Child Welfare League of America Special Bulletin, “A Study of Board Rates,” January 1942

This excerpt 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 agency.


Source: Child Welfare League of America Special Bulletin, “A Study of Board Rates,” compiled by Henrietta L. Gordon, January 1942, 3-4, 5, 7-8, 11-12, 13-14, Child Welfare League of America Papers, microfilm reel 3, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota.

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