The Paid Foster Parent?

I wish I could be paid to be a foster mom.

Gasp! I said it out loud.

I want money to be a foster parent.

Clearly, I must hate all children and just want to take them into my home to make a buck.

No, actually. There’s nothing further from the truth.

 

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I simply want to put a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our backs, and care for children who need it the most.

Is that so wrong??

Culturally, I’m not sure why we feel it’s wrong to make ends meet while caring for someone else’s children. Why we assume that wanting to be a professional foster parent equals being a money grubbing, heartless fiend.

The other professionals working in foster care are paid – the social worker, therapist, school teacher, guardian ad litem (lawyer), family court judge, and police officer. It just seems natural that these experts are both paid to do their jobs AND that they care about the child in question.

After all, they have to eat, right?

Well, so do I and all my fellow foster parents.

But for some reason, we have to pay for the privilege of fostering.

Where I live, we apparently shell out $10,000+ for this privilege.***

No wonder there’s a shortage of foster parents.

No wonder foster parents mostly represent the upper middle class and don’t reflect the full diversity of our communities.

Not too many people can afford to pay ten grand to raise some stranger’s child.

Right now, there are empty bedrooms with empty beds in my house, when they could be filled with children who need a place to call home.

We had some unexpected expenses and are paying the bills off before we welcome more foster children. Because we can’t afford to do otherwise.

In the meantime, I know there are hurting children who are being sent to group homes and institutions due to a shortage of foster homes. There are no welcoming families waiting for them with open arms.

And it breaks my heart.

I’m here. And I’m willing.

But my bank account is holding us back.

If only I could be paid to be a foster parent, there’d be hurt children with a place to call home right now.

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*** My math is derived from the following. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) calculates how much a person must earn in order to meet basic daily expenses like food, housing and transportation (http://livingwage.mit.edu). How minimum are we talking here? Well, the average cost per meal equals $2 per person. So, pretty basic.

Where I live, two adults living together need to earn $44,000 per year to scrape by. If you add a child, you need another $17,000 per year to put a roof over your head, food on the table, and wheels to get you to work. However, foster care pays $6,492 per year for one child. This means the foster family has to pay $10,616 for the privilege of caring for someone else’s child. ($17,000 – $6,492 = $10,508)

Starting a Birth Mom Search?

Today I started researching how to find Silent One’s birth family (aka first family). Man, it’s daunting.

Finding a birth mom seems like the proverbial needle in the haystack. Looking online, it seems there are some search services, but how do you know if they’re reputable? How much is a reasonable cost? What’s the likelihood of success?

More importantly, should I even be doing the search?

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In my mind’s eye, I envision handing a package to Silent One shortly after he turns 18. Inside, it contains his birth records and adoption papers. There’s a hand-written note, telling him that inside another envelope is information about what his birth family is doing now, who’s alive, and where they live. This note lets him know that he doesn’t have to open it. That he can save it for later. Or for never. That the love we have for him will always remain and that knowing or not knowing his birth family won’t change this fact.

But maybe this is a journey that adoptees need to undertake by themselves.

I don’t want Silent One to feel pushed.

But I also don’t want to wait until it’s too late, and the trail has grown cold. As time marches on, people pass away and documents get misplaced. Gathering the information now is a way to safeguard that treasure for him.

Still, so much was taken from Silent One when he was just a little boy. He had no choice in losing his first family and gaining a second.

Maybe the right thing to do is gather the information, but not share it unless he says he wants to look for his first mama?

The Child I Didn’t Adopt

 

Twelve years ago, we traveled to a foreign country to adopt our son Silent One when he was six years old.  Sassy was three, and, as our biological child, was already a long-standing member of the family.  What my children don’t know is that for 24 hours, they had a sister.

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We had just come back from our overseas trip to bring Silent One home as the newest member of the family.  We were sitting in the office of the American adoption agency we had used, discussing the benefits of applying for a U.S. birth certificate and how to change Silent One’s last name since a snafu had resulted in him receiving the wrong one (not ours!).

Excited to have met Silent One’s birth family, we shared that in addition to meeting his first mom, we were able to meet his brother and the family who was adopting him. The adoption worker reached out to touch my arm and said she was sorry that it didn’t work out for us to adopt both brothers.

And then the whammy!

She reached for a file on her desk and handed it to us.  I opened the folder.  Inside were pictures of the cutest baby girl, nestled in a pink blanket.  I looked up at the worker.

“I know that you wanted to adopt siblings, and that it was heart-wrenching when you were only able to adopt Silent One even though his first mother made adoption plans for her other sons, too.  This healthy baby girl was just referred to our agency.  If you’re interested, we are willing to place her with you.  There is no need for additional home studies or most other paperwork.  The adoption fee would be reduced to the sibling rate. She should be able to come home to you pretty quickly.”

My husband and I looked at each other.  I wanted to scream “yes! yes! yes!”  But we didn’t want to be rash, so we said we needed a little bit of time to discuss it.

We left the agency.  In the car,we quickly decided that we wanted to make this little baby girl ours. We called back and told the adoption worker that we were accepting the referral and arranged to go back the next day to sign papers.

The next day arrived and we were driving back to the adoption agency.

Inside me a storm was raging.  I so, so, so wanted to adopt that baby.  This child landed in our laps as if it was meant to be, and I really wanted a larger family.  But I was also imagining what it would be like to go from having one child to three.  We had just learned that Silent One had experienced major trauma, and knew that parenting him would be more challenging than average.  Sassy had been my only child for three years, and her life would be impacted by living with a new brother who was processing the bad things that had happened to him.

My husband and I talked some more.  Ultimately, we decided not to adopt her to make sure that we had plenty of time to devote to transitioning Silent One home, getting him the help that he needed, and still having energy left over for Sassy.  We knew that healthy baby girls were in high demand and she’d have no problem finding a different family to call her own.  We were young and had plenty of time to adopt other children in the future.

We never did adopt anyone else.

And I’ve never stopped missing the girl who was mine for a day.  Over the last decade, I’ve pulled her pictures out and said a prayer for her well-being many times.  I’ve never forgotten her name.  Delmy.

 

Hello from Adoptive, Foster, Bio Mom

For the past two years, I’ve loved taking part in the Adoption Talk Link Up. This linky is a great place to find the fascinating stories of other people in the adoption triad. So check it out! 2017 will surely be another banner year for the group.

This month’s topic is INTRODUCE YOURSELF, so here’s a little bit of my backstory.

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When I has a little girl playing “house,” my babies were always adopted. I really don’t remember why I always wanted to build my family through adoption. I didn’t even know back then what infertility meant. Maybe it was because the first movie I ever saw was “Annie,” or maybe it was because “Cabbage Patch Dolls” were adopted. What has stayed with me all these many years is knowing deep in my heart that there are kids out there who need families, and I want to help.

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I were in the process of adopting when I found out that I was pregnant. Thus, Sassy was born and became our first child. Several years later, we adopted our son Silent One from a foreign country when he was six years old.

If Silent One had been born in the United States, I’m pretty sure he would have stayed with his first family. His first family experienced severe trauma, but social services could have helped them get back on their feet. Instead, Silent One went into foster care, and it was not a good situation. I am so happy that Silent One is my son, but I wish that his first mother, first father, and first siblings didn’t have to have their family torn apart. I truly believe his first mother made the right decision when she made an adoption plan, but I know that she would have chosen differently if she had had other options.

I wish I had a magic wand to have made that situation better. But I don’t. What we do have is the ability to “pay it forward” and help other families stay together if at all possible. And if they can’t stay together, then we would be in a position to adopt the children and have the first parents become part of our extended family.

In other words, we’ve become a foster care family. We had two siblings live with us for 15 months – Joyful (10 year old girl) and Watchful (8 year old boy)- and you’ll see lots about them in the history of this blog. We’ve also provided short-term, respite care for three other children: Jumping Jack (5 year boy), Helper (13 year old boy) and Excited (7 year old boy). We thought for a little while that we might end up adopting Joyful, Watchful and Jumping Jack, but their all went back to their families. And that’s a good thing.

We hope to open our home again to long-term foster care soon. So stay tuned. The adventure is never over.

No Bohns About It

Turning 18 – A Foster Child’s View

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My son was talking to a young child who is a veteran of foster care.  My son mentioned that he turns 18 soon.  The foster child says with great sympathy in his voice “oh you can’t live at your home any more, huh?”

I explained that my son won’t be going off to college soon, so he’ll be staying with us for a while longer.

The foster child just stared back at me with a blank look.

Then it hit me.

For this child, turning 18 means being kicked out of your home, because you no longer qualify for foster care.  In this child’s mind, growing up means “aging out.”

Pretty sad that he didn’t even know there was another way of living, where kids voluntarily choose to move out and parents make them promise to visit frequently.   Where turning 18 doesn’t mean losing your family and home.

 

Activities for Newly Arrived Foster Kids

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We’re hosting two boys for about a week as their foster parents go on a trip out of state. Helper turns 13 next week and his little brother Excited is 7. They are very adorable, helpful, and have good manners.

Having Helper and Excited here reminds me of the first days of settling in new foster children. Here’s some of my “Foster Kids Have Just Arrived” activities.

1) Give them a tour of the house. Let them see where they will sleep and point out where they will keep their things. I point out the dining table and tell them we will eat our meals there (helps them know what to expect), show them the kitchen and tell them we all work together in cleaning up after meals, show them the living room with the video games and tell them they can play games later, etc.

2) Offer them food. A small snack can help anxious kids relax a little. They may have not had much to eat recently, either because the social workers took a long time in processing their in-take or because there wasn’t much food in their home. Also, kids generally like to eat. 🙂

3) Let them play video games. Video games are a distraction and can help children take their minds off the major upheaval that has just occurred. While they play, you can do paperwork with the social worker. Your kids can play video games with them, which is a non-threatening way to meet new people (don’t have to look at them, talking is optional, but doing the same thing together). Since I told them earlier that they would be able to play video games and I let them play video games, they begin to learn I am a person who keeps her word. This is a baby step towards developing trust.

4) Run to Target. If the kids arrived with nothing, you’ll need to buy some essentials. If the kids came with their things, you might want to take them to Target so they can choose a toy. This gives them something that they have control over (they decide what to purchase). It also ensures they have a toy they will want to play with in the coming days.

5) Take photos for Mom & Dad. Their parents will be very worried about how their children are doing, so take a few photos of the kids and your house. You can even let the kids take a few photos. Print them out so the kids can take them to their first visit. Later, if you get their email or phone number, you can send updates digitally.

6) Write a note for Mom & Dad. I think it’s good to write a short note saying that you promise to take good care of THEIR children and that you hope they are reunited quickly. This reassures them right off the bat that you are not trying to “steal” their children and that you will help work towards reunification.

7) Walk around the neighborhood. Exercise is always good for little bodies built for running, but it’s a good way for them to learn about where they are living while burning off extra nervous energy. I point out the houses of neighbor kids, the bus stop, the playground, etc.

8) Give them a daily chore. Part of the goal for children in foster care is to learn how to behave in a healthy family setting. If a child is in a fragile emotional state, I might simply have him bring his plate into the kitchen after a meal and then praise him for helping out. Otherwise, the child can continue to help clean up after the meal with my whole family joining in. When everyone helps out together, it demonstrates that helping is a normal family behavior and not a punishment.

9) Find something to compliment. There will be lots of need for corrections over the coming weeks, so it makes sense to fill up their “tank” letting them know when they are doing something right. Also, when you compliment, you are shaping their behavior in a positive direction and minimizing the amount of undesired behavior. It can be as simple as “good job of coming to the dinner table when called” or “nice job in brushing your hair.”

10) Love them just the way they are. It can be tempting to see kids, especially those who have experienced trauma, as in need of fixing. And while they do need to be actively parented and guided, more than anything they need to be loved unconditionally. When humans are loved – faults and all – they feel safer and more confident, knowing they have a safety net of love to fall back on. This safety net of love enables the risk-taking necessary for true healing to occur.  And, I guarantee that these kiddos are totally lovable!!!

Foster Care: Talking about Adoption 

How does the foster care system talk about adoption when the main goal is  NOT adoption, but rather to reunite kids with their birth families?

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Here’s what it looked like for us.

When we decided that we would like to become foster parents and provide a temporary home to children, the County required us to be trained as and approved as potential adoptive parents.  This dual licensing is required for all foster parents where I live, because so many foster parents end up wanting to adopt if the kids don’t go back home.

When our 11 year old foster daughter and 9 year old foster son joined our family, the County noted that their case could end with the children going home or going to a relative or being placed for adoption.

Months later, the County told us that a relative placement wouldn’t happen. So it was going home or adoption.

The children’s lawyer explained to us that she was going to request adoption as a concurrent goal. That means she asked the judge to tell the County to simultaneously pursue reunification and adoption. The judge agreed.

The judge was open in court, saying he would find in favor of adoption if dad didn’t take certain steps by a particular date.

The County, the lawyer (GAL), and CASA were all open in asking us if we were interested in adopting. They didn’t know if they’d ask us to adopt just the two children who lived with us or their little brother, too.

The foster family for the little brother frankly shared with us that they could adopt the one child they had, but didn’t feel they could take on all three children.

We adamantly assured the kids’ dad that our first goal was returning the children back to him. But if that couldn’t happen, we would consider adopting and would like him to be part of their lives going forward.

He made sure we knew that what he really wanted was his children returned home.

No one told the kids that adoption was being considered. The idea is to not confuse the kids and only cross that bridge after the decision is made.  Ultimately, the kids returned to their dad.

How does it feel to talk about adoption as a back-up plan?  It’s weird. You’re pulled in different directions, wanting both outcomes.  Or neither. Or see sawing between one and the other. You feel more attached, because these could be your forever children.  But overall, it feels good to know that the children will find a permanent, loving solution no matter what.

This posting is part of Adoption Talk Link Up.  Check out what other people have to say about “Talking about Adoption.”

No Bohns About It