After reading a post over at The Last Mom blog, I was inspired to dig up one of my old blog posts about our foster parenting experience.
I often mention that my husband and I are foster parents. That said, I've been asked many questions...
It is my hope to give anyone interested as much of MY PERSPECTIVE as I can give you into the wonderful world of fostering. So with this sentence comes my disclaimer - read it, know it love it:
**All opinions expressed in this blog are MY personal experiences and MY opinion. Each person has their own experience and reason for pursuing foster parenting. Rules differ from state to state. Please consult your local child services for information in your state. Please check the status of your own heart prior to pursuing this avenue. It is NOT for everyone. This is NOT a job to support a family. It’s taking on another person’s child for the sole benefit of the CHILD. **
How did we get here?
I've mentioned often that my body let me down when I was actually trying to be pregnant. Yes, I do have two of my very own biological children. Ten years apart. I wanted more kids, my husband wanted more kids and we both love kids.
Oh, and no refunds if it doesn't pan out.
This is not always the case - but something to be aware of.
My husband and I are both the "want to save the world" type. I'm always up for a challenge. I like to try to "fix" and help as much as I can and I truly want to make a difference. If I can do that, I'm happy. It doesn't always go that way. We wanted to get involved in the system to help a child who's already here, who needs love. These kids REALLY need love.
It's not always easy, but it is always worth it.
I will answer a couple of the questions I've received most often, in my very "Jenn" little way with a lot of my truth peppered with joy and heart ache.
It varies from state to state. My best answer is to go to: http://www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad/
Read through the site & find the nearest Child Services office to your county.
What do I need to do?
It's a long process - which is a good thing!
-An intake worker will come to your home and speak to you and your family. They will look at your home to see how many children your home can accommodate, along with your family.
Yes, most of us are only looking for one child - but they will always consider you for sibling groups & you may change your mind. We've had a few sibling groups come through. Know your limit!
-They will fill out paperwork & ask you for references from friends / family members.
-They will do a background check.
-You will need to be fingerprinted and you will need to take classes.
These are all very good things - if half the parents on the planet had to go through all of this to get a child, there wouldn't be so many children in need!
The process will be a long, annoying pain in the arse! Expect it. You're dealing with the government.
You CAN be very specific about the type of child you are willing to take. They will call you for any child they need to place but you CAN say no without it being held against you. I know that sounds like a really mean thing to say, but there are certain issues a child may have that you may know you cannot deal with; sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect, physical deformities, mental illness., etc. Set a criteria that will work for you and your family in your home. These kids are already being removed from the only family they know. If you can't deal with something it's best for the child concerned to know that in advance. You don't want to have to have a child placed over and over again.
Consider the ages of your kids and bedrooms. Think carefully - do you want a newborn? Really? Many (not all) of the newborns are born drug addicted. Drug addicted babies go through withdrawal and may cry for what seems like all the time. Be sure you can deal with that & be sure that you ask the question.
The "dumpster babies" and "Safe Haven Babies" don't seem to exist in the system. If they do, I've never been offered one.
Sit down with every single person in your immediate household, and those close to you. You'll need their support. Find out what every single person thinks about the idea and what they think their role will be. You all will need to work together, even your kids. Trust me!
Our very first foster child had substantial mental health and emotional issues. She was a self abuser at 1 1/2 years old. She screamed and cried all the time. She had two speeds, cute & psychotic. You could see the switch flip. I'm getting into this because my son couldn't handle it. It was too much for him and he and decided to go stay with his father until we could get the child re-placed in a more suitable environment for her. This situation was a total shock to our entire family. The other thing we were not prepared for was how difficult it would be to let her go, because we did fall in love with this child. We just knew we were not able to give her what she needed. I cried for weeks.
Ask many, many, many questions. If you're not getting the answer you're looking for - ask someone else. Keep asking until you are completely satisfied that you understand the answer you are receiving. I do it all the time. Yes, there's confidentiality - BUT if there is information you need to benefit the child, you are entitled to the answer.
You won't always know what questions to ask if you're new - they give you a list in training. Use it!
As with everything else, with experience comes the knowledge of what questions to ask.
Your own children.
I can't stress this enough - make sure your children are on board. They will ALWAYS need to come first and be your main priority. Make sure they understand that it's more than a playmate in the home. It can't be a selfish decision - what you want to do. They really, really need to be a part of it. I mentioned the incident with my son for a reason. As wonderful as this is - it can really interrupt a family.
One little girl we had was very difficult. Our daughter could not wait until she left - but when she did, the second the little girl left our house, our daughter darted to her room in tears. This was not what we wanted for her. We talked to her about not taking in any more kids in the future & she was very clear to say that she wanted more kids, she just felt sad when they left.
We had to come up with a plan so our daughter wouldn't get hurt. We talked about it and determined that as long as she doesn't see it, it doesn't happen. So after that child - when we knew a child was leaving we'd pack them up together & when the child was actually leaving, our daughter would go for a play date. She would say her good byes before & when she came home they were gone. No problems. This is what worked for us.
Find other Foster Parents to network with.
You don't need to be BFF's, but a network is wonderful. There will be a time you may want to get away with just your biological family - it's better to KNOW the people your foster child is going into vacation placement with. Otherwise they could end up anywhere.
The kids have already gone through so much, consistency is important for them. Also, during the tough times - it's good to have someone to talk with that understands what you're dealing with. Understands the system.
Stay informed & educated!
There are online classes & groups. You are mandated to have a certain amount of instructional hours per year & per three year period for annual inspection. These courses are brilliant. I'm a mom - I've got 2 of my own & have had several come through. I have learned so much more from these classes. You'll be surprised at how much you didn't know!
Document the good stuff (and the bad).
Take notes, lots of them. Be in touch with your case worker, take lots of pictures & have fun. I try to keep a little diary of important things. Since the invention of the digital camera & Snapfish - it's made it much easier to upload pix & put a little caption of what happened in this picture. When a child leaves, they take it with them & have what may be the missing pieces to a part of their life they may need in the future.
It's parenting. You're #2 (take that anyway you want it.)
You ALWAYS need to remember - this will always be about the child. It's not a pay check. If you're relying on that money for a pay check - you shouldn't even be entering into this foray.
The stipend is less than the child support you'd receive from your significant other in a divorce/custody situation.
You WILL spend every single cent and then some on the child. At least I do.
You WILL get your heart broken from time to time.
Part of taking in these children is loving and caring for them as if they were your own. You form a bond. Some of the children become adoptable. You may or may not want to go that route. Some of the kids go back. Sometimes they go back to a good place, sometimes you don't know. No matter what the situation - your heart will break a little each time.
If you're getting involved for the right reasons, you are giving this child a sense of self and family that they probably never had. The most important things to give kids are roots & wings.
Think of the motto for the Peace Corp. It's the toughest job you'll ever love. It's difficult, it can be heat wrenching. The children can be incredibly needy or angry or impaired. You can and will fall deeply in love with this child, and they may leave.
Even a few months of love & positive example will make a lifetime of difference in a child's life.
I'm no saint. I'm no angel. My husband and I are truly lucky to have the opportunity to share in the lives of these kids.
The good, the bad & the ugly.
I hope this information is helpful to you.
Thank you for reading my blog!
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