A couple of months of thinking about it myself, a couple of months of talking with my partner and then talking again… and again to establish where we stood in our lives both together and as individuals to figure out the best path of choice for us, a couple of months to decide on and get our feet in the door with the private agency we were going through, and six painstakingly long months for IMPACT training, the home study and the paperwork for the licensing process to be completed. Now that time is winding down, we are just ready to BE FOSTER PARENTS. “You know what would make this moment even better? If we had little Travis to spend it with, too.” Yeah, this is everyday life and conversation in our household.
Looking back now I realize it was only five months between the first home visit and introductory meeting to the day that our paperwork was finally sent off to the state for licensing, but right now it feels like an eternity. Take the overall lack of phone ringing I had expected, add in a few hiccups with things needing to be done at the house, misplaced paperwork, and also the busyness of our private agency’s office outside of the things we needed from them, and I was in full will-it-ever-happen-distress mode. Every story of a child languishing without a family was like a dagger in my heart. “We’re here. We’re waiting. Give US a child to love!”
Apparently many of you are or have been in my same boat. I follow this awesome “fellow foster parent group” on Facebook and DAILY I see messages from different families who are licensed,waiting and just plain desperate to get started. I feel you. We’re nearly the same person. I GET IT! Over the past few years I’ve learned about the process involved in placing children and how to best navigate it. So may I offer myself as a guide to you and share some tips I’ve learned along the way now that we’ve finally reached the end?
Disclaimer: First, as always, keep in mind that I’m in Georgia and some of this information may be specific to how things are done in my area and may vary from yours. Second, the point of this post is to help people who are passionate about caring for children be connected to children in need. I hope that the tone of this post stays true to that purpose and doesn’t come across as though we’re talking about trading commodities or giving ploys to “get you a kid.” I want great foster families to be connected to great foster kids, plain and simple.
- Be easy going and respectful. This one would seem to fall under the “common sense” category, but it’s where I’ve seen foster parents get into the most trouble with their caseworkers. Too often foster parents are demanding and difficult and disrespectful, then are surprised when they’re met with the same attitudes. The agency or office you’re dealing with is just like your own workplace. If you have a bad experience with a client, chances are your co-workers are going to hear about it. If you have a great experience with a client, chances are they’re going to hear that, too. You will gain a reputation within your agency/office, and you get to choose what kind of reputation it is. Work to build the reputation of someone who is a delight to work with.
- Get to know other foster parents. Ask your agency about activities for foster parents, join a support group, find a Facebook support page, exchange numbers with the parents in your training classes. Do whatever it takes to get to know other foster parents in your area. Chances are they will get calls for children that they’re unable to care for and can pass along your information to the worker…plus sometimes it just helps to have someone to bounce ideas off of and trade out stories with! It may be a little uncomfortable to do the whole reach out, (Hey, I’m a foster momma, too! Let’s be friends!) but it’s worth the discomfort – and if we are being honest, foster parents love to connect with other foster parents!
- Tell every worker who calls you about the age, gender, etc. of children you are able to care for. If you get a call for a baby when you’re only able to take a teenager (or vice versa), don’t hang up without saying, “I’m sorry I can’t take that child, but just so you know, I’m able to take…” Sometimes the worker will have another case sitting on their desk that fits your family perfectly, or sometimes they’ll get one the next day or the next week. Every worker you come in contact with should know which placements you’re able to take vs just you saying ‘no’ and then thinking forward on that your home is full.
- Call the supervisor of the department in charge of placing children in your office. Introduce yourself and tell them which children will fill in your home and family. The worker you’re dealing with may only be aware of the cases that come across his or her desk, but the supervisor should know about all the children in the entire office. You want to put yourself on their radar for when a child who’s a fit for your family is in need.
- Take vacation/emergency/respite placements. This is a variation on getting to know more workers and foster parents. For each short term placement you take, it’s another connection made with a worker (or two) and a foster parent. Communicate to everyone you meet that you’re eager to bring a child into your home and the specifics of the children you’re willing and able to care for. I’ve known foster parents who have later become foster/adoptive parents of children they first had as a vacation or emergency placement. I have gained some of the best allies through respite care and met the most wonderful children who I still to this day have an incredible bond with. (Added bonus: if you’re a new foster parent and you’re chomping at the bit to care for a foster child, taking a vacation placement could “hold you over” as you wait. A friend of mine describes respite placements as a “mini mission trip in your home” and she’s SO RIGHT!)
- If there’s anything unique about the “kind” of child you’re able to take, make sure your worker knows. For example, because my partner and I both work full time jobs, we’re opted in for the school age children as opposed to newborns or toddlers. Our preference states children 4-8 years of age and although we don’t really have a preference of gender, race, or behavioral or health disorders there are some things we simply can’t fully commit to in our home due to working full time jobs and if we have a chance to give that child to a family that CAN care for them in full capacity who has an adult full time in the home or whatever then THAT is what we would like to do.
- Keep your criteria for the age/gender/race of the children you’re willing to take as broad as possible. If you’re only looking to take a healthy, white four year old girl, you’ll have to wait for that exact child to be in need. If you’re willing to accept boy or girl, a range of ages, siblings, all races, and children with medical/special needs, chances are you won’t wait for long at all. (Of course, this “tip” should never trump the more important foundation, which is to only say “yes” to children you believe you’ll actually be able to care for. You’re not doing anyone any favors by taking a child you’re not sure will work, only to have them moved. Another broken bond, another “failed placement” can be detrimental to a child in foster care.)
- If you’re an adoptive family, check out www.adoptuskids.org or ask your agency about “matching parties.” There are over 107,000 foster children who are “legally free” and waiting to meet and be adopted by their forever families. You can learn about or even get to know these “waiting children” by looking through your state’s web site or attending a matching event. These methods may give you a bad taste in your mouth and they are typically older kids or even kids with some sort of mental/health disability. It may feel like you’re shopping through a catalog for a child or speed dating orphans, but these methods are simply harnessing the power of compassion. Putting a name and face and story to these children can be the first step to them entering your heart and maybe even your family.
My biggest piece of advise to you is to embrace the wait. You are going to learn to be patient in waiting..or you’re not. Waiting for a placement is the first step of waiting for information and waiting for court dates and waiting for parents and waiting and waiting. The more you work to fight for patience now, the more your heart will be inclined towards patience and trust later. It’s a difficult battle, but it’s a battle you’ll face over and over again. It’s a battle worth fighting for right now.