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What LGBT Foster Parents Should Know

  May 14, 2020  |    #Live Fabulously

Want to be LGBT foster parents?

LGBT foster parents are needed more than ever even as the stakes are getting higher. Here’s how to navigate foster care adoption and balance your family budget for foster care expenses.

What you’ll find here:

What foster care is and isn’t

Foster care is a formal arrangement where a minor is placed in a group home, ward or private home of a state-certified caregiver, known as a “foster parent”. Alternatively, the minor may be placed with a state-approved family member. The child’s placement is typically facilitated by a social service agency or government agency.

When families can’t take care of their children, foster care acts as a protective service for children and their families. Some of the circumstances that lead biological families to seek foster care assistance for their children include mental illness, homelessness, job loss, substance abuse, poverty and lack of community or extended family support.

Foster care is a temporary placement for children to be provided with a loving, safe and nurturing family environment.

Hear all about foster care adoption from Jillian Johnsrud:

Jillian’s a mother of six children, four of whom were adopted through the foster care system. She and her husband adopted their first foster child when she was only 22-years-old. Since then, she has had two biological children and adopted a sibling group through the foster system.

Jillian joined Queer Money® to share her passion for helping foster kids, discussing what LGBT foster parents should know, the expenses associated with foster care adoption and the potential to foster or adopt LGBT kids specifically.

Jillian shared the process of becoming a foster parent and the key differences between foster care and private adoption. She offered insight around the challenges of working with birth parents and what it means to foster kids with ‘high needs.’

I always felt that having a loving, caring, supportive family was the greatest gift that one person could give another. - Jillian Johnsrud of @mtmoneyadventurClick To Tweet

The differences and similarities of foster care and adoption

Foster care and adoption are similar in that they both involve caring for children that aren’t biologically yours with the goal of providing children with a nurturing, supportive and loving home.

One of the main differences between foster care and adoption is that foster care’s temporary while adoption’s permanent.

With foster care, the agency’s or social worker’s aim is to fix the challenges in the child’s home so the child may return to his/her biological parents. When the birth parents can document they’re able to support their child socially, emotionally and financially, the child can return.

In some cases, foster parents may be allowed to adopt the child if returning the child to his or her birth parents isn’t possible. This situation, in some states, maybe coordinated as a “fost-adopt” program where parents foster the child with the possibility of becoming legally eligible for adoption.

In other situations, social workers may be able to assist you in identifying children that are more likely to be available for future adoption.

Your local Social Security agency or court system will typically mediate foster placements.

Adoptions are legally bound relationships that give the adopted child all the privileges and rights of a biological child. Sometimes, biological parents voluntarily waive their rights because they’ve decided it’s in the child’s best interest.

Fostering and adoption may also differ in contact with birth parents. For example, most international adoptions are closed meaning the child has no birth parent contact following the adoption finalization.

In contrast, domestic adoptions typically involve birth parent contact to some degree. Some may include visitations or in many cases, the birth parents are updated by emails, texts or letters.

In a child fostering situation, children are encouraged to keep regular contact with their birth parents. Court-mandated birth parent visits may also apply.

Fostering and adopting also differ in the degree of decision making for the child. Foster parents may make some decisions though they aren’t allowed to make major medical choices or decide how the child will attend religious services or school.

If you’ve adopted a child, you can decide where the child will attend school and how they’ll obtain religious education.

To get your questions about adoption answered, listen to this Queer Money®:

Why same-sex foster parents are important

LGBT foster parents are an important part of the foster care system, both economically and for their unique empathy and ability in relating to common challenges faced by foster children.

Studies show that versus opposite-sex couples, foster parents are six times more likely to raise foster children. In the absence of gay fostering, the US would lose between $87 to $130 million in child care.

As LGBT foster parents, you’re likely to impart a special empathy in supporting foster care children that may struggle with feeling different from their peers who have a “normal” family life.

In addition, you can be a positive role model for LGBT foster care kids that may be facing rejection due to their sexual orientation.
LGBT kids in the foster system need role models that look like them

There are many LGBT kids in the foster system who need role models that look like them.

According to a Pediatrics 2019 study, 30.4% of foster care youth identify as LGBTQ and 5% as transgender, versus 11.2% and 1.17% of those not in foster care. LGBT kids are considered “high needs” in most states, which sadly makes them harder to place.

Foster care for children with special needs

For a couple of reasons, LGBTQ people and same-sex couples are more likely to foster and adopt children with special needs. This presents its own set of unique challenges. For example, creating a financial plan for special needs children for when parents pass away is a consideration for LGBT parents and same-sex couples. Another consideration is how to separate special needs children’s’ money to still avail them of government benefits.

Fortunately, we talked with Minoti Rajput on Queer Money® about how to plan for all of this.

Listen for more great info on fostering and adopting kids with high-needs:

Being an LGBT foster parent

The road to becoming LGBT foster parents has unique speed bumps in navigating state agencies, discrimination and finding support.

States that allow LGBT folks to foster

All states allow LGBT foster parents, and foster care non-discrimination laws exist to protect LGBT families and foster parents from being discriminated against by foster care officials and agencies.

Unfortunately, some states allow state-licensed child welfare agencies to refuse services and placement to families and children which includes same-sex couples and LGBT people, based on differences of religious beliefs.

Challenges for LGBT foster parents

Two of the biggest challenges for prospective LGBT foster parents are discrimination and finding support.

The Movement Advancement Placement Project (MAP) notes that 40% of the LGBTQ population resides in states that provide no specific protection from being discriminated against within the foster care system, based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

In addition, 20% of the LGBTQ population resides in states that allow state-licensed welfare agencies to deny foster care placement and services to families and children – including same-sex couples and LGBTQ children, based on their religious beliefs.

While opposite-sex parents typically find support easily with “mom groups,” churches and school organizations for help taking care of their foster children, LGBT foster parents may find such support lacking because of either conscious or unconscious discrimination.

FAQs from prospective LGBT foster parents

What are the different kinds of foster care?

Foster care includes traditional care, tribal care, medical/therapeutic care, emergency/shelter care, relative/kinship care and respite/short-term care.

It’s important to note the varying foster care opportunities will differ in terms of time and financial resources needed. For example, a medical/therapeutic care foster child, in general, will require more time and expenses than traditional care due to medical or therapy service appointments.

Should I disclose my sexual orientation or gender identity?

It’s understandable that as a couple or individual it may be uncomfortable disclosing your sexual orientation or transgender status with regard to fostering.

Granted, there are laws in some states that don’t protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, however providing your information early in the fostering process will help make optimal placement decisions for you, the birth parent and the child welfare professional.

If you happen to live in a state that restricts fostering by LGBTQ couples, consulting with an LGBTQ advocacy organization or LGBTQ family law attorney will greatly help in successfully navigating the process. Legal assistance is available on the National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Help Line at 800-528.6257 or email [email protected]

What are the rewards and challenges of being a foster parent?

The rewards of being an LGBT foster parent are many including:

  • Providing a loving, nurturing, and safe environment for the child until he/she can transition back to their biological parents
  • Being a positive role model for foster children identifying as LGBT
  • Forming an encouraging and supportive relationship with the child’s biological parents

Unique challenges may include:

  • LGBT parenting: Although same-sex couples are welcomed by many foster care agencies, they may still face prejudice and discrimination.
  • False beliefs about how same-sex parenting affects children: Although research supports same-sex adoption doesn’t negatively impact children, unfounded views are common.

How to become foster parents

Becoming a foster parent in the United States requires licensing to be eligible to provide care. The licensing procedure is unique to each state and in some cases may differ within counties.

1. Find contact information for agencies in your state

Both public (tribal, county, and state) agencies and private agencies provide foster care.

For state agency information visit Child Welfare Information Gateway – State Resources and check the Foster Care & Adoption Directory.

Also, the Department of Children and Family Services or the Department of Human Services has approved agency listings. Internet searches are also a great way to find local agencies. For example, search “foster care New Jersey” or “becoming a foster parent New Jersey”.

County and local agencies listings are also available at AdoptUSKids and Child Welfare Information Gateway.

2. Call the agency

Start by calling the agency or agencies you’ve chosen. The agency will request information such as your name, phone number, email, and address so they can send you certification/licensing and agency information.

If there are several foster care agencies local to you, be sure to contact all of them to give yourself the opportunity to find the best fit. Depending on your state, you may be able to choose between a privately or publicly (county or state) foster care agency.

3. Complete the initial meeting

Depending on the agency, you’ll either attend an informational meeting or have the initial meeting in your home.

During the information meeting, the agency reviews foster parent responsibilities, roles and types of children the foster care agency serves.

In a home meeting, in addition to the introductory foster parent information, the agency may start to collect information about you.

During the first meeting either at the agency or in the home, it’s common that the licensed agency worker will give you forms and an application to complete. You should also receive a copy of the state foster care regulations and rules.

4. Determine your capabilities and interests

The licensing procedure is structured to help you and the agency …

Determine if foster care is a good fit for your family and to determine what children you would best serve

Determine if you meet licensing requirements and help them …what specific children would fit your family

5. Complete the family assessment

The family assessment or “home study” is done to obtain information on each family member and determine your capacity to care for children. You’ll likely be requested to complete several questionnaires and social history.

The extensive assessment will include questions about your interests, relationships and childhood.

Many times agencies do the family assessment in group sessions combined with training and orientation, though some do individual initial assessment and orientation. Formal assessment curriculums may include the Model Approach to Partnerships and Parenting (MAPP) or Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education (PRIDE).

6. Give references

You’ll need to give the agency with three or more references who can assist the agency in determining your interests and capabilities. The references will either complete a phone interview with a licensing worker or be mailed a form to complete. State laws usually mandate the references are kept confidential and can’t be viewed by potential foster parents.

7. Complete background checks

Background checks include a standardized review of child protection and criminal history. It requires authorization for the agency to do the check and fingerprints. The authorization and fingerprint information is used to (check) FBI, state and local databases.

A previous conviction or arrest does not immediately disqualify you from being considered for foster care. The determination will include the type of charges and when they occurred. The background check is crucial to make sure individuals with a history of possibly hurting children are not eligible for becoming a foster parent.

8. Complete home safety check

Agencies are required to complete a home safety check on your apartment or house to assure it’s safe for children. The licensing worker will have a checklist that’s required to be completed. The checklist’s intention is to safeguard you and your family members.

In some instances, homes may be required to be inspected by a building inspector or fire marshal. You may also be requested to provide proof of pet vaccinations and water potability on properties with wells.

9. Complete pre-service training and orientation

Prior to you becoming licensed or a child is matched with your family, many states will require you to complete 10 to 30 hours or more of training. First aid and CPR training may also be part of the pre-service requirements.

10. Obtain licensure

At the conclusion of the process, the licensing worker does a written report that includes recommendations. Typically, the recommendations are detailed on what children would be best suited for your family and areas of training you may require. The worker will then submit the specific documentation to the licensing agency, so the license can be issued.

In most states, the actual license is required to be issued in order for children to be placed in your home.

How to plan financially to become a foster parent

What’s paid for by the state?

Each state varies in the specific monthly base rate payment made to foster parents to provide for their child’s basic needs such as transportation, clothing, food and personal expenses.

Each state also offers different reimbursement rate levels based on the category of each child’s needs you take in.

The payments are a non-taxable government subsidy earmarked for the child’s care – not money to be used for a mortgage payment or personal vacation.

All foster children have their health insurance, including mental health and behavioral needs, paid for by the state.

What do I have to pay for as a foster parent?

Given that your state monthly base rate payment, in many cases, won’t come close to covering your foster child’s basic needs of transportation, clothing, food and personal expenses, you’ll be responsible for making up the difference.

What tax breaks are available for foster parents?

Although foster children frequently aren’t eligible for the same deductions and credits are taken for adopted or biological children, there are two significant tax breaks that may apply:

1. Foster care payments

Foster care payments from the state government, local government and child placement agencies are classified as nontaxable income. The logic is that the funding is used for the foster child’s support and not being paid as regular income subject to tax.

2. Foster care expenses

Your unreimbursed foster care expenses may be deductible as a charitable donation if the deductions are itemized.

If the organization or agency that placed the child with you can get charitable donations, the expenses are deductible. Conversely, if the agency is unable to accept donations, your unreimbursed expenses may qualify as support you’ve provided to the child.

You can qualify for claiming the child as a dependent if you’re providing at least half of the child’s support and meet other requirements.

Claiming a foster child

To add the foster child to your tax return, go to the Dependent screen and choose “Foster Child”. The dependent exemption can be applied to your return providing the specific requirements are met.

How to assess whether you can afford foster care adoption?

Just like preparing to buy your dream home or next vehicle, you’ll want to do a meticulous overview of your family finances to help determine if and when you can afford to foster.

An easy way to calculate if fostering fits your current budget is to do a financial snapshot and a spending analysis:

1. Take a financial snapshot

Use the Financial Snapshot Tool in here “Your Financial Roadmap Starts Here” to do a cinder-in-the-eye money health checkup. Once you know your starting point, you’ll be able to create a specific plan.

2. Do a spending analysis

If you haven’t done a spending analysis lately, you may be unpleasantly shocked to find that while you’re bringing in a healthy income you’re hemorrhaging dollars in poor spending decisions.

Our Spending Analysis Tool will help pinpoint exactly where your money’s going and help you to determine what tweaks are needed to streamline your spending.

As part of the spending analysis, include an estimate of what foster care expenses you’ll pay for beyond what state money will cover. Be sure to overestimate by 10 – 25% for unexpected expenses.

Learn all about our Spending Analysis on this Queer Money®:

3. Create a family budget

Once you’ve analyzed your spending, the next step is creating a family budget in advance of starting the fostering process.

On this Queer Money® podcast, we share how the Budget Buster Bundle can guide you in taking control of your money and budgeting like a badass!

It’ll help you and your family create a realistic budget, have more money left over at month’s end and maintain a solid financial foundation.

Creating the best budget ever on Queer Money®:

Resources for LGBT foster parents

Below are resources to help you on your foster parent journey:

LGBT supporting organizations

It’s never too early to learn how to teach personal finance to your foster or adopted children. See this video we created in partnership with Prudential for more on raising financially well children.

Topics covered with Jillian Johnsrud for LGBT foster parents

Jillian’s passion for helping foster kids

  • A loving family = greatest gift can give

The challenges around placing LGBT kids

  • Need for a supportive community

What it’s like to be a foster parent

  • Kids dealing with trauma, neglect and abuse
  • Amazing to watch them become who meant to be

The technical side of being a foster parent

  • Training class
  • Home study

The difference between foster care and private adoption

  • Private—infants, mother plans to give up a child
  • Foster—removed from birth parents (not their decision)

The expenses associated with foster care adoption

  • State tries to make as low-friction as possible
  • Cost of home study, training and licensing covered
  • Average of $1K, otherwise like biological kids

The other expenses that may be covered by the state

  • Usually, provide healthcare to age 18
  • A small stipend to offset groceries, gas

The skills you need to adopt a foster child

  • Open to learning
  • Empathetic to trauma, abuse

How you can support foster kids without adopting

  • Short-term, emergency respite placement
  • Pair with other families to watch in an emergency

The challenges of working with birth parents

  • Shame around having kids removed
  • ALL want what’s best for kids

Foster children with high needs

  • Any kids that are difficult to place
  • Includes sibling groups, different race
  • Educational delays, behavior issues and medical needs

The potential to foster or adopt LGBT kids

  • Caseworker builds a file with needs, unique challenges
  • LGBT kids considered high needs in most states
  • Try to match with supportive family and community

The LGBT foster care adoption experience in red states

  • Foster system open-minded to any safe, loving home
  • May experience discrimination from subcontractors

Jillian’s advice to potential adoptive parents

  • Call and get started with a long process
  • See if a good fit for you

Other ways to help foster kids

  • Sign up to be a court-appointed advocate
  • Support, encourage potential foster parents
  • Donate to organizations like Help Us Adopt

Connect with Jillian about LGBT foster parents

Resources for LGBT foster parents

Michelle Beauclair is a TX-based freelance writer and crafts blog posts that engage readers and boost conversions. She’s a helicopter horse and dog mom whose favorite music artists include 2Cellos and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Her clients include Debt Free Guys, Manna Pro, and Standlee Forage. View her portfolio at Beau Clair Media.

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