107,918 children are eligible for adoption right now in the US. That's children that are simply waiting for someone to say 'yes'. There are no biological family visitations, no back and forth, or maybes. There are no court dates where you're waiting anxiously to see if the judge grants TPR (termination of parental rights). That is ALL done. Parental rights are terminated and these children need a FOREVER home right now. The cost is minimal usually ranging from 0-$2,000.
When we start broadening our scope to US children in foster care that number jumps to 428,000-670,000. Children who are in this position through no fault of their own. They need someone to be that in between, that safe haven, their refuge, and about half of the time this leads to a permanent home for the child as the case progresses.
I'm sure you've heard that necessity + ability = responsibility. Foster care flips that for us-well actually God does. We cannot deny the great need, nor can we deny the fact that the Almighty has already told us it was our responsibility so in knowing that we must FIND an avenue to ensure we have the ability. Before I jump into answering some questions and explaining more about the process of becoming a foster/adoptive family let me say this loud and clear: I do NOT believe that everyone should become a foster or adoptive family! If this is not where your heart is please do not be pressured into pursuing it. There are other ways you can visit the fatherless which will also be discussed in this post. Let's jump in.
How to get started:
*information varies slightly from state to state
Call your local DHHR/DCF and ask to speak to someone about becoming a foster parent. I promise you they'll be more than happy to get you started! Usually what that process looks like is signing up for training classes. In WV the classes were called PRIDE and they were every Saturday morning for a month. Here in OK we have a few options: online, a class Thurs-Sat. or the weekly Sat. option & I believe the classes are called PATH. During this time you will also be working on filling out all the paperwork, background checks, physical, and finger prints completed. The classes, fingerprints, background checks, are usually free. You should only have to pay for the basic physical. After the classes you will have a home study. This means a worker will come tour your home and make sure that it is suitable for children. They'll give you a checklist of things that you need to make sure to have (they don't want to have to come back to do another one & they WANT you to pass!). Things like: fire extinguisher, fire alarms, escape plan, etc. They'll also interview you and your spouse-together and separately; be prepared to be an open book. A lot of these questions can be very personal and even seem invasive but I'm sure you'll be able to see why they're necessary. Questions about conflict resolution, your values, your marriage. The state tries to complete the entire process from start to finish in about 60 days.
Most of the expenses (which were not many) we encountered before we actually began fostering. We had to buy things like a fire extinguisher, we had a few toys, clothes in various sizes, car seats, but most of that was gifted to us or found for cheap and it was not a necessity to have before having placements.
As mentioned above, Home-study, classes, finger prints, & background check are all free. The only cost you will have is if you have to do things around the house to make it up to code (ie. fire extinguisher, escape latter for 2nd story house etc).
When you initially receive a placement they will likely come with nothing or a handful of mix matched clothes a few sizes too small. The worker gives you a waiver (usually 300$ per child) and you can go to walmart for diapers, clothes, formula, car seat etc. ) Make sure that the worker lists all children items, stores can be very picky about wording. I will note that this does not happen in every state but in WV it did for us. It's alway a good idea to have a 'placement fund' set aside for when you get a call.
The state also pays for all medical bills. You’ll receive a Medicare card for the child and never will have to pay out of pocket for dental or medical care of any kind. We have never encountered an issue with any medical needs. This also goes for counseling and therapies. Obviously there are certain guidelines but this will all be paid for by the state as well.
The state gives a set ‘boarding fee’ per child. This is for any expenses to help care for the child left to your discretion-food, clothing, outings as a family, etc. Foster children also automatically qualify for WIC. If you are in need of a daycare service this is usually also covered at specific locations. When the child starts visitations with biological family the state also will set up a provider to come and transport the child from you to the bio family. If you do decide to drive there is a form you can fill out to be reimbursed for gas.
If you have a placement that leads to adoption it is also free. You will get allotted 2,000$ to pay for an adoption lawyer. There are a list lawyers who do adoptions for this fee. For both of our adoptions the only expense we incurred was paying for new birth certificates which were 12$ a piece.
Who can Foster:
As mentioned above about background checks etc. if you don't have a criminal record or any record with CPS you can become a foster parent. You also must be 21 in most states. They will ask about your financial state simply to ensure you aren't becoming a foster parent for the sake of money. You can be married, single, stay at home mom, or a working mom, both parents can be working parents, or they can both work from home.
Home requirements and Financial stability:
I know a lot of people that are confused about what kind of house they need and how their finances should look in order to get started. You do not have to be rich and have the nicest house on the block to foster. The main thing is that your home is safe and clean. You can have a trailer house or a 5 bedroom house. As far as regulations for sleeping arrangements they may vary state to state but as far as I have learned it is as follows: 0-2 are allowed to sleep in a crib in the parent's room. Once they are older than 2 they must be in a separate room. Girls can share rooms with other girls and boy with boys. Children ages 2-4 can share a room with the opposite gender in some states but not in all.
As far as your personal finances you just need to be able to prove that you have a steady and reliable source of income.
People in your circle:
A homefinder will likely be your very first contact. They will be the one to conduct the home study mentioned above. They also will be the one to contact you for a child needing a home. To explain: home finders go on rotation with a list of children needing to be placed. For example suzy will have it week 1, Frankie week 2 etc. They will look at the list and see that a little girl age 4, who has been physically abused is needing to be placed. They'll then look at list of foster homes and see which ones have said they would take a child that falls into that age, gender, and needs.
Case worker/social worker:
If you chose to go through the state and not an agency (we went through the state & plan to in the future). This will be your main contact. By law they are required to come once a month and lay eyes on the child. Usually this meeting is no longer than 30 min. They see you interact, its your chance to ask questions, discuss upcoming court dates etc. Don't be surprised if they don't have many answers-that's the nature of the beast. They likely have 50 kids or so over their suggested case load due to the high volume of children needing care. But do NOT be afraid to ask questions and when they say they'll get back to you-follow up. Email, text, call. Do not be rude or arrogant but Let them know you care about what happens to the child & appreciate all the hard work they do.
If you have a worker who is simply not doing their job, call the supervisor and request a new worker. We've even had the supervisor as our case worker before because of the lack of available workers.
Visits by workers are usually scheduled ahead of time. We have never been surprised by a visit (unless we forgot). They do not just pop up unannounced unless they have a reason to.
GAL or guardian ad liteum is a person the court appoints to investigate what solutions would be in the “best interests of a child.” A CASA worker is basically the same thing but are volunteers. Here's google's definition: volunteers are appointed by judges to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court and other settings. The primary responsibilities of a CASA volunteer are to: Gather information: Review documents and records, interview the children, family members and professionals in their lives.
I will be honest we have only meet a GAL once and that was due to us calling and enquiring. I know others who have and extensive relationship with their CASA and I look forward to hopefully having one in the future!
This is the person who will take the child to and from visits. They will also be present during the visit to supervise. Usually your interaction is limited and very brief but you can feel free to ask how the visits went, etc. Sometimes they share and sometimes they don't it all depends on the person and what their company policies are.
Rules and Regulations:
I will just highlight the ones I get asked about most frequently and address them the best I can. When talking about these things we must realize there is a REASON for everything. The state is doing the best they can to protect children who have already been failed by those who were supposed to love them most and thus some of the rules may seem extreme to some but these rules are NEEDED.
I think it's pretty clear why this is not allowed. To the child coming into your home you are a stranger. Being a stranger you have not established a level of trust, love, or respect. Not only are you a stranger but they are a stranger to you. You do not know what level of abuse might have been inflicted on them. Yes, while the workers try and gather as much information as possible to help the foster parents, they still will not have the child's entire history. Therefore a simple, appropriate, swat on the rear for discipline could trigger a child who has been physically or sexually abused. It could put them right back to that place of fear and anguish and therefore not even be an effective tool to use when parenting this particular child. For those that have biological children and use spanking you will not be asked to stop discipling your biological children that way, but obviously it not something that is tolerated for foster children. When/if you become their legal, adoptive, family this topic can be revised by you and your spouse.
When a child is placed in your home they are a legal ward of the state. This means that the state ultimately has the say in your child's medical decisions. The state requires wellness checkups, vaccinations, dental and eye care. Again, this is the state striving to make absolutely sure that children placed in foster care are taken care of. And whatever your personal stance on vaccines etc. are the reason behind these laws makes complete sense.
You cannot force a child to go to worship with you. Obviously we have not come across before because our children are fairly young but I would encourage you to foster a love and interest in attending worship first. If the child still refuses maybe set up visitations for during that time. If that is not an option the child is welcome to go along and sit in the foyer and not participate.
You cannot homeschool a foster child. The children must be enrolled in a public/private school. Remember that insanely high number of foster children we talked about in the beginning? It is impossible for the number of workers there are to have an individualized schooling plan for everyone of these children. That is why there are these cut and clear guidelines.
Again, (I sound like a broken record) the state is simply doing their best to make sure that these rules are in place to keep these children protected, educated, and taken care of. Not all foster parents should be foster parents. Some people that these children are placed with are far from ideal. Just like biological parents there are good and bad foster parents. These rules were made for those that wouldn't make the right decisions and thus we must all follow them regardless on your personal preference.
To be honest the state leaves a lot up to our discretion. We are the child's parents for as long as they are in our home. So please do not get them impression that you are just a babysitter because you are so much more than that. I don't feel like I'm under any strenuous legal requirements-Just like everything else there are rules and I understand why they are in place. It can be an annoyance to have to ask to cut hair or get ears pierced. But aren't these kids worth it? Arne't they worth setting aside our desire to homeschool, our personal aversion to vaccines? While yes you can have your opinion on those things (we all do) the options are: care for a child within the guidelines the state allows or leave that child in the system. You choose.
If you decide to travel out of state you will have to get a waiver from your worker at least 24 hrs. before hand. This usually is no big deal and has only presented an issue for us once in the past and that was due to a worker failing to do their job.
I've read quite a few times that it's not a matter of if you'll be investigated but when. If you are a foster parent for any length of time there is a chance that at one point or another someone will make an accusation against you or a child will get hurt and you will have to talk with an investigator . It can be something as simple as a child having a bruise from rough housing, or a biological parent lying about your family. This has happened to us before when baby P sustained a burn on his arm from an iron. It was an awful accident, we took him to the ER, had it documented with the hospital etc. but we still had to talk to an investigator about how it happened etc. Obviously nothing came of it because it was a horrible accident but those things can arise.
When we first started fostering I was worried about every bump and scratch. But, as time went on I realized that was truly causing me more stress and anxiety. Obviously I don't want my children ever to get hurt but we all know scrapes and bruises are marks of childhood.
Keep records and utilize your free DR. visits. Write down when a child gets noticeably hurt in a little spiral notebook. Baby takes a tumble as he's learning to walk and bumps his head on the coffee table scribble down a note with the date and cause. If it's something that happens on the head or a deep gash, or burn. Go ahead and call your pediatrician and ask there opinion. If nothing else this will show on the record that you called and were not flippant about your child's health.
When an investigation arises remember that transparency is best. I know it can be nerve wracking and frightening to think what if they don't believe you. But, I truly think that most of these workers can tell those who truly care for their children and those who don't. Not only that but if you have a good track record with the state is nothing more than a formality.
To be continued...
written by Shelby Doss
(Please look for part 2 to post in a couple of weeks)