Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Update: Turning foster parents into welfare queens will cost $1 billion

So now it’s official. The group that so arrogantly calls itself “Children’s Rights” – apparently on the assumption that the “right” children crave more than any other is to spend more time in foster care – is out with its report trying to justify the notion that foster parents should be reimbursed for every dime they spend caring for foster children. (See the previous entry on this Blog).

It was obvious from the start that this would cost a fortune. But because the amount CR wants to lavish on foster parents is even greater than I’d expected, the price tag is even larger than I’d imagined. Not that CR actually offers a total, of course. But using data from the report, a very conservative estimate is that doing what CR wants done would cost at least one billion dollars a year. That’s one billion dollars that could be used for, say, rent subsidies for birth parents, so they don’t lose their children because they lack housing, which CR says should go instead to help foster parents pay their utility bills – and cover extra wear and tear on the furniture. That’s one billion dollars that could be used to help parents pay for day care so they don’t lose their children because of “lack of supervision” charges, going instead to foster parents to cover every penny of whatever it may cost them to send the same children to day care.

And we’re not just talking about necessities here. CR wants foster parents reimbursed for the cost of after school activities and admission to movies and amusement parks. They even want the government to pay a foster parent to buy his foster child a teddy bear or a video game.

The excuse CR offers for proposing what amounts to a billion dollar transfer of funds from the poor to the middle class is that low reimbursement rates supposedly are contributing to America’s “shortage” of foster parents.

But for starters, America doesn’t have a shortage of foster parents. America has a surplus of foster children. Spend another $1 billion on housing, day care and other help for struggling families and a large number of foster homes would empty out in a hurry. (One third of foster children could be home right now if their birth parents just had decent housing). And that would be the end of the foster parent “shortage.”

But even if one believes we need more foster parents, there is little evidence that a giant pay raise is the way to get them. For starters, CR offers no evidence that states which pay high rates have less of a “shortage” than states paying lower rates. Furthermore, as it happens, another group released a report yesterday, the National Council for Adoption. Their press release cites a poll in which foster parents are asked why they quit. The top reasons have nothing to do with money. Rather, they cite lack of support from child welfare agencies and poor relationships with caseworkers. And that is just what one would expect from a group that is, on the whole, generous toward children, in every sense of the term.

But it turns out that CR has almost as much contempt for foster parents as it has for birth parents. Because CR apparently believes foster parents are so greedy that they won’t even buy a foster child a toy unless the government picks up the tab.