VOICES: Foster parents should be better compensated

Chad Dudash (CONTRIBUTED)

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Chad Dudash (CONTRIBUTED)

The reimbursement rates for foster parents, who care for our most vulnerable children, are nothing short of abysmal and these parents deserve better.

Licensed foster parents receive as little as $10 a day in Henry County, which has the lowest reimbursement rate in Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

In Montgomery County, the minimum monthly reimbursement rate for one child is $630. Nearby, in Clark County the minimum monthly reimbursement rate is even lower, at just $583, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The payments are called “base rates” and are essentially subsidies from the government to pay for the basic needs of children, like food, transportation, and clothing according to wehavekids.com, an organization dedicated to supporting foster parents. Most states, including Ohio, reimburse at a monthly rate depending on the needs of the child, like age and special needs.

The responsibilities for a foster parent include housing, feeding, clothing and taking children to and from school, as well as doctor appointments. Food alone can cost working parents up to $4,000 per year per child, according to the USDA. Subsidies, as they are, barely cover that expense.

For a foster parent with more than one child, it is essentially another part-time job.

The reality is many foster parents need to take care of more than one child because of the over 16,000 children in foster care in Ohio, according to the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect.

“The state spends lots and lots of dollars recruiting new families, but they don’t spend lots and lots of dollars trying to figure out how to change their system,” said Dot Erickson-Anderson, a representative from the Ohio Family Care Association, an organization dedicated to supporting foster care parents.

Ohio pays a per diem, which means that the state’s roughly 8,000 foster parents are only paid for as many days as they had the child in their care. The payments to foster parents are still sent monthly.

In most counties, Ohio also reimburses an annual clothing subsidy to the foster care parent. The clothing reimbursement is usually between $100 and $1,000 annually. There is also a personal incidental reimbursement rate, which includes toys, hygiene items, extracurriculars, and any other cost associated with the child, ranging from $0 to $3,000. These numbers are based on the latest numbers available on Ohio’s website.

Some will look at those numbers and think foster parents are flush with cash because of the additional reimbursements, but consider this: It costs an average of just under $700 a year per sport for various fees, according to a survey by the Aspen Institute. Some sports, like gymnastics, cost twice that.

It’s easy to say “just keep them out of sports,” but the Aspen Institute notes the benefits of children’s participation in sports, including the health benefits of physical activity and cognitive skills development.

Even before a foster parent can take in a child they are required to go through intensive training and a home study. These studies include home visits, background checks, references, safety and fire inspections, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The per diem that Ohio allots does not account for the lost time accrued from all of these responsibilities. If a foster parent has to take time off of work in order to take a child to the doctor, the parent might lose wages.

“To say, whether or not a per diem that a particular foster parent is getting in a particular county, in a particular situation is or is not enough. There’s not an answer to that, it’s a very specific kind of role,” Erikson-Anderson said.

The best possible option is to support legislation that increases financial support for foster parents.

Chad Dudash is a Media Studies and Psychology double major at Wright State University.

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