FILE - Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City

Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City

(The Center Square) – The leader of the nonprofit FosterAdopt Connect supports two bills in the Missouri General Assembly that offer tax breaks for foster and adoptive parents.

“I think that the bills that have made a little progress already, this session, which is really amazing, will be beneficial to foster and adoptive parents,” Lori Ross, president and CEO of FosterAdopt Connect, told The Center Square.

Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, sponsored HB 229, which would authorize an income tax deduction for the provision of child foster care services. She also sponsored HB 430, which would modify provisions relating to tax credits for the adoption of children. Both bills cleared the House and have been referred to the Senate.

Ross said anything that can help offset financial stress helps.

“There's such a misperception in the world that foster parents do this for money,” she said. “Foster parents do this because they care about kids. And they use their own money to do it."

Missouri has not done a good job of supporting the work of fostering families, she said. The rate the state pays for a teenager is $12 a day. A veterinarian will charge much more for you to board your dog at a kennel when you go out of town, Ross noted.

“It's a very small check. It's about a third of the actual cost of caring for a child. So a foster parent is subsidizing the placement of that child by two thirds,” Ross said.

Any progress in helping provide care for children in the foster care system and children adopted from foster care, such as prioritizing them for COVID vaccinations, would be a huge benefit, she said.

Ross wants to see the tax credit bill for adoptive parents to prioritize families adopting out of the foster care system, but she has no opposition to private or international adoptions.

“I do have a belief that the kids who come into foster care in the state of Missouri are all of our responsibility, and that we need to make sure that they have the best opportunity to have safe and stable loving forever families first,” she said.

Abused or neglected children who must be removed from their homes do best if they can stay with relatives because they lose fewer connections to people who they love and retain their sense of identity, Ross said. They are able to keep a connection to community members such as supportive teachers, friends and scout leaders. Caregivers who are relatives of the children tend to be more invested in their care also, Ross said.

By placing these foster children with family members, they are more likely to be living with caregivers who are in at-risk groups. Many of them are over 50 or 60 and may have health conditions. These relatives have lower-income relatives and did not plan to spend this time taking care of children.

The pandemic has made it tougher as many have suffered job losses as they work in service industry jobs. Two things became concerns as a result of the pandemic. One is that fewer children were seen in school or doctors’ offices as the lockdowns began. Concerns grew about what was happening to the children in at-risk families.

FosterAdopt Connect began to see a trend from March to the start of summer in which the children coming into their care were victims of far greater abuse than typically would be seen, Ross said. Before the pandemic, the abuse would be a form of neglect.

With potential exposure from the children, social workers, attorneys and counselors involved in the foster care process, far fewer people were willing to accept a new foster child placement at the onset of the pandemic. That has improved, Ross said, and she expects a great change now that vaccinations are available.

Another issue was trying to place children who came to the organization with positive COVID tests.

Foster parents who relied on help from their children’s teachers and counselors felt like they were on their own with the isolation of the pandemic.

“Foster parents were now de-escalating every crisis 24/7 and trying to be that child's teacher, and never ever, ever having any help or support from anyone on the outside. So the stress has been tremendous,” Ross said.