Monday, May 19, 2014

Our journey in and through foster care.

May is National Foster Care month and so as a foster parent for the last year and a half, I couldn't let this time go by without sharing a little of what we have learned, gained, and experienced. We're obviously still very new at this and learning all the time how this process works. I often get asked a lot of questions, so I hope to share a little on what the system is, what it is like to involved, and what anyone can do to help, regardless if they become foster certified or not.  
Our own biological children are 5 & 3. And we have had 3 siblings set placements. We first had a 5, 3, & 8mo. Then a 2yo and 4 DAY old newborn. We currently have a 2.5 & 1.5 yo's that have been with us the longest at almost a year.
Each set of kids have brought with them completely different and oh-so-complicated circumstances. They have brought challenges, there have been triumphs, and we have been blessed to be a part of each of their lives! 

2 things that caught us somewhat by surprise.......

  • The poo. YEP. It's true. Every child (so far) has come to us used to a junk food / fast food very unhealthy diet. When they begin eating mostly whole foods and a lot of produce, whew, let me just tell ya, it ain't pretty. :) It can sometimes take their bodies a few weeks to adjust. And yes, it can be really hard to deal with it from a child that is not your own. But how amazing it has been to see each child begin to love these foods. Even those who we've had to work the hardest at getting them to embrace produce, have come around to love it. To hear a 5yo (who couldn't identify basic fruits & veggies when he came) yell "green peppers, my favorite!" is awesome. 
  • The 2nd would be the amount of traffic that comes through your home with foster kids. We currently have 6 different people that have to check in with our kids on a regular basis. We have court dates, parent visits, attorneys, case workers, & other specialists that keep us on a revolving schedule. I definitely was not expecting the number of appts. that would be added to our life! Even as I type this, our case worker never showed up for her appt. today, which means I have to find another time in a carefully carved out schedule. Such is life. :) 
The most common phrase that people tell me is "I could never do foster care because I could never give them up". This is a really hard phrase for me to process at the current time. There are situations where the parting is really, really difficult and it is a process to work through each time they leave. But fostering involves so much more. For me, the hardest part of fostering is the day-by-day challenges of loving & parenting children that are not your own, the changes that come constantly, and having to abide by decisions from the court system that are completely out of your control.
I have held a crying 3yo who misses the mommy who was arrested in front of her and suddenly out of her life, I have cared for the bruised & shaking baby born with drugs in his system, we have survived 5 straight weeks of a child screaming at the top of their lungs all day as they began to process life not being strapped in a car seat constantly, I have comforted the 5yo whose dad missed another scheduled visit, we have seen the non-speaking 2yo whose mom believed that talking to kids was a "waste of time" become a little chatterbox within a few while the parting is a piece of it, it is just a piece. Doing foster care involves much, much more than that and I hope it never becomes an excuse for anyone not to get involved.

Some FAQ's........
How long does it take to get certified?
We started our certification process in a September and completed and were approved to start accepting kids by that January. There are a certain number of hours of training you have to attend, you have to have a home study (which is not hard if you live in a safe & clean environment), and the paperwork.....that's what will kill ya! :) It is mountains of paperwork and you just have to be really diligent to stay on top of it and get everything filled out and all your backgrounds checks complete. But overall, the process might not be as daunting as some people think.
How much notice do you have before the kids arrive?
We had 24 hours notice for our first set, but this is actually pretty rare. With our newborn, we only had 45 minute notice - that's a pretty quick life change. :) Usually, you have a few hours.
Can you choose who to take or set parameters?
Yes. When you originally fill out your application you can mark certain boxes.
What age range you can take. How many kids at a time. Specific genders. If you are willing to take special needs. What ethnicity.
However, with such a great need for foster kids needing to be placed, that doesn't mean you won't get asked to consider those outside your parameters. We have said no to a few placements because we either didn't have the space for that number, or wanted to be sure we were comfortable with the safety of our kids. Since we have young kids, at this time we wouldn't take in teenagers or children with a history of violence or the the 7yo we were asked about that was sexually acting out. It's ok to say no, but it's also ok to stretch your comfort zone as well. For us, it's a matter of asking God to give us clear direction case-by-case. And we know that He has!
How have our own children reacted through this process?
Our children have been such a blessing through this year! Although it's crazy to have so many littles at one time, having young children in our home has been a huge benefit to the foster children that come in. They immediately feel more comfortable with other kids to play with and there are already plenty of toys around. Our bonus kids (as we call them) are able to follow our kids lead with playing, eating, routine, ect....Our kids talk about some of the former foster kids we have had and they definitely become close to each one. But they have also been able to adjust well through each placement & leaving.
What do they come with?
Typically, nothing. It is heart-breaking to see these kids have to leave everything that is familiar to them. They often come in their pajamas or maybe one set of (dirty) clothes. Our 5yo used to talk about the scooter he couldn't wait to go back to ride, but sadly, we knew he would probably not see that scooter again. The most immediate need is often clean fresh clothes. And for us, we typically try to get them a stuffed animal right away so they have something to call "their own" and snuggle with in bed.
How can I help without actually doing foster care? 
  • Anyone can prepare emergency foster kits. For foster families to have these kits on hand is huge. An emergency foster kit could include: a teddy bear, toothbrush/toothpaste, puff & soap, board book, a blanket.......
  • Provide meals. Getting a foster placement is like having a newborn, but only more unexpected! If your household jumps from 4 to 7 in a day, you suddenly find yourself without enough food in the house and challenging to get to the store in the midst of the crazy. Even dropping off milk can be great.  If you know a foster family, dropping off a meal at any time is a huge blessing. 
  • Be available for babysitting. To babysit foster kids, you need to have your Criminal History & Child Abuse clearances. Many people already have these through their jobs, their church, or if they work with children in any capacity. Being available as a resource for foster families for a date night, allowing them to attend foster meetings & trainings, or just allow mom to get a haircut is a HUGE blessing!
  • Become a driver. Foster kids lives are filled with appts. and transportation is provided for many of them. If you are looking to potentially earn some extra income while filling this vital need, you can be hired to be a driver (if you meet their requirements, of course). It is extremely flexible (from what I've heard), you can choose to work several days a week, one day a week, one day a month or whatever works for your schedule. One of our drivers told me he uses one Sunday a month to give to driving these kids where they need to be taken. Particularly in Pittsburgh, the Bair Foundation is usually in need of drivers (their info listed below).

For anyone that wants to get involved in a deeper level or is considering doing foster care, but isn't sure how it will look for their family, I usually encourage them in this:
Becoming certified as a respite family, still involves some training & paperwork, but it is a little less involved. Foster families are encouraged to use respite to have a break from some of the pressures & challenges they face, or possibly they are heading out of state and permission is not granted to take the kids with them,  or any variety of reasons. Being able to be a respite family is HUGE. It is completely flexible, you can say yes to a weekend or yes to a week. You can do it once a month, once every 3 months....whatever works for your family. This is a great way to learn what it's like to care for kids that aren't your own on a longer basis, see some of the challenges fostering brings, and allow you to be a great blessing to these children. I would encourage anyone to consider becoming a respite family!

This is not an extensive list, but here are a few agencies you can consider in being involved with foster care. As far as I know, all of them have informational meetings on a regular basis where you can learn the first steps of being involved.

No comments: