In 2015, the state of Missouri spent more than $57 million on foster care. Most of it went toward administrative costs, while only about $19 million reached the families that the children were placed with. The situation is most likely the same throughout the U.S., though stipends and benefits can vary from state to state.
In Missouri, the monthly foster-care allowance sits at a paltry $300, though that amount can increase based on the age and need of the child that you're caring for. Naturally, many families who are fostering a child require strategies to survive and manage their finances.
1. Do Your Research Before Fostering a Child
You don’t have to be well-off to become a foster parent. That said, most states require you to have a stable home, a job, and a way to get the foster child from place to place if needed. While every state is different, most will provide you with a monthly stipend and medical insurance for the child.
Of all the myths that surround fostering a child, one of the most prevalent is that you can make tons of money watching a few kids. Not so.
While $300 may not seem like much support, there are some additional benefits that can take the sting out of the low foster-care allowance. For example, here in Missouri, my husband and I have access to a taxi for my sister to get to and from school because we don’t live in the school zone. We also have access to food stamps, free or reduced lunch, and even college assistance for her when she graduates.
Now, Missouri is very picky about who they allow to use food stamps, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program), and welfare benefits. On top of that, the state ranks 12th in the nation for the highest percentage of food insecure households. However, I would still encourage families fostering a child to apply for every benefit that they can get in their state.
If you have recently become a foster family or are in the process of becoming one, research is key. Find out what your state provides to families like yours, and don’t hesitate to ask questions. In Missouri, I can look up how much is spent every year on the website for the Children’s Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services. Checking on the kind of support that your state gives you doesn’t make you any less of a foster parent.
2. Take Advantage of Special Programs
Did you know that there are programs specifically for foster children and their families? While you may have the benefits that I mentioned earlier, you may also qualify for family therapy, gift-giving, and more.
These programs are typically provided to foster families through the state to make sure that everyone is as stress-free as possible.
One great program that I’ve found recently gives each foster child a stipend around their birthday and the holidays. That way, they don’t miss out on gifts. If your family can’t afford holiday gifts, a program like this is a godsend.
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Also, if you're fostering a child who's involved in extracurricular activities or has expenses beyond the stipend, you may be able get these covered through the school or state by showing your payments. Your social worker will be your best friend in this process.
3. Save Whenever Possible
It can be hard to save money when you have the increased expenses that come with fostering a child. Sometimes the foster-care allowance fails to cover them. My advice is to save during the surplus months to cover the shortfall.
My sister is 17 and has a job, so she can pay for her “wants.” We cover the rest, including food, school stuff, clothes, and extracurricular activities. Whenever we have leftover money from the stipend, it goes straight into her savings account. Now, does this happen every month? No. But it helps.
Let your foster child in on your tight situation before you take her thrift-store shopping or cut food costs by eating simple, at-home meals. There are many ways to cut costs from day to day, and they'll help your stipend go even further.
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4. Side Hustle
I love my sister, just as thousands of foster families love the children that they host. Yet many of these families face daily financial pressure. A side hustle can help them earn a little more to support the family.
A few of my favorite side gigs are taking surveys, freelance writing, and selling household items that I no longer need. With these gigs, I typically make an extra $200 to $300 a month! That can go a long way when seeing to the needs of an additional person in the household.
A Final Thought
Being able to take care of my sister is very important to me, and I know many foster families who take in children because it makes a difference in their lives. It isn’t a job for the meek. Fostering a child takes sacrifice, love, lots of patience — and quite a bit of financial planning!
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