Thursday, June 06, 2013

Foster Care Q&A

I'm by no means an expert on foster care—we got our official approval only about six months ago, and have had only two placements! But I still get asked a lot of questions about our experiences and fostering in general, so I thought I'd answer a few of the questions that seem most common.

Can dual career households foster? 
This was my first question when I contacted the Department of Children's Services to express interest in fostering. Their answer was, "absolutely, yes, we want resource families to be financially stable," and she explained that there are day care vouchers/subsidies/whatever. And in our training, we met several single women who foster, so obviously they have jobs outside the home and foster as well. All that said, I am so glad I work from home now so that I have the flexibility to go to Child-Family Team Meetings (CFTM), go to court, etc. when the kids need it, without running it by anyone (not to mention all the other benefits we've found in our new arrangement!)

Isn't it hard to let go of the kids? 
So many people say "I would get too attached to ever let them go." I'll admit, I still sometimes miss Faith, our first foster child who was with us for just eight days. If she had been with us eight weeks or eight months, I'm sure that feeling would be even stronger, but the truth is that we're not in it with the intention of keeping these kids forever, and it's not about our feelings anyway. We do it to provide a much-needed service to the community and help these kids when they need it. 

On a related note, I do worry about the families that go in to foster care with the intention of adopting. The social worker leading our training spoke harshly about the folks who just want to foster babies with the hope of adopting one (because they often say "no" when they get calls to foster an older child that they wouldn't want to adopt), and I imagine it would be very hard to genuinely work toward the child's reconciliation with his or her family if you are personally hoping parental rights are terminated. But, that's their business, I guess, and I know the couples we met during training that hope to adopt are providing an important service while they wait for the child that will become theirs.

Doesn't it frustrate you to let kids go back into a bad situation? 
Obviously, the purpose of a child coming into custody is to protect the child and remedy the bad situation by getting the parents help that they need (it's not always abuse, mind you, but could be homelessness or extreme poverty, and the parents need assistance with housing or utilities—or maybe it is drug rehab or parenting classes, but let's not assume all these parents are dangerous to their kids or others). All that to say that kids don't necessarily leave custody into a bad situation. They may leave with a relative, like Faith did and Theresa probably will soon, and have a family member assume that long-term parental role.

Isn't the system really broken? 
The "system" in general is broken. By that, I mean our social structure of generational poverty, an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, cultures of violence and drugs . . . there are a lot of problems in society. Ideally, child services and juvenile court address or at least do not exacerbate these problems. I read some blogs written by foster parents in other states and there definitely are systems not working for kids. There's one in Texas I read where the social workers are determined to send the kids to an unsafe relative, and the foster mom has had to hire a lawyer of her own to advocate to let the kids be adopted by her (I'll link below). 

But from our first PATH (Parents as Tender Healers) class onward, I have been very impressed by our DCS here in Nashville. They seem to take a very redemptive approach, with reunification (with family) an initial goal, and if that is not possible, permanency within 6-12 months. Every move a child makes is another trauma adding to the baggage he or she will carry, so the goal is to not let children be shuffled around to numerous foster homes, stuck in the system, for years. Our meetings at DCS make me feel all warm and fuzzy, seeing how all these social workers and advocates come together to work for what is best for a child and family. 

Do people just do it for the money?
Hopefully not, and this is part of the reason (like mentioned in my first Q above) that they want to ensure foster families are financially stable, not seeking extra income from fostering. Foster families do get paid, subsidizing the resources they put into caring for the child. Matt and I have speculated you would have to have several foster kids and not buy them much of anything in order to make what you'd call a profit from fostering. I keep a spreadsheet separate from our family budget to log expenditures for our foster kids and the board payments we receive, mainly to make sure they come about even and that we aren't either running a huge deficit or profiting personally from fostering. On our personal family budget, I don't include board payments in our income or the specifically foster child purchases in our expenses.

Are you putting your family at risk?
Maybe. But it's an infinitely smaller risk than we take every time we get into a car and drive somewhere. I worry a lot more about my kids getting into a car accident or even some crazy person coming into their day care with a gun than I worry about them suffering as a result of our family fostering. That's not to say there aren't risks; the reason we won't be taking older kids who have been abused is that part of their trauma may be expressed in abusing others. As our social worker advised, we ask a lot of questions before accepting a placement so we are aware of risks like that.

Actually, something I just saw on an Allstate insurance ad speaks well to this, talking about all the risks in life: "Bad things don't stop us from making lives better." Actually, I think it said, "...making our lives better," but the difference is also kind of the point. We don't exist just to make our lives better, but anyone's life we can.

Is it confusing for your kids to have other kids come and go?
I don't know what Claire thinks, other than "yay, someone else to hold me if Mommy is busy!" but Kate definitely understands the difference between a member of our family and a guest. We don't use the word "foster" with her, but call them "guest kids," putting them in a similar category to a relative or friend that visits for the weekend and sleeps in our guest room and to our homeless "guests" who dine with us on Wednesday nights at church in the colder months. And we keep Kate posted about what might happen with our guests, going to live with a relative or whatnot. It's about radical hospitality, and we're glad for our kids to grow up seeing that as normal.

Do you have to take every kid they ask you to?
No. When you get a placement call, it is definitely asking (or maybe begging) but definitely not telling you to take this child. They give you the basic info about age and gender and why they are in custody, and you can ask as many questions as you need to. I ask about behavioral things, abuse, school/day care, how long they expect the child to remain in custody, what the likely permanency goal will be, etc.

Something that intrigued me during our training—the lady that was so harsh against people who won't take teenagers (not including folks like us who have young bio kids to watch out for), said that the one thing she won't argue with is folks who say they won't take a child of a different race. If you say you don't want middle schoolers or something, she might tell you to suck it up, but if you say you don't want a black baby, she'll say "fine." She said she'd rather let some foster parents be racist than put a child in a home where they won't be treated kindly.

Can you take the kids on vacation?
I hear some places are stricter about this, requiring permission even to take a child across county lines, but here, we just need parental permission. (I say "just," though that could be a tough thing, if the parent is unhappy about their child being in care at all; they might not approve.) So we could have taken Theresa with us to Louisville in April, but we didn't want her to miss school, so she went to another foster family's house for a few days. That's called "respite care."

Interestingly, haircuts are another thing that require parental approval. That poor foster blogger in Texas I mentioned above, one of her kids has hair down past her bottom and begs to get it cut, but between a bio mom in jail and a difficult social worker, she hasn't been able to get the permission. Theresa got extensions while she's been here—hope that's okay!

Where can I learn more about fostering?
I think I just googled "foster care nashville" or something like that. I'd seen billboards for some of the private agencies, and honestly I don't know much about the difference between going through an agency and directly through the state, but I felt called to go through the state, for reasons I can't exactly articulate. So I would google it for your state or city area, but there are also national sites like AdoptUSKids, which has a lot of information and details about each state.

I've enjoyed reading some blogs by foster mamas, and it has given me a wider perspective of what fostering is like in other areas. The one in Texas I mentioned above, intervening legally to adopt the kids since the state is ignoring red flags about a family placement, is CherubMamma, and another favorite is Fosterhood in NYC, who is fun both because she's got an 8-month-old foster baby and a newborn foster-to-adopt baby, and she's different from the usual southern mom blogs I usually read!

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