Monday, March 9, 2015

Preparing to be a Foster Parent Financially

I’m sure if you have even peripherally thought about becoming a foster parent and/or adopting a foster child one of the first thoughts that have come to your mind is… “What is this going to cost?”  It is natural.  We believe being fiscally responsible is not only important but an example we are given repeatedly in the Bible that we should faithfully follow.  I am not at all surprised that this is one of the first things that come up when discussing the reality of achieving the title of foster parent.

So what does the financial picture of adopting from foster care look like?  I’m going to try and answer that here and also give you an idea of what to expect in getting the process started.

First things first we need to contact our local DCS office in our county and get the ball rolling.  If you visit the DCS website you will find links to Foster Parent Requirements and frequently asked questions…and most importantly the Online Inquiry Form.   (Outside Indiana you will need to Google your state name and DCS.)  In broad terms then what you are going to need to do is fill out a lot of paperwork, answer a lot of questions, endure a home visit to fulfil the home study and schedule a doctor’s appointment.  During this process you will also be invited to informational meetings and classes aimed at getting you up to speed in how DCS works with foster parents.

We were a little surprised to learn that the state pays for our training.  They pay for an agency to complete your home study.  They pay for just about everything.  In this process I think the only thing that David and I had to pony up cash for was our fingerprinting.  (It runs in my mind that was like $27 each.)  Oh yeah.  You have to be finger printed as part of the local/national background check they will run.   We were given vouchers/codes to register for classes that required payment such as from the Foster Parents College or to the Red Cross for CPR & First Aid.  

Okay…so let’s fast forward to the day your home is certified as a foster home.  What then? 
When you have a child placed in your home there are pieces of information that will be provided to you about the child.  One of those things is their CANS score.  This is a score achieved looking at the child’s needs physically, medically and other factors including age.  Using the CANS score a Per Diem (daily) rate is established.  Then, as the foster parent, you will bill the state at the end of each month for the days in the prior month this child was in your care.  This money is to be used to offset food, clothing, child care, school supplies and any other expenses you may incur having this foster child in your home.   (Book fees and lunches in public school are paid for by the state also!)  Whatever remains is yours to apply to your family budget as you deem necessary.  

Let’s say that you work full time and have a foster child in your care that is not yet school aged.  You are probably going to spend most of their per diem in child care expenses.  However, if you are stay at home Mom and have that same child…you are essentially being paid by the state to perform that child care yourself.  If that child has other siblings each one has their own per diem rate.  (We had NO idea this was the case when we started the process.  We were very surprised.)  You can see a spreadsheet of the current CANS per diem rates here.  The rate runs across the top and the number of days in care run down the side.  So you could check totals for partial months or for a whole month.  Remember if you have multiple siblings in your home then you would add those altogether.  It can run into the thousands of dollars a month.   I had no idea.  

As I have spoken about before there is also their Medicaid.  Doctors, Dentist/Orthodontists, Eye Doctors/Glasses/Contacts, Therapy/Therapists and all their medications are covered.  Zero out of pocket for the foster parent…and the adoptive parents moving forward post-adoption!  That Medicaid will go with them until they are at least 18 years old.  It is my understanding that Medicaid can then be extended at that point depending on their circumstance; those circumstances are reevaluated as the child nears 18 years of age.

There are also special allowances made by DCS.  Each child has a special occasion allowance that can be billed for birthday and holiday gifts…and other unusual things.  I believe it is something like $50 for birthday and holiday gifts and then a total of up to $300 a year for other things that are specified by DCS.  

Okay so we are starting to get a good idea of what we are dealing with during the fostering period.  Now what can we expect moving forward?  Once a child or sibling group has become eligible for adoption and they are in a pre-adoptive placement it usually takes a minimum of 6 months to work through to the point that you will get a finalization date.  There must be visits each month from the Family Case Manager and possibly from a CASA or Guardian Ad Litem.  These are members of your child’s team.  They are the ones responsible to report back to the judge each quarter and let the judge know how the placement is going. In our case it took ten months from placement to finalization…however we had a minor hiccup of moving mid-placement so some extra time was taken to ensure that the boys had a smooth transition into our new home and their new school.  

As the time draws closer for finalization you will be prompted by your child’s Family Case Manager to find an attorney.  The state reimburses you up to $1500 per child for ‘non reoccurring adoption expenses’ aka attorney fees!  There are many attorneys who are willing to take these cases for what the state provides.  In our case we found an attorney in the boys' home county who took our case.  He was a juvenile prosecutor.  LOL  He told me he loved doing these cases because they were FUN after what he does for his ‘day job’.  He could have charged us $3000 for his services…but he did not.  He only charged his actual time and it came up to something like $2500…which included reimbursing for court filing costs!  So the state paid him directly what he billed…and we had not one red cent out of pocket for his services.  We did pay a total of $20 on finalization day when we applied for the boys’ new birth certificates with their new names.  Ten dollars each.  I’d say that is worth it. 

I touched on this before.  Let’s talk about the Post Adoption Agreement.  This is one of the things that your attorney will be working on for you.  The state and your attorney will negotiate the child or children’s post adoption per diem if they are designated a Special Needs Adoption.  The SNAP program is there to assist adoptive parents caring for children with special needs but also older child adoptions and any sibling adoption qualifies also by definition.  Depending on the child’s physical and emotional needs it will be greater or smaller.  A child who has long-term physical or emotional disabilities is obviously going to need more going forward than a child with no disability.  In our case our boys have pretty severe Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Effects.  Elijah in particular has very poor eye sight from being exposed to drugs and alcohol in the womb.  He could potentially lose his eye sight all together as he progresses through adolescence.  Nate’s struggles are more social and educational.  With Nate we face the reality that he may not ever be able to fully be independent.  These are things that are taken into consideration.   

In the end we were able to negotiate a rate that works out to a bit more than $25,800 a year.  You read that right.  …and all the income from foster care is tax free.  Did I mention that?  It is a ‘reimbursement’ for care…so it is not taxable.  That is crazy.  I am able to be home to care for my children (and teach them!) and still bring in a pay check of sorts.  I did not have any idea that would be the case when we started this journey.  We were only obeying what we knew God was pressing on our hearts to do.  What a blessing.  

Speaking of taxes there is also the Adoption Tax Credit!  That is a nice shot in the arm come tax time!

All of this has allowed us to pay down debt.  We are able to live in a large home on a large piece of wooded land and the kids LOVE IT.  The most amazing thing is that because of that we have more bed rooms, more beds, a large 14 passenger van and the ABILITY to do even more than before.  We can continue to be foster parents to even more children.  God has multiplied what we humbly came to him with…the desire to do more…and he just keeps growing it exponentially!  

My ultimate point here is this... Financially there is no reason not to get involved and make a difference in the life of a child or a sibling group.  We have no excuse.

Are you excited?  Are you ready to get out there and be the change you want to see in the world?  Do you feel strongly that being a foster parent might be your personal ministry?  Are you prepared to see and experience God’s blessing on your life?  Are you ready to be stretched and grown farther than you ever dreamed you were capable?  Has God already been equipping you for this very moment?  Are you willing to seek only His will and not necessarily what you want in the moment?  Then I’d say…you are ready to take that next step!

Pray.  Seek His guidance.  Then STEP OUT in faith.   
You can do this!  


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