For five years, Monique Glaudé pondered becoming a foster parent.
With her daughter in elementary school full-time and a son in college, this year seemed like a good one to pursue the idea.
It just so happened to be at the same time the economy went sour. But that didn’t stop the Topeka single mom and executive assistant from moving forward with her plans.
“I spoke with the family in depth, and we were all in unison to be a foster family. Now is the time. It’s just perfect,” said Glaudé, who is in the middle of the process and eagerly awaiting a girl around her daughter’s age.
Federal funding for recruitment efforts has resulted in a boost of interested people wanting to become foster parents, said Bruce Linhos, executive director of Children’s Alliance of Kansas. The nonprofit has recently run ads encouraging people to become foster-care parents in Northeast Kansas.
“We’ve had 25 responses in two and a half weeks. For us, that’s pretty good,” Linhos said.
In the past year, the Kansas Children’s Service League has seen more than a doubling in the number of families interested about becoming foster care parents. The agency, which recruits families for adoption and foster care across the state, had almost 400 inquiries last year.
Part of the jump was due to bolstered recruitment efforts that focused on children who were older or African American, executive director Janet Schalansky said.
For Glaudé, the extra cost of caring for another child didn’t seem to be a concern.
“I’m sure I’ll tighten up on my budget a little more, buy more in bulk, but otherwise I don’t think it will affect my family,” she said.
The ‘wow factor’
The economy didn’t dissuade John and Suzy Novotny — a travel agent and a real estate agent — from becoming foster parents. The couple made the decision in September when Suzy visited a boy she was mentoring at a shelter in Lawrence.
“It opened my eyes,” she said. “There shouldn’t be so many children without homes.”
The recent empty nesters reasoned that with two spare bedrooms, they could provide a safe place for foster care children. Before they could take in any, the two had to complete a course preparing them for foster parenting.
“We really just didn’t have a reason not to do it,” John Novotny said.
Two weeks ago, the Novotnys received their first foster child, a 12-year-old boy. So far, the state has covered the basic needs of the child and the biggest effect on their lives has been the time commitment. But they say the experience has been worth it.
“The wow factor is more valuable. You can’t place a dollar amount on it,” Suzy Novotny said.
While foster parents are reimbursed for their efforts, Schalansky said it rarely covers the true cost of caring for the child. The state pays the foster family from $603 to $3,450 a month per child, depending on the child’s needs.
Foster parents undergo financial, emotional and home evaluations to determine whether they are suitable. However, there are no set guidelines for how much parents have to earn to take in a child.
Training for potential foster parents covers budgeting, said Erin Bailey Stucky, president of integrated services for KVC Behavioral HealthCare. Along with covering the necessities of food and clothes, the state reimbursement money goes toward the cost of transportation to school, doctor visits and other appointments.
“It’s meant to be a reimbursement and not a payment. In that vein, (families) do budget. They know the reimbursement they are getting and make sure they fall within that,” Stucky said.
Resources are also available in the community for the extras that foster children might need. Douglas County Friends of Foster Care helps pay for soccer shoes, camps, dance lessons and school letterman jackets, Stucky said.
Number in system steady
So far the economy hasn’t affected the number of children in foster care, agencies said.
Judy Culley, executive director of The Shelter Inc., said the number of families in need of financial assistance — money for therapy, drug and alcohol treatment, rent and utilities — is up. But the Lawrence agency, which provides foster care and emergency shelter for children age 10 and older, hasn’t seen a rise in children needing homes.
“That doesn’t mean we couldn’t,” Culley said. “We are far from the end of this financial downturn.”
As for KVC, which has foster care children throughout northeast Kansas, all the children in the system are able to find homes in the state, Stucky said. However, more families are always needed so children can remain in their home communities.
Marianne Berry, Kansas University professor of social welfare, said it’s hard to draw any direct line from the economy to trends in the foster care system.
Poor economic conditions create more family stress, which can lead to an increase in physical abuse. And child neglect cases — whether it is failing to making sure a child goes to school or not feeding them — could increase as families are faced with more difficult financial situations.
That doesn’t necessarily translate into more children in the foster care system, especially if state funding is cut.
When the number of foster care beds begins to tighten up, Berry said, subconsciously workers tend to begin reserving the open spots for the most severe cases and families in the more borderline cases would be directed to other agencies for help. In the long run, those children will eventually end up in foster care, or worse, the juvenile correction system, she said.
“If this level of need continues,” Berry said, “kids are going to start to suffer.”