“Abigail” self-identified as a black female in her early thirties, and living in the south. She was a part-time teacher and her husband worked for an engineering company. They both worked additional hours outside the home as housekeepers. She reported their combined income as less than $20,000 a year. They had five of their own children in the home when the child of a family member came to live with them.

Abigail attributed his coming to live with them to a lack of attention and poor parenting. When asked about positive experiences and bad days with the child, Abigail said, “There are not any good memories with this kids. [He tried to] kill [himself] in front of my kids.” In regards to the relationship between the children in her home, “He just makes it hard for the other kids.” But when asked about what was the hardest part of fostering, Abigail said, “Dealing with all the drama and conflicts with the real parent. I think that if she had a mother that really cared about her and her siblings, she would be better off.”

Abigail had these thoughts about the professionals she interacted with, she said, “The people that brought [him] to me were very professional and are dealing with a lot; especially with this family that I am currently dealing with.” Adding to this about what Abigail thinks works well in the foster care system, she replied, “They take the kids out of the home and try to place them with people that want to help them until their parents can get it together.” When asked what is broken, she shared, “The only thing I hate about the system is having to go back and forth to court, and the parent(s) have not done anything that they were supposed to do to get their kid(s) back.”

“I am a great foster parent, and I think most of us are; but if the kid doesn’t want it to work then its not going to. [I believe that the job of the foster care system is] to care for that child as if were your own.”

Insights:

Abigail’s family jumped into a family crisis. As is often reported in kinship care situations, one of the things they found most stressful was being caught in the middle of the family drama while also trying to follow the rules as foster parents. In all likelihood, they were required to keep this child and his family separated. Similarly, if visitations were permitted, they would have to be supervised by the kinship carers.

Although Abigail’s family income is relatively low – particularly when she had her four children, her fostered child, herself and her husband to care for on that income –the state that she lives in allows less than $250 a month to support the additional child in her home. The range of foster care rates for a non-kin foster child is $465-500. The national average of the monthly cost of a raising a child $662-1088 based on USDA and life insurance projections. That means foster parents in Abigail’s state receive $162 a month less than the average cost of paying for that child’s needs. As a kinship foster parent, Abigail needed more than $400 extra a month to fill in the gap of caring for another child in her home.

It is difficult to understand how foster parents can be accused of “doing it for the money” with these kinds of numbers. And it makes the sacrifice Abigail’s family made to help their family member apparent. Abigail did not make money caring for her kin; she spread even thinner financial resources that could have been dedicated to her own children.

Both liberals and conservatives argue that family members should be the first choice for caring for children rather than placing children with strangers (foster parents). Indeed, there are some important benefits: cultural and family traditions can be maintained, it can be less disruptive for the child, and the family is often happier with the arrangement (initially, at least). But it also begs the question: how can Abigail adequately care for the needs of her fostered kin, who appears to needs special care, and her immediate family on their income? Is the burden too great? Can spreading their resources so thin actually increase the odds that her children are at greater risk for homelessness, hunger, and other social problems associated with lower incomes?