In our case, we take advantage of medical care through medicaid, ECI therapy for our kids under 3 who qualify based on delays, play therapy for our older kids who need it, state-paid daycare, and of course our foster parent subsidy through the state. We receive about $660 per child, per month, for the foster parent subsidy. It's hard to quantify how much we "receive" for the other services because they are paid directly through the state to the provider and we never receive a bill or reimbursement. This is actually quite helpful as we don't have to worry about how to pay for various services our children require, aside for actually finding a provider that will take our children and accepts the state funding.
We currently do not take advantage of some programs that we technically qualify for:
- Preschool - We could enroll our kids for free in headstart or early headstart programs or state-provided pre-school. This would also be something Summer qualifies for as she gets older, if we so choose, because the way the "free-rules" are written it applies to anyone who has ever been in foster care, regardless of where they are currently, even if they are adopted. We don't receive this benefit primarily because the state pays for childcare since we both work full-time and the daycare they attend is also a preschool. It's just easier to go that route than try to get them into a limited-space facility that may or may not be convenient to our commute. That being said I could see this being a valuable resource if the daycare wasn't an option or if I was a SAHM and needed a half-day preschool for my kiddos. I definitely see this as an option if we end up adopting more preschoolers and face a ridiculously high childcare bill.
- WIC - We could enroll in WIC. We have chosen not to for 2 reasons. First of all, we don't need it. Yes, it is something we qualify for (our kids do), but we can provide them with enough nutrition to give them what they need and therefore I don't believe in accepting this support. Contrary to some popular beliefs, the government isn't independently made of money - it is a finite resource primarily funded through taxpayers. There is nothing wrong with accepting support if you need it but since we don't I see it as leaving the funds for someone who actually does require it to feed their kids. Of course, if our financial situation changes and we need the money to feed our kids, it would be a great option to allow us to continue to foster. Second of all, it would be yet another regular appointment to try to manage.
- Various programs - Foster children (at least here) typically are considered a household of 1 with no income, therefore they qualify for most financial aid programs. They would qualify for most food stamp programs and some housing programs also. To mie it's just more of a hassle than it is worth at this point in time, not to mention my previously stated belief about what support we need at this point in our life.
For foster parents who haven't had to face some level of poverty in their past, receiving some of this support can invoke a certain level of humility. They may want to hide their face in shame for being seen in "one of THOSE places" and it forces them to deal with certain pre-conceived notions of "THOSE kind of people" who would be seen in "one of THOSE places". I think this is good - you never can be too humble.
Over the holidays my children, even Summer, received presents from angel tree-type programs that focused on meeting the needs of local foster children. Of course we received these gifts after we'd already purchased gifts for the kids and some of the gifts were duplicates of what we already had so we decided to take some back.
Summer received a play vacuum, something her daddy had already picked out to give her, so we took back the one we received from the county. We didn't have a receipt to say where it came from but thankfully there was an "exclusively from Target" declaration on the front. When I took it back I had to explain the situation and I felt like scum. I was taking back a gift my foster child received from the kindness of strangers. I couldn't hide the fact that it was that type of a situation because I didn't realize until I handed it to the associate that on the back of the gift was the angel-tree ornament thing with her name, age, request, etc. I felt like someone returning a gift to buy booze or something, who made up the story to sound better. Ugh.
Summer also received a really nice ($59.99) jacket from Children's Place. I loved the jacket, I really did, but it was size 2T and we already have 2 jackets in that size. I didn't want it to go to waste, so I took it back to the store a few days after Christmas. Imagine my embarrassment when she looked at mie funny and said "Mam, that jacket was from last year's line". Ugh again. I explained my situation, mostly out of embarrassment, which only made mie feel worse because yet again I was the mom trying to take my child's gift back to get money. Actually though, this time I was trying to exchange it for a larger size and she was nice enough to help mie find a different jacket. There just happened to be one hanging on a clearance rack - a $69.99 jacket mistakenly marked down to $14.99 in size 4T. All-in-all with the minimal credit we got on the other jacket we ended up paying $5 for a new $70 jacket for our daughter and she will probably be able to wear it next year (or if we end up needing it for #9 she could use it this year too). It all worked out.
I'm so glad that I get the chance to be humbled from time-to-time in the ways that I have so I remember where our blessings come from, and it's not the government. I'm also grateful for these social programs that enable families to foster who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford to be foster families. I'd hope that foster families use just what they need, though I hear so many do it "for the money".
All that to say, if you think you couldn't afford to foster, think again.