What I Agree to When Fostering a Child

Sometimes when you’re trying to understand what someone else’s life is like, it’s cool to have a glimpse of their everyday activities.   Ever wonder what foster parents agree to do when they foster a child?  Read on.

We had two cutie pies stay with us for short-term respite care.  Now I need to return the paperwork that spells out who does what and why.

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There’s the foster care agreement.  This document says that the County and my family agree that we will provide foster care services to a specific child.  It also includes key principles such as “all children deserve a safe environment” and “children do best when raised in families.”

There’s a code of ethics that we agree to abide by.  Here are some of the ethics:

  • Provide a safe, secure, and stable family environment that is nurturing and free from corporal punishment and abuse and neglect
  • Support progress toward achieving the permanency goal identified for the child (that goal is either return to parents, return to extended family or adoption)
  • Promote self-respect by providing positive guidance and activities that respect culture, ethnicity, and spiritual preferences
  • Support the child in developing knowledge and skills to become a self sufficient and responsible adult

As the foster parents, we agree to:

  • Receive the named child
  • Agree to keep the County informed of the child’s development, behaviors, and activities
  • Agree to confidentiality
  • Agree that the child’s social worker can visit the child in our home
  • Agree to notify the County in case of a medical emergency

The County agrees to:

  • Provide counseling to the child
  • Provide consultation and support to the foster parents
  • Pay for the child’s health care
  • Pay a stipend to the foster parents to cover the cost of the child’s food, clothing, and personal care

There’s also a medical authorization form, which tells medical care providers that we are allowed to seek care for the specific child.  For routine care, we can take the child to the doctor or dentist just like you would any kid.  We can’t put on the kid on indefinite medication, especially psycho-active drugs (anti-depressent, anti-anxiety, ADHD, etc.). For that, the County and/or parents make the decision. For medical emergencies, we are to take the child to the emergency room right away, but let the County know as they might need a judge to authorize the emergency medical treatment. “Routine” emergencies like a broken arm don’t require a judge, but stuff like an amputation of an arm would require the judge to agree.

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All of the those papers are signed when the child is placed in our home. The last paper is where we state how long the child was staying with us. It’s only done after the child has left, because life happens and the child has either stayed longer or shorter than planned. There was a blizzard, so it wasn’t safe to travel. Or the regular foster parents came back early and pick up the child. Etcetera.

We keep a copy of all these papers for our records and send another copy to the County for their records and also to process the payment for the child’s food, clothing, and personal care.

And that’s it. Paper work done.

Up, Down, Up, Down – A Foster Care Placement Roller Coaster

We’ve been open for a long-term foster care placement since this spring. During the summer, it was dead silent, but over the past six we’ve been called quite a few times.  We keep getting our hopes up, but then being let down.

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The County asked us to take a young teen who was being sexually abused by a relative.  We said yes, but she ended up not coming into care as her friend’s family decided to let her stay with them.  The next call was regarding a teenaged girl and her newborn, and we quickly said yes, but a family friend ended up agreeing to care for her.  We came very, very close to having an elementary-aged boy, but when the County went to pick him up and bring him to our house, he was no longer living at that address.  Around 1:00 a.m. one night we received an emergency call to place a boy, but we said no as his behaviors might be risky for our children.  We said yes to two toddlers, but the County found a foster home closer to their neighborhood.  We said no to a 9-year old girl as we felt we would need to devote at least 20 hours a week to help her address her significant needs, and our work schedules wouldn’t allow that.  And last week, we said yes to 10 and 12-year-old siblings, but a foster family who had a pre-existing relationship with the brother changed their minds and welcomed the siblings.

We received a huge shock when the County asked us to adopt a sibling group that we know.  After a whole lot of deliberation, we said no, which just about tore me apart. These are great kids and I’d highly recommend them to prospective parents, but they just weren’t a good match for us.  Even writing this makes me want to cry, though I know these kids deserve a family that better fits their personalities, likes, and needs.

So, our house remains empty for now. And my hand remains wrapped around my iPhone waiting for the next call.

The Foster Care Village

One of my favorite things about foster care is the out pouring of support.  My friends, neighbors and fellow foster parents amaze me with their generosity.  Want to help kids in care, but not ready to be a foster parent?  Get inspired by these wonderful things people have done to make a difference.

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  • A couple of young boys came to our house and were disappointed by our toy selection.  I sent a text out and within two hours we had pull toys, play doh, cars and more dropped off at our house for short term borrowing.

 

  • My friends hung out with me in my drive way, chatting and drinking lemonade, while some very rambunctious little ones played outside.  My friends’ presence kept me sane as I dealt with tantrums, arguments, and reckless horseplay.

 

  • My neighbors send their kids over to welcome new kids in care.  Every kid loves to have instant new friends.

 

  • My in-laws invite us over for dinner, not batting an eye when we ask them to set another place or two or three. Even when it means feeding the bottomless pit of teenaged boys.  Even on major holidays.

 

  • My friends and neighbors offer up all their insider tips:  how to deal with special education at the elementary school, ideas for after school programs, where to shop for inexpensive but cool clothes, fun community events coming up, etc.  When you suddenly have a pre-schooler with speech delays or a 9 year old girl who doesn’t want to lose gymnastics along with everything else or a teen boy who must have the “in” shoes, it can be hard to figure how to get what they need.  So friends’ tips make life so much easier.

 

  • Knowing that the County’s stipend doesn’t cover all expenses, our friends have lent parking passes, gave tickets to the zoo, lent extra beds, lent snow pants, donated an old video console and games. The list keeps going on!

 

  • On Mother’s Day, friends put on a bagel and fruit smorgasbord at our house. This one really touched me as they wanted to do something special for me as a mom and understood that  the kids may be emotional about not being with their bio mom. So, kids stayed calm in the familiar environment of my dining room, I didn’t have to cook, and we had a great time hanging with friends.

Renew Foster Care License?

I opened up the mail today and received a request from the county to renew our foster care license.

A few thoughts ran through my head.

  • Yay! I love foster care and can’t wait to sign up for another three years!
  • Hmm. Do they really need me to re-up? I’ve been waiting for a child to be placed long-term in our home for four months.
  • Yikes! My work is looking at transferring me next summer. Is it responsible to accept a long-term placement if we’re not available for more than one year?

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If there’s anything learned in the past three years as a foster mom, it’s to accept that my feelings will always be all over the map when it comes to foster care.

There will be days when I want to do more than can humanly be done, saying yes to every request for volunteers for our foster parent association. And days I want to lay snuggled in my bed ignoring the paperwork that needs filing and the calls that need to be made.

There will be happy days when I am shocked and awed by the progress made by my foster children and their parents. And dark moments when despair creeps in and I doubt that difficult circumstances can be overcome.

There will be many wonderful memories of time spent with awesome kids picking apples or searching for fossils at the beach or hiking in the woods. And there will be tears when it’s time to say goodbye as they move back home.

But one thing is always constant. I love these kids. For their courage, their silliness, for just being them.

Guess it’s time to fill out that paperwork to renew our foster care license.

If we only knew…

Brothers Helper (13 years) and Excited (8 years) are back with us again for the week. We are very happy to have them stay with us for a short bit, though it feels a little odd.

Last time they stayed with us, we offered to adopt them. Of course, they don’t know that. I’m not sure if the family who is actually adopting them knows that. We only told the social worker, saying that we would be thrilled to adopt them, but would give priority to the long-term foster family. And that other couple decided to make Helper and Excited their forever sons.

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It’s the right thing. The other family is wonderful and the boys have been with them a long time. Yet, I look at the boys’ smiling faces and think to myself “these darling boys almost were mine.” My heart shouts in my in mind – tell them you love them so much that you wanted to make them family members, that you never want to let go. But I don’t say a word about what almost was.

Instead I say “I love you” and “I’m so happy you get to visit again.” Instead, I let the love shine through my eyes. Instead, I make them their favorite homemade pizza.

Why not mention anything about adoption? Because they need to feel 100% committed to their new family and it could be confusing. In the heat of the moment, one of the boys could say they prefer us over the other family, wounding their mom- and dad-to-be.  Or they could feel torn, feeling they had to make a choice.  It’s best to stay in the wings as the other family that adores them, like an aunt and uncle.  The helper family.

It makes me wonder, though. How many people are out there deeply, truly loving you and me, who for one reason or another can’t tell us?

Where are the foster children?

The beds aren’t made. If these were my children’s beds or my own, this would truly be non-news. But these are the beds for future foster children.

And the house isn’t clean. There’s clutter everywhere, dishes in the sink, and laundry to be done. Prior to becoming a foster family, this wouldn’t have been news either.

Yet, these unkempt beds make me worried. Typically, the beds are always made with fresh white sheets, in case a social worker calls and asks us to welcome foster children into our home with very little advanced notice.

And the house is usually clean so that a social worker, or guardian ad litem (GAL) or court appointed special advocate (CASA) can visit at any point and I don’t feel embarrassed by the state of my home.

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I’m in no rush to make the beds or clean the house, because we won’t be welcoming kids to our home until August at the earliest. Although we’ve been open for new long-term placements for several months, we’ve only been officially contacted once and that child went to another foster family. And soon we’ll be going on vacation, so we would need to turn down placements until after we get back. So messy beds, messy house.

This long wait isn’t just a phenomena experienced by our family. And that’s what’s got me worried.

The number of children being brought into foster care has gone down dramatically in our county. Why? If the reason for this decrease is because the county is doing a better job of fixing what’s wrong with a family without removing kids, great. That’s awesome. I love it.

The rumor, though, is that there’s a new supervisor who is all about reducing the caseload. That he is directing staff to keep children in abusive or neglectful situations that would have previously resulted in a removal. Initially, I ignored this rumor, because, rumors are often wrong.

But then I learned of a case where a child was being sexually abused and originally the social workers were leaving the child in the home with the abuser, but with in-home services to “fix” the problem. Then the child ran away and the county brought the child into care.

Was there doubt if the child was truly being abused and that’s why she was left in the home with the abuser? Does the county feel that there is an effective treatment protocol wherein sex offenders and victims live together? Or is this the work of the supervisor who is making it extra hard to bring a child into care?

Roughly 88 children could be expected to enter into care each month in my country*. And yet, I know many foster parents whose homes have been empty for months and months. It wasn’t always like this. The numbers dropped off dramatically about nine months ago.

I pray that this change is because children are being helped in another, effective way.


 

* Wonder how I reached this number? Approximately 00.357% of American children enter foster care each year (yes, well below 1%), according to the 2010 census and the 2014 AFCARS report on U.S. foster care statistics. I used this national average and applied it to the number of children in my county. My county’s average intake could be higher or lower, but it shouldn’t deviate that dramatically from the national average.