Louisiana Foster Caregivers Pay Significant Costs of Care

This morning I have considered the unreasonably low board rate paid to Louisiana’s foster parents. Lousiana’s foster parents deserve a board rate that covers the full cost of caring for children.

According to Louisiana Form 427, for a child up to 2 years of age, Louisiana will pay a foster parent a regular board rate of $15.58 per day.

That rate is determined from the following amounts per month:
$313.77 – room and board
$61.50 – diapers and formula
$61.50 – clothing
$9.72 – child’s monthly allowance
$15.37 – personal items
$5.54 – gift allowance
$467.40 = average monthly payment ($15.58 per day).

Working on my second cup of coffee, I decided to do some online shopping for infant formula. I was not looking to purchase a particular baby’s formula. Rather, I price checked for all of Louisiana’s babies in foster care.

First, I should point out that Louisiana’s newborn babies are among the smallest in the nation. According to Louisiana Department of Health, our state ranks 49th for low birthweight babies with 10.8% weighing less than 5lbs, 8oz. Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that babies who enter Louisiana’s foster care system are generally smaller than babies entering foster care in 48 other states.

I have not seen a report on the weight of babies in foster care. I know most of the children in foster care are not with their biological parents because of neglect. For this morning’s purposes, I am willing to assume most babies in foster care are underweight.

The size of babies in foster care is important for this discussion because the amount of formula a baby requires is directly related to the baby’s weight. According to HealthyChildren.org, a website of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “On average, your baby should take in about 2 1/2 ounces (75 mL) of formula a day for every pound (453 g) of body weight.”

So, a 5 pound, 8 ounce baby should drink about 13.75 ounces of formula a day. (Here is the math: 5.5 pounds of baby times 2.5 ounces of formula equals 13.75 ounces of formula.)

A good deal I found online is a 30-ounce container of reputable baby formula for $31.98. As I read the instructions, this 30-ounce can, when prepared properly, yields 215 ounces of infant formula.

Dividing the $31.98 by 215 ounces results in the cost of formula prepared to feed a tiny baby at 15 cents per ounce. Multiply the 13.75 ounces our tiny baby in foster care requires by the formula’s cost of 15 cents per ounce and we find the cost of this formula for a tiny, 5 pound, 8 ounce baby is $2.06 per day.

A typical month has 30 days. So let’s multiply the $2.06 by 30 days. The result is $61.80. A very small, 5 pound, 8 ounce baby will drink $61.80 worth of formula each month.

Do you see the problem I see?

The foster care board rate provides only $61.50 per month for “diapers and formula.” At the end of the month, the foster parent is already in the hole 30 cents. I do not know a single foster parent who begrudges that 30 cent shortfall. That’s doable – so long as the baby does not grow.

You may have noticed a messier problem, though. Our foster parent spent the entire “diapers and formula” allowance on formula. That covers input, but there is nothing left to cover output. That baby still needs diapers.

(We should say, “MUST have diapers!”)

Nothing fancy, though. These are babies in foster care, and I have never met a foster parent concerned about brand names or keeping up with the Joneses. So back to our online shopping.

I find a good deal on the Walmart Parent’s Choice brand. A pack of 42 newborn-sized disposable diapers for $4.42 or 11 cents each. That’s not too bad!

How many diapers does a baby require? My two girls were babies so long ago I cannot remember.

According to Parenting.com, a newborn will use 320 diapers during her first month. From 1 month to 1 year, a baby will use 240 diapers per month. 240 diapers at 11 cents each will cost $26.40 per month.

Our tiny baby in foster care requires $61.80 of formula and $26.40 for diapers each month. Even for the smallest baby, using inexpensive formula and generic diapers, the cost of formula and diapers is $88.20 per month. The Louisiana foster care board rate designates $61.50 for “diapers and formula.” The shortfall which the foster parents of smallest babies must cover for these two items is $26.70 per month or $320.40 per year.

Time for my third cup of coffee, but, already we have established that no right-minded person has any reason to believe a person becomes a foster caregiver for the money – especially not in Louisiana, which has a foster care board rate that lags the nation.

There is a final factor we must consider this morning before we close our consideration of Louisiana’s reimbursement for diapers and formula for babies in foster care. Babies grow.

According to Parents.com, “By 6 months: Most babies have doubled their birth weight. By 12 months: Most babies have usually tripled their birth weight and will have grown 9 to 11 inches from their original birth length.”

So, if the amount of formula a baby should receive is a function of the baby’s weight, and a baby’s weight doubles by 6 months, then a 6-month-old baby will require twice as much formula as a newborn needs. This math is easy, $61.80 times 2 is $123.60.

I checked and found that diapers for a 6-month-old still cost about 11 cents each. The $26.70 per month for diapers should be good for the entire first year.

It is the cost of formula that doubles at six months. A foster parent who receives $61.50 for “diapers and formula” will spend $150.30 for “diapers and formula” for a 6-month-old. The foster parent requires another $88.80 per month.

But that’s for a 6-month-old. A one-year-old has tripled his birth weight. Formula on a baby’s first birthday cost three times as much for a newborn because he requires three times as much. Again, the math is easy. $61.80 times 3 is $185.40. (Fortunately, cheap diapers are still about 11 cents each, so the $26.70 for diapers still works). Formula which cost $185.40 plus diapers which cost $26.70 adds up to $212.10 per month.

For a one-year-old baby, Louisiana provides $61.50 per month for diapers and formula. Spending that on formula and diapers, the foster parent must come up with an additional $150.60 per month from other sources. To cover 12 months a $150.60 monthly shortfall, foster parents must supplement Louisiana’s board rate by $1,807.20 to feed and diaper a baby in foster care.

Wait. Did I write, “foster parents find themselves supplementing Louisiana’s board rate?” I did! And this is just not right.

Today, the State of Louisiana provides foster care board rates so low for so long that they have become only supplemental payments provided to foster parents. Listen, Louisiana, foster care board rates should NOT be supplemental payments. Foster care board rates should cover the full cost of the child in foster care.

Children in foster care are in the custody of the State of Louisiana. When a state holds custody of a child, the state also holds full responsibility for the child. But states are not adults. Adults care for children. States cannot care for the children in their custody. States must have foster parents sufficient for the need. States needs foster parents more than foster parents need the state in this relationship!

Without foster caregivers, child welfare falls apart!

I have already demonstrated that no one becomes a foster parent for the money. I will tell you now that no one does it because it is fun, either. It is among the most challenging tasks one can do for another.

Here is what I mean. Foster parents work hard to become certified. They must open their home to a swarm of people who are in and out for visits, inspections, and reviews. Foster parents’ every behavior is scrutinized by others. They do not travel without permission. They do not have access to relief until the stress is critical.

Foster parents attend court, go to meetings in state offices, travel to therapists’ offices, make and take children to medical appointments, participate in visits with the biological parents and, in addition to all of this, they must also be employed or be independently wealthy. (The state has a fiscal responsibility to ensure foster parents do not benefit from the foster care board rate.)

Foster parents are the unsung heroes of Louisiana. On top of all they do for children, foster caregivers also bear a significant portion of the financial cost. It seems slightly ironic, but should a parent not provide for his child’s basic needs it would be considered negligent. Louisiana, having custody of children – but not fully providing for their needs – depends on foster parents to help cover the costs of care.

Is it not evident that the State of Louisiana must do more than merely supplement the cost of caring for children in foster care? Lousiana’s foster parents deserve a board rate that covers the full cost of caring for children.

Rick Wheat
President and Chief Executive Officer
Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services