Am I in a good position to be a foster parent?
July 12, 2011 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Am I in a good position to be a foster parent?

Here are some potentially-relevant facts about me.

- I live in Northern California.
- I have $10,000 in savings.
- I'm 31.
- I have no children.
- I am in a long-term, committed relationship of about a year. I don't live with this person and have no plans to do so.
- I have the temperament and some experience to deal with special needs and challenges.
- I work at a flexible, part-time job with a living wage.
- I get paid under the table.

Here are some questions for you.
- Are there people who become single foster parents even though they're in a relationship?
- For being qualified, does it matter that my job is under the table?
- Based on what you know, would I be a good candidate for raising a foster child?
- I'm only finding resources online for becoming a foster parent. What is involved in the day-to-day life of being a foster parent?
- Please feel free to answer anything else you think I should be asking.

Thank you in advance for your advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've never been involved with the foster process but I would think they may require you to prove that your income is at a particular level which could be tough without tax records.
posted by ghharr at 10:17 AM on July 12, 2011

Yeah, not having real financial records is going to be an immediate dealbreaker, and even applying may wind up getting you in trouble with the IRS if they do a tax records search and your documents are missing or non-existant.
posted by Oktober at 10:19 AM on July 12, 2011

Here is an excellent blog by a young, single, foster parent. It was also posted about on Metafilter. It should have lots of good info for you.
posted by that's how you get ants at 10:21 AM on July 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

You may find this blog to be helpful. She is in a not overly dissimilar position as you, and give lots of great guidance and advice (although her specifics deal with NYC). Plus, you can get a feel for what the day-to-day of foster parenting is like.
posted by kimdog at 10:23 AM on July 12, 2011

I don't know much about fostering, but I do know a bit about being paid under the table. Usually (but not always) being paid under the table is a tax dodge (although not necessary existing for the purposes of a tax dodge) for both you and whoever is paying you, so basically your source of income has a high chance of having a criminal element. Not "I launder money for a living" criminal, but, yeah, you don't want to start shouting the fact from the rooftops.
posted by griphus at 10:23 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Getting paid under the table is probably a no-no.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:30 AM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is something to ask a caseworker or social worker in your particular jurisdiction. Different agencies (there can be multiple agencies in one jurisdiction, each with their own policies and procedures) and different locations all have different rules.

I do know that not having "enough" income is not a big deal. In fact, a lot of foster parents do it at least partly for the income.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:31 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Under the table usually means without anyone paying various taxes, so that's a big problem for you and your employer if you bring that up. My understanding, on the East Coast, is that for special needs foster parents they prefer at least one parent not work and be able to stay home with the child. I think you also have to have a source of income though, because what you get "paid" is technically only to reimburse you for expenses for the child and they might not like that you couldn't show them another source.
posted by mrs. taters at 10:33 AM on July 12, 2011

I think you sound like you are an in excellent place to be a foster parent, and should pursue speaking to an agency about it ASAP. The introductory classes (here in NY they use the "Group Preparation & Selection (GPS)/ Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP)" program) could be a good period of discernment for you. I wouldn't let your financial worries hold you back- it'll be the agency's job to screen you, don't pre-screen yourself!

As for day-to-day life, there are tons of blogs out there written by foster/adoptive parents. E-mail me if you want a list of my favorites.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:46 AM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

We went through most of the foster-care approval process in Wisconsin. It would be absolutely impossible for you to be approved while you are paid under the table. I cannot imagine California being that liberal. We needed to submit IRS returns for the last 3? 5? I can't remember years.

Other than that, you sound fine.
posted by desjardins at 10:53 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't let your financial worries hold you back- it'll be the agency's job to screen you, don't pre-screen yourself!

I strongly disagree with this as it may bring you to the IRS' or state Department of Revenue's attention.
posted by desjardins at 10:54 AM on July 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

I find it hard to believe that foster care agencies work as IRS watchdogs. It seems most can barely stay on top of their own work.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:57 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

The stipend that foster parents receive is not meant to supplement income, it's meant to (partially) cover the material costs of feeding and clothing a child. I don't know what sort of restrictions California has, but at least in some states, there are considerable restrictions on how foster-child stipends are spent.

According to the California Department of Social Services, foster homes must be licensed, and I would imagine licensing includes verifying source of income, checking public records, etc. Lack of tax records seems likely to be a problem-- and if you're getting paid under the table, someone is almost certainly evading taxes. The screening process will almost certainly bring your income and employer under scrutiny, and that seems likely to cause all kinds of problems. Tax evasion is something that would not only disqualify you as a foster parent, but is likely to get you and/or your employer into trouble.
posted by Kpele at 11:02 AM on July 12, 2011

When you say "under the table"- I am going to assume that you pay taxes and that what you do for work is legal- if it ain't you really need to clear that up. Not really because of employment verification- but because commiting crimes would make you inelligible as a provider.

that being said- While I don't know much about california laws, my mom works at a DFACS, specifically foster care providers. There is a very real need for foster parents in every state. Not being rich is not an issue. Living with someone can often be, but when my mom is doing assesments, she needs to know and check out the people that will have close contact with the children.

In every state- there are people specifically employed to answer these questions with no obligation. I really encourage you to talk to them- there is often open houses and a bunch of meet and greets where you can ask specific questions.
posted by Blisterlips at 11:14 AM on July 12, 2011

Kpele, the blog post you linked about foster-child stipends is about a specific voucher for clothing. That is different from the general money that goes to foster parents.

If being poor disqualified people from fostering, we would have a lot fewer foster parents. From the same blog you linked:
There’s a class gap, like none other I’ve seen in the city, when it comes to daycare. It’s why most middle-class/upper-middle-class people I know say they can’t “afford” a foster care child while most welfare-dependent foster parents can’t afford to not have the check that comes with foster care children.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:15 AM on July 12, 2011

I can't comment on the financial stuff as my knowledge is about the UK, but certainly in the UK,

- Are there people who become single foster parents even though they're in a relationship?

Yes, there are. If your partner would be staying over or having much (possibly any) contact with foster children, he or she would (again in the UK) need to have background checks (Criminal Records Bureau over here) and possibly also provide referees in the same way you would. But the fact of having a partner in this situation wouldn't itself be a problem.
posted by paduasoy at 11:27 AM on July 12, 2011

I have a friend who went through the process in Maryland. She and her husband had to attend prep courses that went for, I think, several months, and which laid out the experience clearly. Her impression was that the courses were meant to give prospective foster parents a lot of time to back out if they felt they really couldn't handle it. (She was looking at fostering older children, and looking to adopt through the process.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:30 AM on July 12, 2011

I was licensed as a foster parent for about four years with the City and County of San Francisco. I had to take a class (@ 3 hours/week in the evening, I think it was 8 or 10 weeks), get fingerprinted, get certified in CPR and first aid, and undergo a background check and home visits. I'm almost certain that I did not have to submit tax returns. There was some check to verify my income.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:34 AM on July 12, 2011

Also -- in the City and County of San Francisco, your partner or anyone regularly visiting your home is supposed to be fingerprinted as well.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:43 AM on July 12, 2011

I've worked in child welfare for 20 years, though not doing foster home certification and not in California. We don't want folks to depend on the income to support their daily needs-but we don't ask for tax records or employer verification. Otherwise, you sound like a great candidate! I totally encourage you to go for it.
posted by purenitrous at 8:56 PM on July 12, 2011

Are there people who become single foster parents even though they're in a relationship?

Sure. A friend of mine did. She wanted to adopt a child and went ahead with the foster-to-adopt process even though her husband wasn't interested. I imagine there were many rather tense conversations along the line, but my friend wanted the child enough that she decided to do it with or without her husband.

And there's a happy ending! They're still together, and they've since adopted the boy she fostered, and everything is dandy as far as I know.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:38 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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