Your phone rings. "Hi Shelby this is Lindsey we have a little 3 year old girl needing to be placed." What next? If you want more information-ASK! They may have none or they may have a ton. Questions like: is this short term or long term? are there any siblings? Any information you can give on why she's being brought into care? And then guess what? Based on that information you can decide if you think you and your family are a good fit. It's ok to say no. In fact your encouraged to if you don't have a good feeling. Go with your gut. They would rather you say no and the child be placed once then having to disrupt a placement later on. Remember all that paperwork I talked about earlier? Well, there's a checklist mixed in that is very extensive and you get to check off what you will and will not be willing to take. There are ages, genders, behaviors, and types of abuse. you don't have to and shouldn't say yes to every placement-sometimes its not a right fit. Don't feel like they'll stop calling if you say no. They won't.
If you say yes:
The worker will usually give you a time frame of when they will come. Side note: its usually much later than anticipated. Usually there are at least 2 hours between the phone call to meeting the child. During that time we usually start setting up anything that needs to be done, calling family, etc. When the child does come usually the worker is there for maybe 10 mins. they'll share with you what they know, give you the name of the case worker if it's not them, and be on their way. And that's how you meet your new child.
Those first few nights can be rough. Give them a tour, Make sure you have lots of night lights, leave doors open, sing, pray, read. Remember you are a stranger, they've not only had one of the most traumatic things just happen in their short life, but now there with you. And yea, you might be great but to them it's all scary.
While finding your footing in those first few weeks expect to feel a little overwhelmed and maybe even confused. In a lot of ways it's just like adding a child to your home biologically. As a new mother or a mother adding to the children you already have, you have an adjacent period. You discover how your day to day life will need to shift and mold around the new little human in the house. Sleep schedules, work schedules, level of noise, and number of doctor appointments will change.
As far as how to make the transition easy on the one coming into your home theres not one answer that fits all when it comes to specific details. But, one thing that is true across the board is be patient. Realize that most of these children have experienced more hurt and disappointment in their tiny life than you have ever experienced. Have a standard of course, but do not be so stringent and expect them to comply every stop of the way. Remember that comes with a building of trust and proving of love.
Ok, I'm going to be real honest our schedule isn't that crazy. I will give you a quick rundown on what it was like when our life was at its busiest with foster care. We had 2 different cases. During that time we had the normal Drs visits as well as visits for both cases. Overall it was twice a week for 3 hours for our son and weekend visits for T. At the time we drove them to all their visits and one was one hour one way. As a stay at home that wasn't too tough on me. But, for others who have therapies, bio visits, and extra drs visits sprinkled in I can see how this could be overwhelming. My point is, it is different with every case. You might have some kids that have 0 visitations at all (Layla never had one) or you might get ones that have it twice a week, with other therapies. The good thing is there are services that you can utilize to make all of this doable. For instance a transporter for visits and Birth-3 which is therapy that comes to YOUR home.
Preparing for goodbye:
One of the first thing they will tell you in your training is Reunification is the Goal. Preparing for goodbye starts long before reunification is in sight. I'm not talking about keeping a child at arms length or not getting attached because if your doing that please don't become a foster parent. I'm talking about talking to other children in your home about 'tummy mommies' and mama is sick right now but she's working on getting better. Talking about how we will all love them forever no matter where they go. As far as truly preparing your heart-I don't believe we can. It's just one of those things that you must decide before you even begin fostering that you are willing to do. Some cases it will be easier to accept because you can see they're going back home to a loving and caring parent. In other instances it can be excruciating and hard to swallow because yes, sometimes the state makes mistakes. But it's all part of it. I won't say it isn't hard or ugly, or heartbreaking because it can be all of those things. But I'd much rather endure that hard, ugly, heartbreak than never be there for that child.
When Reunification isn't possible:
When a child first comes into care the state is first supposed to look for family that is available to take the child. If there are no family members able, then the child will be placed in a non relative home. Sometimes relatives come along after the fact but it usually has to be pretty early in the case for the child to be moved (although it obviously does happen later on in some cases). I'm saying all this to say if you are fostering a child and their biological parents aren't completing their case plan in the time allotted by the state, then the case worker and GAL will ask for termination of parental rights.
When parental rights are terminated the person who gets asked first if they wish to adopt the child are the foster parents. If you decide to say yes, you will be assigned an adoption worker who will help guide you through the process and get paperwork rolling.
Adoption via Foster care:
If you want to adopt from foster care without actually fostering you can do that too! There are thousands of children waiting for forever homes right now! You can head to sights like adoptuskid.org or you can become a certified foster/adoptive family through your local DHS and be matched with a child waiting in a foster home. The children available for adoption right now are generally 5 and over. Again the cost is minimal and the legal risk is basically non-exisitnet. These children's parental rights are gone and are legally free for adoption. If your family is a good fit for a child they will be anxious to get you started in the process.
Experiences from Foster Mamas who had biological children before becoming foster moms:
"We had to explain to our bio children that’s not everybody has it so easy
So yes your foster child will need some extra TLC ... if possible include all the children ... group love !!!!
Your children may get jealous of the foster kids ... but being open and honest is key ...
you already know if your bio children have needs and there behaviors
Try and keep everybody on the same page depending on the ages ... it’s not easy at first but when you find your system it will be fine" - Kim Berly
"Any child who makes a transition will require extra time and energy as we welcome them in our home and acclimate them to our home and family. We have also had counseling and therapy’s for most of our foster kids which of course is more time. However I also had a bio kid in therapy so it’s all relative. It affected our bio family/kids in a very positive way. We all learned a lot about people, equity, empathy, injustices. It opened our eyes, deepened our faith and strengthened our family unit. My short answer is you just do it. My long answer would be intentionality. Always looking for ways to be meeting the needs of everyone and in the moment making each kid feel that they are seen, heard and valued. Even a little bit of intentional time or some honest words can go a long ways. We were also pretty honest with our bio kids why some extra time or energy may be spent on a foster child" .-Brianne Talmadge
"In so many ways caring for a foster child is no different at all from caring for your biological children. They need the same things from you, a child is a child. In other ways there are real differences. If you raised your bio children with “traditional” parenting, used corporal punishment at all, that isn’t what will be good for kids who have been exposed to chemicals in the womb or who have lived through any kind of trauma.There’s also the added aspect of the fact that your foster child isn’t yours and you need to work with caseworkers, parents, specialists, etc, and the fact that you can’t make all decisions about the care of the child yourself, you need to ask permission for things. So that’s different. How will it affect your bio family? So much. You will all be better people because of the children your care for. Probably our extended family’s main concern about us fostering when our bios were small was their well being and concerns that it would be negative for them. Probably that is still their concern. But it has been the best thing seriously in making us all better people. Our kids, bios and now adopted kids, have learned how to love others so well! They are so selfless, they have learned their are hard things in the world, they have learned they have a role in helping, they have learned we have a safe home not because we are awesome but by the grace of God and that it is our responsibility to share that gift.In many ways our family life hasn’t changed, we are still the same family with the same values, lots of the same goals and hopes. In practical every day ways our life has changed a lot. Some of our kids have spd and we do special things to accommodate that. Some of our kids don’t do well work transition and are anxious so we have a lot more routine (providing security) than we used to. We say no to a lot more things than we used to as a family, when we know some of our kids won’t do well in a situatjon. How do we cater to all the kids? We make time for one on one with each of them. Even if it’s a dentist appointment and going out for lunch after. Every night at bedtime each kid gets a story and time to talk to just mom or dad in their bed. "- Amy
It's not necessarily more care than my bio kids- just different. We care for, raise, and love the babies as our own. However, there is extra care involved with paperwork, social worker appointments, CPS assessments (birth mom has reported us over 50 times, 9 assessments all unsubstantiated). Raising kids is A LOT of work regardless of fostering and ALL kids deserve to be loved and nurtured.2. We have grown in our love and compassion for others...understanding the pain involved in the 'system' and need for less judgement more love. There has been stress in navigating the brokenness. We are constantly talking as a family about what we are doing and why we are fostering. My prayer is that this will instill in my bio boys compassion, kindness, and service.2. Also, the extra time for appointments obviously will effect the family.3. If I had my boys, then a gap of 3 years before having 2 more babies, we would be experiencing the balancing act of different ages and needs. We view our babies as additions to our family...we have the big boys and babies not bio kids and foster babies. We are intentional in carving out time with the boys and celebrating their achievements and interests. In the same way, we collectively cheer on the babies with different milestones.We do our best to give each individual attention and pour out extra love when needed."- Christie Felker
"All depends on the child and the trauma they experience. Chances are our bios don’t score too high on the ACE testing (adverse childhood experiences) most foster children score a 5 or higher and therefore have greater emotional needs. With that said though I have one bio child that required more care than any of my foster babes due to his special needs. The amount of trauma will really determine the amount of extra care.2. Chaos and pure love will ensue all at the same time with many more emotions in between. Talk, talk and talk some more with bios. Check in with them. Never put the responsibilities of the foster child on the bio children at first unless they ask to help so that they don’t feel like they are a burden to them (I do this with my older kiddos...I never expect them to babysit I always ask and offer to get a babysitter!) also ‘date’ your bio kids. Take them to lunch. Give them one on one time!3. We take our foster children everywhere we go. Meaning if we are going to Disneyland they come with us. But sometimes the emotional or behavior needs of a foster child don’t allow that or sometimes our bios will feel restricted because of the foster child. That’s when we plan a big kids trip with just our bios and then make sure to plan a littles park date when we get back with just them!"-April Kennedy
Insight from a biological child that grew up with parents who fostered:
"In my head it was positive enough I chose to do it with my own biological children. I think it’s really important to remember that kids are people too. I’ve never been one of those “anyone can foster” people because at the end of the day-we all have different capabilities and some people are not able to do it. That doesn’t make foster parents amazing or people who can’t wrong. I can’t sing in front of a crowd, I can’t paint. People may not be able to foster like I could. And I’m a firm believer kids are the same way. A belief I see shared a lot in fostering communities is “well bio kids will learn to deal! They will love it” and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. We partially chose to stop fostering because the in and out was detrimental for our (adopted) kids. I’ve seen it be detrimental for bio kids too. So I think most important way to meet the needs is to open discussion with your kids ON their needs. We should love all children yes-but we can’t put our bio kids on the wayside to “save” other children. We need to be willing to help them through it and hear them out when it gets too hard on their little hearts.
I do know one thing my parents dealt with was this belief that the foster kids should be troubled and their bio kids “fine.”That was hard on us."-Lauren Jane
Insight from working Foster Moms:
"Yes it was definitely a challenge but definitely something that can be worked with. All calls came through my work phone. I let my supervisor know if she would rather have them call that number or my cell phone number and she preferred the work number so any time they need to get ahold of me during work hours they called my job.My work was very flexible with me. It was a lot of sacrificing, sacrificing my vacation time, sick time and personal time that I would use for the kids. Visits was the hardest to schedule but they are possible! Sometimes it took me rushing out on my lunch break to catch an appointment or visit...even making up hours over the weekends but I was thankful to also have a husband whose job was flexible as well
so we would switch off it's all about helping each other and taking turns that way it doesn't fall on one person and their job it falls on both equally.At times I did feel as if I wasn't giving them enough but we made weekends priority as long as you set aside one to two days throughout the week undivided attention, no work calls, no going into work, not even thinking about work. Just your family and making it the best time really made up for the times I had to be away at work. Don't be hard on yourself is the key! "-Angela Escalante
"When we started foster...I would freak out about how I would get everything in place for when a child arrived. At the time, I was a teacher + had limited flexibility. Prior to opening our home, I did a ton of research on things like daycares + schools. I also found friends and family that would be willing to be certified babysitters + respite, just in case. I found it calming to know I had help. I would say that the most valuable piece for me was the community. Other moms that fostered and just “got it”, as well as, having people to help with some of the burden of caring for a child.
Secondly, I have loved all the material from Karyn Purvis (TBRI). Her materials have helped me to really make the most of the hours after school/work. It’s given me an deep understand about the emotional needs of the child + how I can be most effective/healing parent. I also love my child’s daycare. They understand his needs + work with us to create just the environment he needs. We sacrifice financially to have him here because we love it and believe it is the best place for him.I would find a daycare or childcare that you absolutely trust and love. Lastly, there are plenty of children in need. If I missed a call...I knew another call would be coming soon. I prayed for each child that I heard about and trusted that they would be in a safe and loving home, even if it wasn’t mine."-Erin Puckket
"I work at a secular job as well. I explained to my boss on my interview day what I did and why I did it. I explained to her that it was my calling far beyond anything else that I am doing or will ever do.I went on to explain what that looks like when I would get calls for placements. Prior to being a kindergarten teacher, which is what I’m doing now, I was an administrator for a private school. This is when I originally got licensed. I was clueless as to what it would entail. Overtime I learned to understand it all and decided that I had to leave the administrative world if I remotely wanted to be a “good” mom.I went on to explain what that looks like when I would get calls for placements. Prior to being a kindergarten teacher, which is what I’m doing now, I was an administrator for a private school. This is when I originally got licensed. I was clueless as to what it would entail. Overtime I learned to understand it all and decided that I had to leave the administrative world if I remotely wanted to be a “good” mom.I use to be a preschool teacher before becoming an administrator. My educational background qualified me to become a certified teacher here in Florida. Knowing this information I thought it would be the best fit for me as a single parent. So, now I take temp placements during school breaks and during the summers I open up my home to whatever placements may come. This has worked for me." -Gay Brielle
Other ways to get involved:
Earlier I talked about CASA and how they are volunteers who are involved in making the best decisions for the child in care. Usually CASA worker's only have one case at a time and just like foster parents-can decide if they want to take a case. The courses are free and you can help make life altering changes in a child's life. You can help break the cycle.
Become a mentor:
By calling your local DHS and simply asking them what they have a need for I'm sure they could provide with quite a few ways to get started. Not too long ago in WV there was an agency looking for mentors. A great outreach and again, a way to show there's so much more out there than what has been handed to these precious kids.
Support the foster families in your area:
Become certified to be a respite caregiver. This means that you basically babysit for foster families if they are unable to take their foster child with them on vacation or need a little bit of a breather. Foster families can only leave their children overnight for people who have undergone training and background check.
Simply bring over meals or drop off gift cards to a foster family and don't take no for an answer. You don't have to come in-especailly on the first day of a placement, just send a text and leave it all the door. Be there to talk to-you don't have to 'get it' or even act like you do, just listen and pray.
The need is there, the responsibility is there, the question is which avenue will you take to make sure that you have the ability?
Written by Shelby Doss