What to do if your kids are placed in foster care

I was hanging out at my sister’s house when a friend called frantically. Child Protective Services had taken her children and placed them into foster care.

Since I’ve been a foster mom to 10 kids, they asked me my advice. And I’m sharing it for any other parent who is going through this very painful and scary experience.

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Always remember that you want your kids back. This seems stupidly obvious, but you need to make getting your kids back your top priority and tell yourself over and over that you will do whatever it takes to have them living with you again, even all the things that you totally disagree with.

Here’s the top five things to do next:

1. Don’t do anything drastic
Parents are understandably very upset when their children are placed into care. It can be very tempting to let your emotions go crazy and do things you might regret later. You may want to scream at the social worker. You may feel so bad you just want to get drunk or high to make the bad feeling go away. You may have been struggling with depression or other mental illness and be tempted to stop taking your meds or attempt suicide.

Don’t. There is hope.

2. Go to every visit

Judges and social workers will look at how regularly you attended visits with your children. If you go to all or nearly all, this is evidence that you care and are trying to be a responsible parent. This is completely within your control, so go to every visit.

Some people may want to see their kids, but don’t feel motivated to go to the visits. It can be hard to be reunited only to have to say goodbye again. If you feel guilty, you may feel this more intensely when your kids ask to come home with you and you have to explain why they can’t. It may feel awkward to hang out with your kids when a social worker is present, observing your interactions. The process for getting your kids back can see unnecessarily bureaucratic and long, tempting you to give up. Don’t. Stick with it and go to every visit.

3. Express desire to get your kids back

It may seem very obvious to you that you want your kids back, but it may not be obvious to others. Tell the judge, social workers, lawyers, CASA (if one is assigned to your case), and foster parents that you want your children living with you again. Tell them about your concerns regarding the impact of living apart.

4. Do the things the judge says must be done.

The authorities will write a plan that lists the conditions which must be met in order for you to get your kids back. Ask to see this plan and make sure you understand what you need to do. Then do those things.

Psychological evaluations and substance abuse evaluations are common first steps. Some people don’t like to go through testing, especially if they don’t believe they have any mental health or drug/alcohol problems. Do them any way.

If you don’t do them, the authorities will think you are hiding something. If you do take the tests, it will show your willingness to do whatever it takes to get your kids back.

Your plan may also include parenting classes, therapy, anger management classes, or various treatments for mental illness, substance abuse, sexual abusing, etc.

I have seen cases where social workers and therapists didn’t think parents would be able to get their children back, and then parents worked really hard to do every item in their plan. They made positive changes in their lives and were successful in reuniting their family.

That could be you. You could be the parent that does whatever it takes and gets your kids back.

5. Ask relatives to raise your kids temporarily

Many parents feel uncomfortable having strangers raising their kids. This is 100% understandable.

You can ask relatives or close friends to act as foster parents while you work on meeting the requirements of your plan. They may need to take foster parent training.

Some people would prefer that family or friends not foster their children as they worry this may complicate their relationships. That’s ok, too.

However, if you do want someone you know to help out, it’s best to ask early as the vetting and training may take several months.

6. Befriend the foster parents

If you have non-related foster parents for your children, try to get to know them and have a positive relationship with them.

Some people may disagree with how the foster family is temporarily raising their children, wonder if the foster parents will judge them, or worry that they need to compete for their children’s affection.

However, keep in mind that foster parents want to help the parents and their children have healthy relationships and live together. This is why they became foster parents. Give them a chance.

When you befriend the foster parents, they are more likely to go the extra mile to help you stay connected with your kids and help you navigate the foster care system. You can ask them to send photos, facilitate phone calls/skype/email, or make reasonable changes to their parenting style. (Examples of reasonable changes could be how they dress your children, how they ensure your kids follow your religious beliefs, etc.).

If you are going through a hard time right now, my heart goes out to you. I hope whatever caused Child Protective Services to remove your children is resolved and you and your children can live together again soon.

Talking about Sex with Foster Kids

Some foster parents shy away from talking about sex with their foster kids.  It’s hard to have a talk with our bio kids, let alone someone else’s!  But it’s the responsible thing for foster parents to do.  Did you know that girls in foster care are three times more likely to have a baby as teenagers than kids who were never in foster care* ( about 1 foster girl in 3 )?  Even though Joyful is only 10, we’re having birds and bees conversations to help her not become a mom too soon.  Some of the conversations are pretty funny.

At breakfast this morning, I mentioned that my grandpa lived on a farm and raised dairy cows.  As a little girl, I loved to drink the warm milk.  Here’s how our conversation turned into a sex talk.

“What do you call the thing that milk comes from?” Joyful asked.

“Udders,” I responded with a smile.  Joyful giggled.

“They look like a body part,” she said, hiding her face behind her hands.  “Can humans make milk?”

“Udders are the cow’s equivalent of breasts.  They are not penises,” my husband noted, knowing exactly what body part a young girl might think an udder looks like.

“When a mom has a baby, her breasts make milk,” I explained.

“How does she get the milk to come out?” Joyful asked, intrigued.

“The baby sucks and the milk comes out,” I said.

“But doesn’t that mean there are holes in her breasts?  Why doesn’t the milk just fall out?” Joyful wondered.

“There are very tiny holes and generally the milk stays in unless the baby is trying to get the milk out by sucking,” I said.

“What if the mom doesn’t want the baby?  What if a teenager walks by a baby – will her breasts make milk?” Joyful asked.  Wow!  She really doesn’t understand human anatomy and, sadly, understands human nature all too well – that sometimes moms don’t want their children.

“If a baby isn’t with the mom and doesn’t drink the mom’s milk, the milk goes away.  You actually have to give birth to the baby for your breasts to make milk (yes, I know technically this isn’t true, but it’s 98% true).  Just being by a baby won’t cause your breasts to make milk, so it’s safe for a teenager to walk by a baby,” I explain, trying to keep the answer simple.

“Are you sure that teenagers can’t get milk just by being by babies?” Joyful asked.

“Yes, I’m sure,” I reassured her.

This talk about cows and breastfeeding may seem  like a cute kids story, but it’s so much more than that.  Joyful knows she can ask me about anything.  Hopefully, she’s learning that it’s a good idea to ask trusted adults for information when she becomes a teenager.  We talk about the mechanics, AND about values.

At lunch, 8-year-old Watchful asked why people want to get married.  So we talked about how wonderful it can be to be in a relationship when two people really care about each other.  Sassy, of course, needed to show off her teenage knowledge and said men and women get married to have babies.  What a perfect opportunity for hubby and I to tell the kids that it’s a good idea to wait until you’re married to have babies.

Why Foster Kids are Likely to Become Teen Parents
So why are kids who have been in foster care more likely to have babies when they’re teenagers?  Just look at the risk factors* for the likelihood that any child will become a teen mom.

  • Teen has experienced many changes in where they live or in family structure
  • Teen has experienced abuse or neglect as a child
  • Teen is child of a single parent
  • Teen’s parent has a low level of education
  • Teen’s parent has a low income
  • Teen struggles academically
  • Teen struggles with fighting, doing drugs, or drinking alcohol

It doesn’t take a genius to realize teens in foster care are much more likely to have these risk factors for teen pregnancy than their peers.  So, if you’re a foster parent with a school-aged child or teenager in your home, perhaps now is a good time to talk about making good choices.  Your talk today could help them make good decisions in the future.

*Statistics taken from “Teen Parents in Foster Care: Risk Factors and Outcomes for Teens and Their Children” by Child Trends.

Invisible Pregnancy

We will have a foster kid or two soon.  We need to prepare a bedroom, think about leave from work, and think about child care and schooling.  I’m reading tons of parenting books.  Considering buying a rocking chair.  Buying special books to read.  So, I’ve written before about how similar this is to “expecting” with a pregnancy.

But it’s a bit lonely.  Here I am with mommy-hood on the brain, but no one is patting my tummy, giving me their seat on the bus, offering to carry heavy things for me.  There’s no baby shower.  No doctor visits.

It’s like an invisible pregnancy.  I’m “due” soon, yet no one can see a bulging baby bump.

I wish family and friends realized that bringing a child into your family is a big deal, no matter if that child stays with you for a month or for life.  I will still give my heart to any foster kid that walks through my front door.  I will be their advocate in school, at the doctor’s office, and with the county.  I will still tuck them in at night, make them breakfast, and  cheer them on at basketball or cheerleading.  I will put band aids on their owies, remind them to mind their manners, and be the shoulder they cry on when things don’t go their way.

So, yes, I am a mommy-to-be, even if my “pregnancy” is invisible.

Are you an “expectant” foster parent and feel lonely, too?  Have you ever considered giving “expectant” foster parents that special love and attention that pregnant moms receive?  Any suggestions for helping others realize that I want them to celebrate this with us?