Now, some of you might be thinking about the fact that it used to be (several decades ago) foster parents could just stay at home and take care of children and receive their per diems, which also covered their own living expenses; that’s often the reason why you’d then hear of foster homes with WAY more children than they could have possibly handled, but that’s not how things work today. Foster parents, as part of their foster care licensing, have to show that they are able to financially care for themselves and the rest of the people currently in their home without receiving any additional monies, i.e. the per diem, for a foster child.
That said, to nix any misunderstandings about the per diem in the bud, I’m sure many of you reading this (or at least someone you know) have received a per diem at some point in your life…probably from traveling for a job would be my guess. And so I’m just curious: did the money given to you to cover your expenses actually cover the full cost of what you were being asked to do? I would assume not entirely. It might have been close but probably did not cover everything.
I say this to help frame the foster care per diem situation: I don’t care what the per diem is per child, foster parents CANNOT possibly be doing this for the money. Taking care of kids is COSTLY, as anyone who’s ever raised a child should know, and regardless of the per diem, it’s going to always cost more to take care of a child than what the foster parent is receiving.
Now some of you might be thinking: but wait! What about that clothing voucher they receive when a child is new into care? And the Christmas and birthday stipends? And the discretionary monies available for one time use per year. Surely those help significantly, right?
And to answer this question: although they do get a small clothing voucher upon placement, and a very small birthday and Christmas allowance, the per diem is the only thing they have in order to cover the day to day cost of caring for each additional child.
Let’s look at is this way: Imagine, if you will, suddenly your entire wardrobe is wiped out…it’s gone. You have nothing to wear but the clothes on your back. But you only have the $200 stipend to replace it. How easy is that for you? Keep in mind, you have to include socks, underwear, pajamas and shoes, as well as your day-to-day clothing, for that $200. Granted, clothing for adults is more expensive than for an infant or toddler, but many children in care wear adult sizes. As I write, I am considering my own 7yo who can wear adult small shirts at this point…not because he is heavy but because he’s simply tall. So even if you have a child in elementary, he or she might still be into expensive adult sizes sooner than expected.
Point being: this is no easy task.
Also imagine doing all the birthday shopping for your child for only $50, or Christmas for $50 (it’s actually $100 if you’re licensed through Firefly). I’ll concede that with the $100, it is not always quite as difficult though it does depend on the interests and age of the child, and may or may not go very far.
One other thing to note is that the per diem is paid out after the fact so no one is receiving money ahead of time (or even on time, as it were), so that first month when a child is in home can be especially difficult from a financial perspective because there is no extra money to cover those additional costs. The foster parent has to pay that money and potentially be out that cash for several weeks before the reimbursement in the form of the per diem arrives.
Now, I will say there are varying amounts paid, based upon a child’s need, which is reflected in his CANS score. The CANS score is determined when a child enters care, and it can be reassessed at any point as a child’s needs change. But regardless, the CANS also takes into consideration the amount a foster parent will pay to care for a child; ergo, the higher the need, the higher the per diem, but also the more it will cost to care for a child.
All that to say: I hope this clears up any misconceptions you may have had about the per diem foster parents receive…and that it is definitely NOT a pay check.