Foster Parents Balance Emotional Economy

Here’s a post that was originally guest blogged on
by Kate. With permission, we’ve reprinted it below
to share with all of you.

My wife and I have been talking about trying to have a baby for
three years. We discussed adoption while she battled her way
through her last year of grad school. We dove deep into whether to
have a known or anonymous sperm donor while I quit work to finish
college. We drove to New Jersey to meet a guy before we decided to
go with a sperm bank and then we pored over donor profiles and
price lists for those tiny, tiny vials. We have dreamed, and
dreamed, and dreamed some more. Three years is a long time to do
nothing but dream.

The trouble was that two very underpaid social workers with
staggering educational debt and a dash of wedding thrown in could
not a baby-budget make. Considering the unbelievable prices of
sperm and fertility procedures, I wondered to my wife whether we
could buy some kind of “gay kid insurance” in case our
grandchildren need some upfront funds. As one who cannot bear to
spend $20 on shoes, the sky-high costs of trying to conceive or
private adoption, and then childcare seemed so insurmountable that
dreaming was becoming depressing. If only bringing a child into our
family could be free (or nearly) and if only someone else would pay
for the daycare!

Fortunately for us, we had both considered foster parenting before,
and knew that if we decided to do it, some of our costs would be
covered while we cared for a child who needed a family. We figured
that we’d still have some hefty expenses, but fostering was
accessible where other avenues were not, and we wanted a child so
very much. So we took a class for eight weeks, completed a home
study, and accepted the first child that the Department of Social
Services called us about. That was last September, and since then
we have fostered three children (including the one we have now). We
have also received a thorough education in a popular mystery – the
costs and benefits of foster parenting.

Since many people wonder about the numbers, let me tell you that we
receive $17.10 per day to care for each child we foster, plus $107
quarterly for clothes, and $100 for Christmas presents.
These reimbursements vary drastically from state to
state, and also according to a child’s age and special needs, so
this cannot be used as a generalization- it only represents a
non-special needs toddler in Massachusetts today. At the moment,
our foster son’s daycare is provided via a voucher (which are not
always available). So, if we had this child for one full year, that
would be a total of $6,769 paid back to us as his foster

Several months ago someone left some comments at my blog
insinuating that foster parents (us in particular) are gold
diggers. This is such a popular misconception that I took the time
to detail our expenses, and here’s what I came up with:

Adding up the expensive diapers, wipes, butt paste,
food for the world’s pickiest eater, band-aids and ointments,
shampoo and soap, toothpaste, clothes and shoes we can’t resist
buying because they’re just so cute on her, books and toys,
bedding, a great deal of extra dish soap, laundry detergent and
dryer sheets, electricity, and gas for the car, plus loads of cash
shelled out on the weekends for outings and rewards, and money paid
to our babysitters once or twice a month if we’re lucky, among
all the other things I’m sure I’m forgetting. . . I know it
costs at least $35 a day to foster a toddler. More than twice what
we get reimbursed.

And those are just the day-to-day expenses. We also spent about
$700 on furniture and travel gear just to get started, and faced
the hidden expenses of lost work hours and mileage that was not
covered by DSS (taking off half-days twice a month for our foster
daughter’s play therapy, leaving work early when she was sick,
staying home sick ourselves when we caught whatever she had- every
time!). Now that we also bought our first home, in part to better
accommodate foster children, we also pay almost twice as much for
our housing. In short, foster parenting is not a baby-bill panacea.
It is still very expensive. Our first foster child was a part of
our family for about a year, and I would estimate that we lost
about $6,000 caring for her. This would come as no surprise to the
University of Maryland researchers who released a report in October
showing that 28 states would have to increase their reimbursement
rates by more than 50% to cover the cost of raising a foster child.
But we love these kids, and it’s really not about money, is it?
Is it expensive? Yes. Less so than “having a baby of our own”?
By a lot. Worth it? Definitely. But there’s another cost.

Doing foster care has cost me a daughter. There is no greater cost
than that, and a lost six thousand dollars pales in comparison. Of
course, there is a complicated emotional economy to parenting of
any kind, with the benefits of love and loyalty and the magic
influence of childhood, balanced against the expenses of stress,
health, and a toll on your marriage if you have one, but that is
universal. The special element of fostering is simply loss. It
would be impossible to tell you how much I love our former foster
daughter, except to say that if you are a parent, then you’ll
know by how much you love your own children. It doesn’t matter
what biology or legality or even physical absence have to say- she
was and is absolutely our baby. She and I are melded together in a
way that only ever exists between loving parent and child. Her
departure was the
worst moment of my life
and twelve weeks later I still cry for
her frequently. This is not to say that every foster parent-child
connection is so profound (indeed, I feel very differently toward
the other two we have had), but somewhere along the way that little
girl became my little girl, and now I know the cost of grief.

Yet, here I sit, writing while listening intently to the quiet in
our foster son’s bedroom, making sure he is sleeping soundly. We
did do it again. I am glad he is here. I hope to have another one
soon. We’re lucky to be visiting with our former foster daughter
every so often. We’ve met some truly amazing people along the
way. We also now know how demanding parenting is so that we will be
ready for the lifetime commitment when it comes along. And yes,
we’re still dreaming. And yes, we’re still pretty far from
realizing those dreams (even farther due to our six grand down the
hole last year!) For all that though, we became moms where before
it was impossible. Now no matter what happens, no matter how much
we’ve lost or gained in other ways, we have a daughter out there
in the world. We never had one of those before.

More about Kate
“foster (verb): to back, champion, support, uphold, entertain,
harbor, house, lodge, shelter, accommodate, assist, favor, help,
oblige, nurse, advance”

Kate and her wife are all of the above. She blogs at
Foster Mamas