little off-topic for this blog today and talk about something that’s not technology related but is important to me: foster care. My wife and I have been certified foster parents for several years now, and I find that there are a number of common misconceptions about what foster care is and how it works.

What is foster care?
Foster care is a way to provide homes and families for children who, for whatever reason, do not have parents who are able to care for them. Sometimes that means no living parents or parents who are currently unable to care for children; other times, this is children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.

Generally foster care is intended to be a short term solution until the children can be reunited with family members – if not their parents, then other relatives who would be willing to adopt. The actual length of “short term” may vary – children may be in the foster care system for days or years.

There are approximately 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, including nearly 7,000 in Wisconsin.

Who can be a foster parent?
To be a foster parent, you must be at least 21 years old, have sufficient income to cover your own needs, have sufficient room in your home for a child, complete the training requirements, and pass a criminal background check. Most importantly, you should be prepared to love a foster child as your own!

Many people believe they couldn’t do foster care because they wouldn’t be able to love a child and then give them up again, and in fact the primary goal of foster care is reunification – returning a child to their family. I won’t lie – giving up your child is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, if not the hardest. But by loving them anyway, you can make their lives so much better.

What does it cost to foster / Do foster parents get paid?
Being a foster parent is a volunteer job; like having biological kids, it’s one of the most frustrating and most rewarding things you’ll ever do. The government does provide a (nontaxable) stipend to help cover the costs of caring for the child; in Wisconsin, this rate is $238/month for level 1 care (generally, caring for a relative) and ranges from $394-$511/month depending on the age of the child otherwise. There is an additional rate for children with special needs; at the higher end, a child who needs around-the-clock care may qualify for a total stipend of up to $2000.

Online, I’ve seen comments both from people who think foster parents shouldn’t be paid at all (in which case there would be even more of a shortage, as many of us couldn’t afford it) to those who think foster parents are just in it for the money (that extravagant $13/day to cover the cost of caring for a baby!) It probably comes through here that I think both views are ridiculous; as a friend of mine put it, sometimes the foster care stipend only covers your gas for driving your kid around – but it helps!

Foster kids are covered by Medicaid, and those under 5 are also eligible for WIC benefits. The income of the foster parent does not matter for Medicaid/WIC eligibility.

Who are the kids?
There is a wide variety of children in foster care – from newborns to high school graduates, from kids with no health problems to those who are extremely medically fragile, from single kids to large sibling groups, from those with a plan for reunification to those who will need an adoptive home. Generally speaking, you can assume that the kids have suffered through some level of trauma – if nothing else, that of being removed from their parents. They all need parents who can be patient with them as they deal with change and uncertainty.

How can you get involved?
Not everyone is suited to be a foster parent – it can be physically and mentally exhausting and you do have to have a suitable home. For those who can’t take on a child full-time, other options to help include providing respite care (where you care for a child for a few days or even just a few hours) or even just helping new foster parents with meals when they’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. Most importantly, realize that foster kids aren’t any “less” or “real” than biological children; I love both my biological child and my foster child, and they’re both my kids.

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