is drawn from a Child Welfare League
of America study of 115 public and private agencies. During
World War II, child welfare
professionals all over the country were forced to respond to the
shortage of foster families caused by the rising cost of living
and the expansion of employment opportunities for women. Should
payments to foster parents be increased? If so, what exactly was
being paid for? The comments below suggest some of the financial,
philosophical, and emotional problems that emerged when family-based
labors of love resembled market-based wage labor. Like baby
farming and indentures, which turned children into subjects
of commerce and exploitation, paid foster
care exposed the dilemmas of compensating some women for work
that both adoptive and birth
mothers were expected to perform for free. As this document
makes clear, a bright line was still drawn in 1942 between reimbursing
foster parents for child-rearing expenses—a legitimate practice—and
paying for their love and nurture—an ethical violation. By
1959, when the Child Welfare League of America issued its first
set of Standards for Foster Family Care
Service, payment was defined as a “realistic and valid”
way to value the services that foster parents provided as well as
a crucial tool for recruiting and retaining foster families.
The board money paid to foster families has been
a source of conflict to agencies throughout the development of this
program. “Mothering” is definitely something which one
would like to think should not be paid for. Agencies have been known
to reject any applicants who showed an interest in the board rate.
There are several reasons, however, for questioning this point of
view. Families into which children are placed are, generally speaking,
of such financial circumstances as do not permit them to assume
the responsibility for the cost of bringing up an additional child.
The early history of farming out and of indenturing children naturally
brought an awareness that children could be exploited unless there
were adequate supervision, that is, unless the agency took some
responsibility for what was happening to the child. This immediately
limits the amount of “mothering” that is left to the
foster parent. That is to say, we are not asking prospective foster
parents to become even complete foster mothers. We are asking them
to share with an agency a responsibility for the care of a child
who needs a home more or less temporarily. Foster parents, too,
have had conflicts about accepting board money. It may be because
of the meaning to all of us of “mothering” that agencies
are confused and unable to cope with this problem. One agency expressed
this confusion in this way,
“We do not encourage taking of children for money and
therefore are not considering raising the board rate.”
Obviously, if foster families are to be paid at all for the care
of children, decision as to the amount, and whether that is to be
increased or not, should be based upon a consideration of what it
is we are intending to pay for. . . .
Board rates for the school age child throughout the country in
1941 ranged from $9.00 per month in one southern rural area, to
$26.00 per month in cities in the Middle Atlantic States. For infants
and adolescents the board rate was shown to be higher. For special
physical or emotional difficulties, the board rate too is higher. . . .
Since all the agencies indicated variations for one reason or
another, a very real question to consider is, what does the board
rate intend to cover. . . . In general. . .
agencies stated that the board rate covers food and shelter, and
in some instances incidental expenses like toothpaste, school supplies
and haircuts. Some 90 agencies stated that in addition there is
an allowance in kind or money for clothing, medical and dental care. . . .
It was almost unanimously stated that no agency attempts to pay
for the “services” of the foster mother. . . .
It should be remembered that families in the income groups from
which most foster families come, have for years been suffering from
financial difficulties. Must as they might have strong motivations
for becoming foster parents under more usual circumstances, it is
to be expected that such families will take the opportunity to earn
some money. . . .
Moreover there may be an increased demand for foster family care.
Some mothers wishing to go to work for both personal and patriotic
reasons see the solution to the problem of the care of their children
in foster family placement, probably because day care facilities
are slow in being developed. . . .
Suffice it to say that to solve the “abnormal” situation
created by the defense boom is a serious challenge to the whole
field. . . .
What are foster parents paid for?. . . . [B]oard
rates should be high enough to attract families of average income
who would be interested in taking a child into their home and “mothering”
it and yet who would be interested in some kind of financial return
besides. However, it should not be so high as to attract applications
from families who would not be interested in caring for children
except for their need of the money to be earned. . . .
A major consideration in the amount paid is how much it affects
the foster parent’s feelings that the child is hers. . . .
That is, the more a foster parent can feel the child is hers the
less she will need to be paid. This is well illustrated in pre-adoption
placements. For example, during the trial period of placement with
prospective adoptive parents so that the latter and the agency can
both decide whether these parents should permanently adopt the child,
the agency pays board though those foster parents might prefer not
to have it. The agency feels that the prospective adoptive parent
must be ready and willing to accept this board money as a token
of the fact that the child is not yet hers. Similarly, in the foster
family care program, the board money paid covers the cost of the
care and shelter of the child and is in part a token of the fact
that the foster parents are sharing the responsibility with the