It’s a sad but true reality that in some states, unpaid foster care bills can mean parents permanently losing their children.
This is a harsh consequence for low-income families who are unable to pay fees associated with the foster care system.
Let’s take a look at how this happens and why it’s so important for families to understand the implications of unpaid foster care bills.
Foster Care System Overview
The foster care system exists to provide temporary homes for children whose parents are unable to do so.
Foster care homes provide food, shelter, clothing, and medical attention for these children until they are in a safe environment or their parents can provide the necessary care.
The State pays the cost of providing these services—with the exception of education costs—for each child placed in foster care through Medicaid or other public assistance programs.
Child Support Payments and Unpaid Foster Care Bills
In some states, if parents fail to make child support payments while their child is in foster care, they may face harsh consequences such as loss of custody or even termination of parental rights.
This is because unpaid foster care bills become part of a family’s debt obligations and must be paid off before any reunification can happen.
In addition to the possibility of losing custody or rights, parents could also face fines or jail time if found guilty of non-payment of child support payments while their child was in foster care.
Even if parents are not found criminally liable for non-payment, there may still be civil penalties imposed by the court should they fail to pay all outstanding debts associated with their child’s stay in foster care.
Once the parents “come back into society”, the system isn’t built for them to have disposable income or even to afford basic needs for that matter.
Why is this happening?
Because the federal government leverages states to recoup some of its investment in foster care by instituting a billing system that disproportionately affects families eligible for welfare.
In other words, those who are already struggling face an extra layer of financial pressure due to limited resources at the state level.
This is immoral and utterly just plain wrong.
But a glimmer of hope is shining through.
Last summer in Washington, a push to ease the financial burden on economically disadvantaged families saw the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issuing new guidance suggesting states drop costly fees associated with foster care placement for children from poorer neighborhoods.
Despite the federal government urging states to cease making low-income parents pay for reunification costs, an NPR survey has revealed that 12 U.S. states still have laws where failure to do so can be grounds for courts terminating a parent’s rights towards their child.
These states include North Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin – an alarming number with heartbreaking consequences for families across America.
Stronger laws need to be set in place to help foster kids be reunited with their parents.
Knowing your rights—as well as your responsibilities—is key when dealing with these types of things which have lasting implications on not only one’s financial standing but also on one’s most important relationships – those between parent and child.
We need to do better by our youth.