This week, I will be writing a short series about the costs involved in special needs fostering and adoption. Although many costs are pretty obvious, there are others that prospective foster and adoptive parents might not consider ahead of time. Some of these things we were made aware of before we started fostering, but many we didn't learn about until it was too late.
In today's post, I am going to discuss the financial impact of fostering or adopting special needs children. It is important to realize that kids, even one's own healthy biological children, can be costly. The costs involved in feeding and clothing a child can sometimes be surprising, even for the most thrifty and clever families. It is important to realize that the foster care and adoption assistance stipends offered in most states aren't enough to decently feed, house, and clothe your average kid. Subsidies are especially lacking for younger children, and generally aren't enough to keep the little ones in diapers or formula.
So, if one is planning to foster or adopt, one needs to be prepared for the fact that the subsidy money won't cover all out-of-pocket expenses. Although many parents may think they are prepared for this, sometimes they find themselves taken by surprise.
This problem can often seem worse when a child is first placed. It is not uncommon for kids to arrive with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, but initial clothing vouchers and stipends are often late in coming. For an unprepared foster family, this can create an unexpected burden on the family budget.
When one is parenting a special-needs child, there are often many costs that go far beyond what one would expect. Children with physical, intellectual, or emotional problems often can require an unexpected number of medical visits, therapies and other interventions, not all of which are fully covered by the provided state-sponsored or any private insurance the family might have. Although the more seriously affected kids might qualify for difficulty of care subsidies, even those aren't always enough to cover medical supplies, medications, insurance co-payments, respite, or the cost of residential care.
Although direct, out-of-pocket costs can often be unexpected, it is the hidden financial costs of fostering and adopting that can be a larger surprise. Prospective parents generally have an idea of the direct costs they will face when they foster or adopt, but they do not always realize that fostering or adopting special needs kids can have a big impact on a family's ability to earn an income.
The biggest impact a special-needs child can have on a family is in terms of scheduling. Many kids have multiple appointments per week, including trips to court, therapy, medical appointments, parent/teacher conferences and birth family visits. Most, if not all, of these appointments will need to be scheduled during business hours, and will require a parent to take time off from work. The number of appointments can seriously interfere with a parent's ability do his or her job, making it very difficult for a two-income or single-parent household to maintain its standard of living.
Even when one has an understanding boss, it still can be hard, especially if a parent is dealing with a child with emotional or behavioral problems. Bosses and clients tend to have a limit to the number of times they can expect sudden absences because of family crises. Once in a while can be forgiven, but woe to the employee who has an extremely difficult child.
Self-employment can help with this problem, but even that has limits. Most self-employed people still need to meet their customers' obligations. It can be very tough when one finds themselves participating in intensive in-home therapeutic interventions that can take up to as much as eight hours per week. It is extremely hard to keep up with work when one is running around from appointment to appointment, many of which can be emotionally exhausting.
In addition to interfering with one's ability to work, special-needs kids coming from overseas orphanages or the domestic foster care system frequently come bundled with emotional or behavioral problems. In addition to the expected costs of therapy and medications, it is not uncommon for kids to steal or deliberately destroy things of value. Parents do not expect to pay for serious damage done to their home by their children. Some kids will slash tires, punch holes in walls, shatter windows, break furniture, or deliberately urinate or defecate in places other than the toilet.
In some cases, not only will kids destroy a family's home, but they will do damage to the neighborhood as well. Parents can easily find themselves paying for damages to their own home, and for damages done to the property of others. Although foster parents often enjoy limited liability from the damages their troubled kids might do to others, they are rarely reimbursed for the damages their kids cause to their homes and property.
Part of the problem with fostering or adopting special needs children is that one rarely is given full information about a child to be able to properly plan for these costs. More often than not, a family doesn't realize the extent of a child's needs, and the costs associated with those needs, until they are already committed. By then, it can be too late, sometimes because an adoption has already been finalized, and sometimes because a disruption would be too painful for everyone involved.
Next up: The Social Costs of Special Needs Adoption