Fostering and Easter Basket Overload

Celebrating holidays with foster kids in the house can bring unexpected experiences.  Yes, there is the trauma sometimes, but that’s not what I’m talking about (this time).  Let me explain.

easter-basketHelper and Excited are staying with us over the Easter holiday.  These are the same guys who stayed with us over New Year’s, two delightful boys aged 13 and 7.  So, when I was at the store, I stocked up on some Easter basket treats.  Their regular foster mom asked that we make sure that Helper doesn’t eat chewy, sticky food, on account of his braces, so this year, I picked up individual serving size bags of chips, mini packets of crackers, and the like.

Their social worker wanted to stop by and see how the boys were doing.  Sure that sounds fine.  Ding dong.  There she is at the front door, holding a very large bag.  Inside?  Five Easter baskets filled with candy.  Yes, we have two kids in care and received five baskets!!  Two for the boys, two for our permanent kids, and one for my husband and I to share.

The regular foster mom asked that we take the Helper and Excited to a local Easter egg hunt.  Sure.  No problem.  Boys running around out in the fresh air sounds fabulous.  And they had a great time, finding lots and lots of eggs until their Easter baskets were near overflowing.  Guess what?  Every plastic egg was stuffed full of jelly beans.

The court appointed special advocate (CASA) called up.  She wanted to take the boys out to lunch. Yup.  I like that idea.  Having the a break for an hour sounds heavenly.  Come and pick them up.  The boys walk back into the house after their lunch, excitedly chatting to one another, each carrying another Easter basket!!

So these two boys now have a total of 8 Easter baskets between them.  Chocolates, marshmallows, chips, crackers, Nerds, Whoppers, Peeps, Mike & Ikes – the list of candy goes on and on.

Did I mention that the boys start going a bit crazy when they have sugar?  That’s why there foster mom suggested we don’t give them any.  Ah….  Well.

Now we’re off to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Easter lunch.  I sure hope there are no more baskets.

How to Make a Bed for Foster Children

Many things go into preparing to be foster parents. Having been a foster mom for a couple of years to eight different children, I recommend giving some thought to bedding for the new kiddos.

1. Waterproof Mattress Pad. A waterproof mattress pad is a foster family essential. Bedwetting is more common with foster kids, even into their teen years, because bedwetting can be aggravated by stress . Kids who didn’t get enough to eat may also hoard food in their rooms. Depending upon the food, you could end up with some gloppy messes. Protect that expensive mattress!

2. White Bed Sheets. Why white? You may want to bleach those bed sheets – see the reasons in #1 and in case of lice (happens to all kids). Boys and girls are equally fine with white. White is good for all ages – those super cute Elmo sheets are awesome to little kids, but the older set would be mortified. Kids may come with a favorite blanket and white will match it guaranteed. If every sheet is white, you can wash them all at once – no worrying about sorting lights, darks, and whites. And trust me, you’ll be doing enough laundry as it is.

3. Soft Blankets. A little extra comfort from a soft blanket can help ease a child’s troubles. Children in care have gone through trauma and night time can be particularly difficult for some. Perhaps the night was when bad things happened, like sexual assault or their parents reached maximum drunkenness or it was when they were left alone. Kids often keep themselves too busy in the day to think about the trauma, but the memories surface as they try to fall asleep. Kids can also be prone to bad dreams. A child can snuggle, pet or rub a plush blanket or one with a satin trim to help soothe themselves.

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4. Neutral Bed Spread. Again, neutrals work with both boys and girls of all ages. I like blue for a bedspread, but gray, green, and black could work, too. The right neutral can be mixed and matched with a variety of paint on the walls and other beds. Why is that important? Because you might need to reconfigure your bedroom set-ups if you take in more than one child. A sibling set of two could be one boy and one girl, meaning separate bedrooms. But it could be two girls (or two boys) and you want to put them together, so that when your family comes to visit you have a guest bedroom – or when their third sibling comes for respite.

5. Flare: Stuffed Animals and Throw Pillows. To rescue your foster child’s room from becoming too blah or too sterile, you can add easy-to-swap-out “flare.” I often put stuffed animals on the bed. Most kids like big stuffed dogs or teddy bears, though I’ve gotten some “older kid” items like animals or characters from popular video games. Throw pillows can do the same trick.

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6. Hypoallergenic Pillows. If you’re going to buy new pillows, play it safe and get hypoallergenic ones. Why run the risk of red eyes and runny noses if you don’t need to?

7. An Extra Throw. We do both long-term foster care and short-term, respite care. Some kids are used to cool bedrooms and others prefer warmer. The easiest solution is to provide an extra blanket folded on the end of the bed for them to use – or not. It can also add a bit more flare to your neutral bedspread.

8. Bed Furniture. If you need to buy more beds, but don’t have lots of money to spend, consider buying twin beds from a flea market or garage sale. A few quick coats of black, white or grey paint and they’ll all match each other. [Note: Don’t paint cribs as teething babies may chip off the paint and eat it.]

9. Bedrails. A twin bed can work for little ones if you add bedrails that keep them from falling out of the bed.  If you don’t what these are, Amazon has some examples, though you can easily get them at Walmart, Target, or other such stores.

So, now you’ve made a bed for a foster child.  Let’s hope the kiddos will make their bed, too. 😉

The First Hours of Respite

Ever wonder what the first hours of respite are like for foster care?  This evening we welcomed three brothers aged 14, 13, and 9 to stay with us over the weekend while their foster dad is out of town.  Here’s how it’s gone down so far.

On Monday, the placement worker emailed us asking if we could take three boys for a couple of days, beginning on Friday.  All we knew were date, ages and gender.  Since we were interested, she emailed us more info – a paragraph on each child listing their name, a sentence about their individual personalities, one or two of their interests, their academic performance, and the medicine they take.  We asked for the diagnoses to go along with the medication and whether their symptoms were well controlled by medication.  So with this scarce info we said yes.

We drove half way to pick up the boys, agreeing to rendezvous with their foster dad in the parking lot of the local grocery store.  We had no idea what they looked like, but knew their foster dad drove a blue Ford Explorer.  We saw a car that we thought was them, but when we waved and they didn’t wave back – well oops!  Not them.  Another Explorer approached.  We waved and they waved back.  Yay!  We found them.

They pulled over and everyone piled out.  We introduced ourselves and the boys immediately jumped into our car.  I made a bit of small talk with the foster dad, who we were also meeting for the first time.  But it was cold.  And we were in a busy parking lot.  So after 2-3 minutes my husband and I hopped into our car and drove off.

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Food’s always an easy topic, so my husband asked the boys if they liked pizza and, if so, what they’d want on theirs.  After an enthusiastic yes and a lively conversation on the merit of pepperoni over plain cheese, we called in the order for delivery.  We moved on to the topic of sports.  Basketball was a favorite so we talked up the hoop in our neighborhood.  Two things for the kiddos to look forward – a great way to overcome the weirdness of staying with strangers.

When we got home, the boys wanted to see their room right away.  They dropped their stuff off.  A few awkward moments while our teens were figuring out how to find common ground.  A quick suggestion of video games solved that.

We purposely have video games for up to 6 or even 8 players, so a large group can all play at the same time (no having to wait for your turn!).  But a few of the remotes had dead batteries, so I made a quick run to the grocery.  Since I was at the store anyway, I picked up syrup for tomorrow’s pancakes.

While I was on my battery run, the pizza came.   We let the kids watch anime while eating.  Then back to video games.

So that’s the first two hours.  And we’re all having fun.

Making Respite in Foster Care Easier

Last night we ran into Helper (13 year old boy) and Excited (7 year old brother).  They stayed with us over the winter holidays (read about it here) and they’ll be staying with us again next month.

Besides just saying hello, I purposely said a few things to help make their upcoming visit easier.  First, I commented on the things I remembered about them from their last stay.  I pointed out the mango to Excited and said, “I bet you’re going to choose the mango, because I remember that you loooove it.”  For Helper, I laughed when looking at his very full plate and said “I’m not surprised to see all that food piled on your plate.  You always were a bottomless pit last time.”  This is a way to let them know you still care enough to know the little things that make them who they are.  It also gave them a chance to share what they remembered.  Excited said “I remember somebody.  Silent One (our adopted son).”  And then I went on to describe what Silent One’s been up to lately and then transitioned to Sassy (our bio daughter).

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I also painted a picture of some of the fun things we plan to do next month.  I asked them if they like to hunt for Easter eggs, because my neighborhood does one.  Then I described how it works, telling them about the giant Easter bunny, that there’s lots of kids, that it’s divided by age, that there’s a special golden egg with a special prize, etc.  Yes, they like to hunt for eggs, and oh they really hope they’ll find the golden egg.  We chatted about whether they’d like to bring their own baskets or use ones that we have.  They said maybe they’d bring their Halloween bags – great idea.  I talked about decorating Easter eggs.

This was all very deliberate.  It will help them look forward to coming and seeing us, and focus less on the separation from their foster parents.  It erases some of the scary unknowns of living temporarily with people they don’t know very well.  It gives a chance to plan for the visit (bring basket? want to participate or not?), which helps them to feel more in control of their lives.

If you have any tips for making respite care easier, please share!

 

 

 

Adopting is off… or not?

Last time I blogged about this crazy situation which led us to consider adopting a teen from foster care who is waiting to be adopted.  So, what did we decide?

The teen girl we were considering adopting is being adopted by her current foster mom.  Yay!  Because that young lady and her soon-to-be forever mom will make a great family.

But I have to confess something embarrassing.

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The AdoptUSkids profile was actually of another child.  Who didn’t have a family yet.  Which led us to soul searching about whether or not to consider adopting her.

Hubby and I did not reach the same conclusions.  Yikes!

My thoughts were that we saw her photo and description and wanted her.  Surely we could at least learn more about her.  Maybe this was meant to be.

My husband was more comfortable with re-opening our home for regular foster care next month and, if those kids placed with us end up needing a new family, we’d be able to decide based off knowing who they are and how they fit into our existing family.

When it comes to adding a new family member, everyone needs to be onboard.  So, no to adopting that young teen.

And yes, to being open to adopting some unknown child(ren) of unspecified ages, gender, backgrounds at some possible point in the future.

 

Adopt a Teen????

Last year, I attended a foster parent training and something extraordinary happened.

Before class started, I walked over to say hi to a fellow foster mom.  She was sitting with her foster child, a teenaged girl.

The three of us began to talk.  Her teen foster daughter was cool.  Smart.  Funny.  We talked about fantasy books and music and art.

And I walked away thinking, hey, we should consider fostering teens.

If that was my sole takeaway, that in itself would have been awesome.

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But, last weekend, I saw that that teen girl is available for adoption.  She’s listed on AdoptUSKids.

For the first time over the many years I’ve browsed AdoptUSKids, I actually know someone who is featured as searching for a family.

Her picture is a little dorky.  The paltry eight sentences summing her up don’t do her justice.  There’s  no video.  If I hadn’t met her, I probably would have skipped right over her entry.

But she is so much more than her profile on AdoptUSKids.

And then, as I was writing this blog, my husband popped over to where I was sitting at our dining room table.

And I said, hey remember that girl?  She’s looking for a family.

And my husband says maybe we should think about adopting her.  ADOPT?!?!?

This is mind blowing.  Because we haven’t been planning to adopt anyone.  Because we had never thought about adopting a teen.  Because we already have two teens and I don’t know how they would feel about us adding a family member so close in age.  Savvy is at boarding school and we don’t want her to feel like she’s being replaced.  Silent One is a teen boy – is it weird as a teen to suddenly have a teen of the opposite gender be a family member?  And how do you afford college?  And the biggie – what’s a relationship with an adopted teen like?

I don’t know, people.  How crazy is it to be considering this based off a short 5-10 minute conversation we had a year ago?

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)


Read other great posts at the Adoption Talk link up.

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