The current economy is difficult for all of us. But, imagine you were a foster parent taking care of several children, including three or four children in foster care. Such is the case for approximately 1300 foster/adoptive families in Utah recruiting families to provide this care is becoming more and more difficult because of the rising costs of everyday life.
Children belong in their homes with their parents and siblings. Unfortunately, there are times when it is not possible for them to remain in their homes, due to abuse or neglect. The families in Utah who come forward to care for these children and youth are remarkable. Most of them are not "wealthy." Some of them already have children in their homes, and some are willing to provide permanency through adoption for children who can never return home.
These are Utah's children. These are "our" children.
Foster parents in Utah are not paid a salary. The State of Utah provides a reimbursement for the basic costs of living expenses for the children in their home. Depending on the type of care and the age of the child, foster parents receive an average of $16.79 a day. In comparison, the cost for dog owners to kennel an animal along the Wasatch Front is approximately $25 a day. Utah's reimbursement rate does not cover child care costs, so foster parents must pay hundreds of dollars a month from their own pockets for day care.
National research completed last year resulted in a report titled "Hitting the M.A.R.C." (Minimum Adequate Rates for Children). According to the M.A.R.C. report, current reimbursement rates in Utah are inadequate to meet the children's basic needs and should be increased by an average of 43 percent.
The report in its entirety can be found at www.family.umaryland.edu.
Utah's foster families provide so much more than food, shelter and clothing. They are a shoulder to cry on for a frustrated teen with parents who cannot overcome drug addictions. They are the arms who hold and comfort the babies who cry into the night because everything familiar to them is gone through no fault of their own. Foster parents are also the ones who, with meager amounts of money, willingly give it to a teenage girl to purchase her first prom dress. And yes, they are the ones who are accused of "doing it for the money" by an uninformed public.
Foster families must be recognized as a precious resource in Utah. They must be adequately reimbursed for the costs of basic care for children. We simply cannot afford to lose the families already licensed. If foster parents are not reimbursed for the true cost of caring for children, some will be unable to continue providing this service, and it will be the children who suffer. Without foster families, our children are more likely to be placed in costly institutional facilities or bounced from placement to placement. These unstable situations harm children and decrease their chances of growing up in a permanent family.
If you are interested in increasing pay for foster families, I urge you to call your local legislator.
If you want more information on becoming a foster parent, please contact Kobi Marchello of the Utah Foster Care Foundation at 435-636-0210 or go to www.utahfostercare.org.
Kelly Peterson is the CEO of the Utah Foster Care Foundation, a nonprofit organization that finds, educates and nurtures families to meet the needs of children in foster care.