The Costs and Benefits of Becoming a Foster Parent

Most families considering fostering a child have a similar story: “They always want to do it someday — when their kids are old enough, life is slow enough, or when they have enough money in the bank,” says Jason Johnson, a foster parent of four.

In addition to writing about foster care on behalf of his family, Johnson also works with a national nonprofit organization to advocate for resources that support the foster system.

The trouble is, “someday” rarely comes.

Are you considering providing a safe and nurturing home for one of the more than 400,000 kids in the U.S. foster care system? First, understand the process and the financial and emotional preparation involved.

Three Things to Consider When Planning to Foster

If you’re considering fostering a child, Johnson suggests thinking concretely about time, finances, and support.

1. Time: While the foster system partners with families to determine a child who might be the best fit concerning age, gender, and special needs, it can’t always account for the duration of the child’s stay. The amount of time in foster care can vary based on the child’s situation, which might mean as little as a few weeks or as much as a lifetime.

“We need families saying, ‘Whether it’s one month or one year, we are in this for the long haul for the sake of the kid,'” Johnson says.

2. Finances: It’s only natural to have financial concerns about fostering a child. “But in terms of hard financial costs, there’s actually very little,” Johnson says. While government programs vary from state to state, foster families are typically given a per-diem stipend, as well as other financial resources, including food stamps, Medicaid, and childcare subsidies. Some states even provide free in-state tuition for public universities and extra stipends for the child’s birthday or Christmas.

Once you’ve taken on a foster child, Johnson suggests putting the government per diem into a savings account in the child’s name and using that money when needed on appropriate, related expenses. You could use it, for instance, to buy fire extinguishers and other items to meet the government home inspection, or to cover the cost of an adoption attorney if you adopt your foster child.

3. Support: All foster families need extra support — from family and friends, churches, or community organizations — to help with the emotional and physical aspects of raising a child. The government also requires a background check and specialized training for anyone who looks after foster children. Johnson points out that many people are unaware of these requirements, so talk with your friends and family about the additional support you will need and whether they need to submit background checks or sign up for training.

How to Prepare for a Foster Child

You’ll need a foster license, training, and home setup for your newest family member. But one of the most important aspects of preparation is the emotional side.

Johnson recommends having a conversation with your whole family about what it means to foster a child: It’s not about getting a child; it’s about giving a family. When you focus on providing for the child, you’ll have the mindset to weather any hardships that occur.

The foster families Johnson has counseled all believe that helping a child is always worth the time and energy they put into the process.

If you’re ready to welcome a foster child into your home, consider these financial planning tips for nontraditional families.