Thursday, May 12, 2016

Foster Care Q&A

Since May is foster care awareness month, I put out a plea for questions on social media and I got lots that I'm happy to answer today! Ever since we started doing foster care, we have gotten gobs and gobs of questions. Everyone seems to be really interested in it. I think most people don't know a lot about it in general. That coupled with so many misconceptions and misunderstandings of the system make for a lot of questions! I am not one of those that is easily offended by questions and I am so happy when we get a chance to share about our journey so far! I always hope that it will encourage someone who is feeling the tug to look into it a little bit more. And yes, I used to be one of those who said "I could NEVER do that!" Never say never ;) This may get to be a lengthy post, but I am hopeful that it will spark something in the heart of at least one person/family! There are so many precious children out there who need love and a home and I definitely know that this isn't for everyone, but there are so many people who could be great foster/adoptive families who are hesitant to step into it. I understand-that was me for a long, long time! So, let's get to it! I am going to try to break it up more into general questions and questions about our family's personal experience. Here we go!

I do want to mention really quickly that every state is different! Not all of what I say will apply to the state you are in. I would highly encourage you to find someone who has actually done or is doing foster care in your state if you have specific questions, as it can be hard to find accurate information on the internet sometimes! So with that being said, I will answer the questions to the best of my ability, but please know that not all of my answers will be applicable depending where you live. 

I am interested in fostering/adopting through the state, but don't know where to start.
I think the best thing to do is to google "How to become a foster parent in the state of ____". Most states will have a government site with more information to get started! 

What does it take to become a foster/adoptive parent? 
In our state, we had to go to an informational meeting where we filled out an application and background checks/fingerprints. After those were processed (several weeks) they contacted us with possibilities for class times. We signed up and had to take 10 weeks of classes (I believe this is on the higher end of what most states require-some require no training) and have a home study completed during that time. We had 30 hours of class total and it FLEW by honestly. After that, we waited for our home study to be approved and receive our license in the mail! 

How long does the process take? 
For us, it took about 7 months from the time we first attended the informational meeting to the time we had kids placed in our home. I think this is pretty average. 
  • We attended the meeting in June 
  • Started classes in August (we actually got lucky because we were supposed to start them in the fall because that was the soonest class that worked with our schedule, but they called us for a last minute opening in the August class and we took it! Pretty cool how it worked out because we wouldn't have the kiddos we do if we hadn't gotten into that class!)
  • Finished up classes in mid October
  • Had our last home study end of October
  • Home study was completed and turned in by our worker right before Thanksgiving
  • We received our license in the mail the day after Christmas 
  • Had kids placed with us the beginning of January
I am a single parent. Will they approve me? 
Yes!! They need people from ALL walks of life to be foster parents! There are many amazing single parent homes! In fact, my husband brought up the point that it could be very beneficial for certain children depending on what their background is (i.e. if a child has been abused by a male, perhaps a single mom would be a great fit for them as they work through that trauma!) In our class we had 5 single people, which was almost half of the households! We had people with older children, younger children, no children. We had people who were looking only to foster, only to adopt, to foster or adopt, or had a specific child already in mind (i.e. a relative or family friend, etc.) We had people who wanted to help with teens and those who wanted to help children with particular needs. It is incredible to see how God has given us all different gifts and abilities and He will use each one of those for a kiddo who needs just what you can offer! I would really encourage anyone who has thought or prayed about fostering to look into it. They don't care if you own a home or rent, as long as you have a stable living situation! They don't care if you are a millionaire or middle class, as long as you can provide for a child's basic needs. They don't care if you are 21 years old or 61 years old. They want to know that you can love and provide for a child! 

How do you afford to be a foster parent? 
This is one of those that is going to vary greatly state to state. In our state, we are paid a daily rate for each child that we have in our home for foster care. This comes in the form of a reimbursement after the month is complete. I would imagine that most if not all states have at least something. I have heard that some people say it barely makes a dent in what they spend on the child and I have heard others say that it is more than enough to cover what they spend. I think it all depends what age the child is, what their needs are, and what expenses they/you have for them. In our case, we have found the reimbursement to be more than enough and we have not gone into any financial distress being foster parents. 

What?! They see their parents? WHY?! 
This has been one of the questions we have received the MOST and it surprised me at first! I guess there must be a large misconception that once children are removed from their home, that is that. (Perhaps that is so in some states). In our state, DHS has a goal to reunify the family until a judge decides otherwise. This means that children will have visitation with their parent(s) in order to obtain this goal and/or decide if the parent is able to meet the child's needs and care for them. These visits can be fully supervised by a social worker (meaning the worker comes to the foster home or daycare to pick up the child, takes them to meet the parent, staying with them the whole time, and taking them back to the foster home/daycare), semi-supervised (the social worker will drop by for random check-ins while the child is with their parent), or unsupervised (the parent has the child for X amount of time with no one checking in). I believe that typically they start at one end and work their way to the other before the child returns home, if they are going to reunify. Visits are crucial, as the parents need to have a chance to work toward getting their children back in the home, and the court needs to be able to be certain that they have done all they can do to support those efforts before terminating rights. 

What is YOUR contact with the parents like? 
In our specific case (which I think is the norm for our state), we have regular contact with the kids' mom. She has my phone number and I have hers. She does not know where we live or come to our home. The kids are taken to hers for visits. We attend appointments together and talk/text on a semi regular basis to communicate between when they are at my home and hers (when did they last eat, they are sick, etc.) I think in some states there is no direct communication between the sets of parents. I would check with your social workers in your state to find out!

I always wonder about the possibility of birth parents tracking you down. Like showing up on your doorstep. The safety aspect there concerns me. Is that anything you worry about? 
For us personally, no. We know their mom and she is not a threat. My husband brought up a great point that these parents are working to get their children back in their homes, so if they go off of the case plan and show up at the foster home randomly, that is not going to look good at their next court date. Now, what about parents who aren't trying to reunify or who aren't safe for the children to be around? My best advice would be to ask questions when you get a call for the child. You do not have to take any child you get a call about. The reason the child was removed from the home (if that information is available) might be able to tell you some about the safety and risk factors there. If you do not feel comfortable with it, you can say no. As far as parents tracking you down if their rights are removed to try to get their children, I think it would depend on the case. Most of the cases I have seen where rights were/are going to be removed, the parents didn't follow their case plan and do what they needed to do to reunify. In most cases, they are going to let that be that. I am definitely not saying it couldn't happen, but I have never heard of it happening. I do think there are a lot of misconceptions about these parents and the ones that I have seen/heard of/met are normal people who have made some poor choices or been in stressful circumstances and not had a lot of support. Most of them aren't dangerous and most of them do love their children very much, but may have a lot of struggles. 

What if I only want to adopt and not foster first? 
You can do that! In our state, you can apply to be a foster parent, adoptive parent, or be dually licensed. We are dually licensed. If you want to only adopt, you can put your feelers out there to social workers who may know of children in need of a forever home. Some states list certain children on websites, but many avoid doing that unless they have met every dead end. In our state, once TPR (termination of parental rights) occurs, they will search for a biological family member to adopt. This could be a distant relative that the children don't even know. Once that is ruled out, they typically try to find a family who knows the child (foster family, families who have done respite for those children, etc.) and if they still aren't able to, that is when they would look at waiting families. Some families in our state choose to make up a little flyer or brochure about their family and send it to different adoption workers in different counties within our state to make themselves more memorable. Some check in with different workers every few months to see if anything has come up. My understanding is that if you want to go that route, you need to make yourself memorable to every social worker because they have lots of families waiting who just sit and wait. Most of the cases I have seen, a foster or respite family wants to adopt so it doesn't even get that far a lot of the time, but it definitely does happen! 

Can I specify what kind of child I feel comfortable taking? 
Absolutely! If you aren't comfortable with taking teens, you can tell them! In our case, they had us fill out a very detailed questionnaire on ages, gender, medical needs, learning needs, dietary needs, and much more! In some cases, they may still call you about a child who doesn't fit the criteria you feel comfortable working with, and it's ok for you to say no if you don't feel comfortable. In our class, they talked a lot about how you should be careful not to take on what you aren't comfortable with. Many times people do this trying to be the "hero" for those kiddos and it ends up as a disaster for everyone involved. It's not fair for the kiddos especially. It would benefit them much more for them to have a caregiver who is comfortable/able to take care of them they way they best deserve (this can even be just related to age or gender) and there's someone else out there who will be great for them! You don't have to feel bad about saying no (this was very freeing for me to hear)! 

Onto the questions more specifically about our personal experience! 

What made you decide to foster?
This is a super loaded question, but the biggest reason is need! My heart has always been for kiddos who need families whether it be foster care, international adoption, domestic infant adoption, etc. It has been our desire over the last few years to really find a way to care for those who need it most and foster care is definitely that! We both used to say we could never, ever do foster care, but a little over a year ago our hearts really started to change. It went from being something really scary and unknown and too hard, to being something close to the heart of God and something that we wanted to at least try and step into. Yes it is still scary. Yes it there are still SO many unknowns every day, but God is growing us a lot through all of those harder things. Just because something is hard, doesn't mean we shouldn't do it! 

When will you adopt your foster kids? 
We do not know if/when we will adopt them. Their mom still has parental rights so for right now, we support reunification between she and her children. If her rights are terminated, we will go from there! The unknowns are very hard sometimes (Hello, type A planner here!) but we are trusting in God for THEIR future and trust that they will end up where is best for them, whether that be with Mom, with us, or with someone else. 

How do you handle the emotional toll with the possibility of giving them back? Do you look at them as your own or more that you're helping them? 
It is all very emotional for many different reasons, but I think in this case, we went into it knowing nothing was guaranteed. I have often heard people say they couldn't do foster care because they could never love a child and have to give them back. This was a huge reason I stayed away from it for so long, honestly. I don't know what is different for me now other than knowing their mom, knowing she is doing her best and knowing that she loves her kids. I am very aware of the fact that they are not my children. God has trusted me with them for a time, and I don't know if that time will be another week or their lifetime. I do try my best to love them like my own, but yes I am hyper aware of the fact that they aren't right now. I think as more of the unknowns become known this will change, whether with them or with future foster kiddos. Part of it is protecting our hearts not to be broken, and part of it is respect for their bio family and reunification. I don't want to live in a bubble pretending like this is our happy family of 6 (yes we are happy and yes we consider them a part of our family right now, but hopefully you get my jist) when their family is trying, if that makes sense! I want to respect the process as best as I can. We let the Department and the courts decide what is best for the kiddos and go from there. I think emotionally, it has gotten easier as time has gone on. When they first came, I was heartbroken just thinking about them going home. But as time has progressed and I have gotten to know their Mom and them, I think it is easier to see the whole picture and trust God with whatever happens. That being said, some days are still very hard! 

Are you called Mom and Dad?
Our fosters do not call us anything yet. I imagine that eventually it will be inevitable since we have kids in the home calling us Mom and Dad! They are bound to pick up on that as well, I think. I have heard of foster families going by Mommy {first name}, i.e. Mommy Natalie, to differentiate that you are the Mommy in this house, but not Mommy. I have also hard of some just going by first names. I think a lot depends on the age of the kids and where they are at in the process as well! We did respite for some children who immediately called us Mommy and Daddy. I think they just thought that was what they should call any man and woman in the house, and obviously since they were with us for one night, they knew we weren't actually Mommy and Daddy, but it was easier for them to just call us that I think, so we didn't correct them. 

How do the girls handle it?
The girls have done surprisingly well! We had to make some adjustments in the beginning due to one of them having some feelings. I think there was some jealousy/not understanding why we didn't have quite as much time and attention, but not really knowing how to express that. Once I realized what was going on with her, we had a talk about it and implemented a special snuggle time at bed with just them. We put the other kiddos to bed first, so after we do that we let the girls cuddle up in our bed with us and we go around and say what made us feel happy, sad and loved that day, pick one thing to pray for and each girl gets to choose a song for me to sing. I think this has helped them to have reassurance that although there are other people taking up more of our attention, they are still loved immensely and deeply! As far as how they are doing with the kiddos...amazing! They are incredible. They have loved them so well! I am so proud of how well they have loved and accepted them and I have learned so much from their unconditional love. I was really worried (and still some days am) about how it would be for them to only do this temporarily. We went into it telling them that we are taking care of them for now, and it might not be forever. They know this and ask about it frequently. I think they understand it as well as a 3 and 4 year old possibly can. They love them and I'm sure it will be hard if they don't stay, but they are very aware that it is a possibility and we talk through it whenever they have questions about it. 

How has it changed your family life/how has it changed your life practically? 
How has it NOT?! Honestly, everything has changed! We have had to change our schedules, our activity level, etc. In the beginning it was a lot to get used to. We went from having to get 2 kids ready and out the door, to 4! The first few weeks were CRAZY! We definitely had moments of "WHAT DID WE GET INTO!?!?!?" but things calmed down. I think in general, I still need to have less commitments now than I did before. The kiddos have more appointments, and working around their visit schedule can be tricky, so I have had to just put some things on the backburner for now. This is our ministry right now and our family and home has our largest focus right now, and that is ok! (It took me awhile to actually feel like it is ok, though!) Going from 2-4 overnight was a huge leap. I thought we were prepared but we really weren't LOL! But that is parenting in general, I think! Everything is a little slower, a little more work, a little harder, but also more fun and more love! 

If you made it to the end, high five!! Maybe this has answered a lot of your questions, or maybe it has sparked even more questions for you! Please ask! I love talking about foster care and adoption. Adoption is something I always thought I would do. Foster care is not. But I am becoming more and more passionate about it daily! 

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