10 Foster Kids and Counting!

We’ve seen 10 kids come and go since we started our journey as a foster family in 2013. Some have stayed with us for nearly a year and a half, others just a handful of days. But one thing has become abundantly clear to me. I love being a foster parent!

I love cuddling the ones open to a hug. I love playing in the sand at the beach with them. I love teaching them how to cook, how to use a bicycle pump, or how to dust the furniture.

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When kids in care are in our home, there’s a hustle and bustle that energizes me. Is there a family visit, a social worker dropping by, a sporting event, school science night? Have the children been bathed, is it time for homework, time for meds, oops ran out of milk let’s’s run to the store?

There’s the thrill of meeting of a child and learning his or her distinct personality, likes, dislikes, needs, and rhythms. Joyful loves spaghetti and would eat mounds of it, but Turkey doesn’t care for pasta. Helper wants to say bed time prayers every night with us, but Jumping Jack doesn’t believe in God and is weirded out by the whole concept of religion. Watchful calms down best when left alone in his “safe place” for a few minutes, but Explorer wants to have his back rubbed. Excited and Watchful are both early risers, but while Excited wakes up in a sunny, bouncy mood, Watchful needs the quiet routine of setting the table before engaging with others.

When you have foster kids in your home, there’s the joy of watching them overcome the trauma in their lives. Joyful stopped burying her nose in a book all day long and was willing to reach out to make friends. Harry Potter started using words to encourage his brother, rather than constantly insult him. Another learned that bed wetting as a pre-teen happens to some people and that wearing appropriate undergarments is not a big deal.

I love watching my husband and permanent children develop even greater kindness, empathy, and understanding as they are confronted by our foster children’s more challenging behaviors. My husband searched out the recipe, got special ingredients, and cooked a Filipino dish to help comfort Big Ben with a familiar, favorite food. Sassy willingly worked out differences with another child who was being aggressive. Silent One has learned to be unruffled by tantrums.

Last weekend, we said goodbye to Harry Potter and Explorer. We’ve been asked to take two brothers for two weeks in August, which we’re debating as the timing is not great for our family and we would prefer a long-term placement. We were asked about a four year old girl, but luckily her grandparents have stepped up and she won’t be coming into care. We talked with our social worker today, who asked us if we’ll be home over Memorial Day weekend in case there are any emergency placements.

But at the moment, it’s quiet. I’m seated on my sofa, sipping tea, with my dog beside me. And while that’s nice, I can’t wait to see who will walk in the door next, get to know them, care for them, and watch them transform their inner hurts.

Of course there are days when I wonder “why the heck did I sign up for this,” but all in all….Life as a foster parent is a joy and a privilege!

Prepping for New Foster Kids

Today we’re welcoming two energetic brothers to our home for a short while. We can’t wait until Harry Potter, age 6, and his little brother, Explorer, age 5, arrive. I’m attending a work conference today and am distracted, just wanting to get home and do some childproofing before they arrive. (Don’t worry. I’m not slacking. I’m writing this during our coffee break.)

Last weekend we rearranged bedrooms to meet the line of sight supervision and separate room requirements. Lots of lugging mattresses and washing sheets. Whew!

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Since we were getting a little tired of having to disassemble bed frames and schlepping bedding, I broke down and got a new bed frame. But for free, so yay!

When the boys came for a pre-visit, they ran from room to room looking for toys. It became apparent that our toy assortment did not match their interests.

So this morning I sent out a message to my network of friends, asking for a short term lending of kid entertainment items. Cars, play dough, balls, and books are being dropped off as I type. What an outpouring of friendship!

The toys are so necessary as I’ve been requested to keep their tv/ video game time to just 15 minutes a day! And it’s predicted to rain for the next few days – meaning the boys will be cooped up inside. Please, weather gods, let there be some sun, so we can run the very active Harry Potter and Explorer around outside to burn off some of that excess energy.

When I get home, it will be a mad dash around the house to put up all the breakables. Then it’s a phone call for pizza delivery and hopefully a quick run to the grocery store for ice cream. Giving kids something they like upon arrival is a great way to make them feel welcome.

Ok. Gotta go welcome those boys!!

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.

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.

No Bohns About It

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

Foster kids “readiness” to return – does it matter?

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A statement from a foster care meeting several weeks ago is haunting me. We were talking about what needs to happen in order for our foster children to move back with their dad. We had discussed the things that their dad needs to do to be ready. So I asked how would we know if the kids would be ready to return home. The answer? It doesn’t matter if the kids are ready; it only matters if dad is able to parent the children.

Ever since then, there’s been an argument raging inside my head.

On the one hand, children are not removed from their homes because of what they do, but rather because their parents are not able to parent them adequately (keep them safe, feed them, school them, etc.). So if a parent can parent the children, then why not reunite the kids? If a parent can handle a traumatized child, then send the child home.

On the other hand, if the children have been deeply traumatized by the parents and their emotional wounds haven’t healed, is it fair to send the children back? Is it fair to send a child with post traumatic stress disorder back into an environment where they are being triggered?

Help me, folks, ‘cuz I can’t wrap my head around this.

This post is part of the Adoption Talk Link Up. Check out other great blogs on adoption and foster care.

No Bohns About It

Ask about Future Foster Child’s Ethnicity or Race

Erin from No Bohns About It wrote a wonderful post Why in the World does the Race or Ethnicity of a Foster Child Matter?. In the post, she discusses some of the reasons why foster parents may ask about a child’s race or ethnicity when the social worker calls up with a potential placement. Erin gives some really great reasons. Here’s a few more that I’d add on.

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Curiosity. When someone calls you up asking you if want to welcome a child into your home, you want to know everything about that child. What the child looks like and their ethnic or cultural heritage is part of their identity. It’s a little glimpse into the life of a stranger who’s about to move in with you. It’s completely natural to want to have a mental picture of who will show up on your doorstep.

To Help Uncover Other Questions to Ask. We live in a very diverse area of the United States and sometimes race or ethnicity might prompt me to ask other questions. I might ask if the family are American citizens, because if not and the parent is convicted of a crime, they may face deportation. Fear of deportation can complicate a foster care case (willingness of relatives to step forward if parents’ rights are terminated, child moving internationally where you have no hope of maintaining ties, additional court dates, etc.). If a social worker stated a child’s ethnicity as Egyptian or Indonesian, I might ask if the child is Muslim, which would require a restricted diet, a certain manner of dressing, prayers several times a day, etc. Knowing ethnicity may remind me to ask if the child speaks English. I might ask if a child is a refugee if their heritage matches one of the large refugee populations in my area. Children who are refugees may have experienced hardships above and beyond the average – exposure to war, food shortages, violent discrimination. If a child was Native American, I’d ask about the child’s tribe and the likelihood that the tribe would allow a non-tribe member to adopt the child, if reunification wasn’t possible.

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To Plan Ahead. If the social worker says the child is latino, you may feel pretty comfortable whipping up pupusas or carne asada, know where to buy Central and South American products, have a little Spanish under your belt, and look forward to hanging a piñata at your next party. If the social worker says the child is Ugandan, do you have any sense of what food the child may find comforting, the customs that might be normal in their home, the holidays they celebrate, etc.? No? Better get to the library or start googling. You’ll want to start planning how you will help the child maintain their cultural identity.

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To Provide Feedback to the Social Worker. In our county, the social worker who does the placement is different from the social worker who did our home study who is different from the social worker who manages the child’s case. In other words, the placement person might not know too much about us or our neighborhood. Our neighborhood is predominantly white and latino with some Asians. If a black child came to live with us, the child would not have anyone nearby who looked like him/her except the one family with teenage daughters. A pre-schooler might not really care. But a teenager may appreciate being told and, if it’s a foreseen move (not an emergency placement), consulted about whether they feel up to going to school where no one looks like them.

To Plan Diversity in Your Family. In our case, our permanent family consists of three whites and one latino. We wanted to add a latino so the family would be more balanced, and no one would feel “not like the others.” There are many blended families who would be in a similar boat.

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To Fit With Your Comfort Level. Maybe you wouldn’t feel comfortable raising a child who doesn’t look like you. That’s ok. Your honesty is appreciated. It’s better to say no in advance than have a weird vibe between you and your foster child. Here are a few examples where this could come into play. An unmarried friend had been raped by a white man, and was worried that she might be triggered by being around a white bio father who could be abusive, have a drug addiction, etc. Fellow foster parents had a relative who served in the Vietnam War and was openly racist against Asians; they wanted to avoid awkward family gatherings. Another first-time foster parent I know didn’t feel prepared to deal with other people’s racism and thought that for their first placement they would prefer to learn how to be a foster family first and then in later placements tackle transracial issues.

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Bottom Line – Ask about What You Want to Know
In the end, you are the one making a huge commitment. You will be parenting a child for a few days or a few months or few years or forever. If you want to know – ask! The social worker might not have an answer, but you have the right to make an informed decision!