After receiving yet another request for an “overlook of the process” I have put this together for you guys! As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have either about fostering or about the agency we go through!
INTEREST MEETING (Early July)
We attended an initial interest meeting led by the TREK training recruiter (TREK is the private agency we chose to go through out of Cartersville, GA. You can visit their website HERE.) at our home. Besides hearing basic information about foster care, how the training process works, what TREK does during the process, etc. She also did a walk through of our home, talked about things that stuck out to her in our home that needed to be done in order for the state to approve us (in our case we needed to build a fence because we live on a main highway, cover a few exposed wires from some home-improvement projects that weren’t quite done, put a lock on a cabinet for the medications and such.) This is an opportunity for you to talk to a real-life social worker, ask questions and get information before beginning IMPACT training and your stack of paperwork. For us, this was a good thing to be able to do because it was one-on-one with her so we were able to listen during the meeting and get questions answered that apply directly to us.
IMPACT (July – August)
Every Tuesday night for 5 weeks we attended IMPACT training. During this class we had a class of 4 couples (including us.) We spent a lot of time discussing how different things affect children, both trauma and good experiences, how you take those things and are able to shape a future for the child. We also spent time going around the room discussing our own stores, the “why” and “who.” Why being the “reason you’re there” and the “who” being “what age group you’re looking for” and “how many your home is open to.” In an effort to have realistic expectations, we also spent time reiterating the sacrifice and risk involved and shared a lot of “worst case scenarios.” Yes, there were some really awful, heart breaking stories but coming out of IMPACT, do you want to know what our mindset has been? “We understand the risks and are prepared for the worst, because we’ve also seen the opposite happen.”
PAPERWORK & WAITING (September – October)
During IMPACT training we were handed a binder with approximately 100 forms and tasks we needed to complete prior to our home inspection, including:
- Background Checks: FBI, state, child abuse…. and some other ones with a whole bunch of agencies that needed to make sure we weren’t escaped criminals or predators on the run from the law. It seems invasive, I know but keep in mind that you are being vetted to take care of children (not to mention that have already been through trying situations.) If you (or anyone in your home over the ago of 18) has a criminal record, this will more than likely disqualify you. If you’ve ever hurt a child (or anyone else for that matter) you can go ahead and take your application and place it in the trash.
- Medical Forms: If you’re anything like me (or Kate,) this is the part where you realize that you haven’t been to the doctor in nearly 5 years and quickly make an appointment so that the doctor can say she has, in fact, met you before, give you your TB test, drug screening, and RPR screening, and fill out said paperwork. This was also a push to make us get a primary doctor.
- Reference Forms: You’ll need to provide names, addresses, and phone numbers for quite a few references, like your boss, a family member, and a family friend or a neighbor. This is probably about the time you should mention to your friends/family that you’re doing this (NO, you should already be talking to them – they’re support is absolutely everything.)
- Questionnaire: This is about the type of children you’re open to bringing into your home. (YES, you have a say so in your preferences.) This is pretty extensive and could potentially be overwhelming. It goes way further than gender, age, and race… it goes into great detail about mental disabilities, health concerns, etc. This is one of the big things where Kate and I had to sit down together and go through the list and talk through each set of circumstances. Age was easy, gender and race we didn’t have a preference. But there were certain things we had to talk through with mental health and physical disabilities – what we as a family had the ability to care for and what we had the time to be able to commit to. I wish we were the people that could just say, “oh yeah, give us anything – any age, any issue” but it’s not that simple, especially with us both working full time jobs outside of the home. When you get a placement call about a child, you have very limited time to make a decision – so having already had the hard conversations before the call both with your partnere and the agency will help the decision process go more smoothly. On the other hand, this list will not always be referenced by everyone – you’ll still get the calls the agency has come across their desk, simply because everyone is a case by case basis and although you have the right to say no to any child, they will still ask you just to make sure your notes haven’t changed. When filling out these forms, you’re neither committing yourself to anything nor closing the door on anything – it just forces you, your spouse, and the caseworker to have this conversation and explore what you think you’d like to have vs what you’re willing to take.
- Discipline Agreement: You cannot spank your foster child. Period.
- Financial Statement: You’ll fill out all of your monthly expenses and income. Basically, the state wants to see the one number doesn’t exceed the other, so that you A) can pay your mortgage and B) aren’t in it for the money. Get ready to pull out some utility bills and check stubs to confirm your numbers. If you asked me the amount of our electric bill each month…. yeah, I have no clue. Maybe it’s $20, maybe it’s $200? Kate did this part of our paperwork.
- Alternate Caregiver Forms: Who do you plan on leaving your foster children with when you go out for date night or while you’re working? Different states handle this differently but the state of Georgia’s rule basically states, “you can let anyone you would trust your own bio children with babysit your foster kids.” Grandparents want to keep them for the weekend? SURE, GO FOR IT! They just need to fill out this form and be able to pass a background check if it’s going to be an ongoing occurrence.
- Copies of Documents: You’ll need to get copies of your driver’s license, birth certificate, marriage license, home and auto insurance, etc.
- Background Questionnaire: This covers every intimate detail of your life past, present, and future – seriously. What was your childhood like? Did you have a good relationship with your parents? How were your disciplined? How many people did you date in college? What’s your relationship with your siblings like? How’s your sex life? How willing are your friends and family to help you with your foster children? What are your career aspirations? How many children do you want? Why don’t you have your own children? How do the children you do have feel about you adding foster children to your home? Time to flush your modesty, there’s no secrets – you’re about to lay out your life on paper.
Maybe you’re an open book who willingly enjoys talking about anything/everything in your life or maybe you’re a private person (like myself) who doesn’t typically choose to open up about any of the above topics – not to complete strangers anyways. Either way, this process can be uncomfortable.
Final Home Inspection (November)
TIP: Ask your case worker for a list of everything the DFCS workers will check for when they come to your home during “drop in visits.” The TREK caseworker gave us a checklist, and we went through the list until each thing was checked off and then wrote out next to it in our checklist where each item was stored within our home and stuck it in our binder (more on this specific binder in a few weeks – it’s a life saver!) so there would be no questions. This goes for things like first-aid-kit-examining, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire escape plans, emergency contact information, etc.
Waiting….. and waiting…. and more waiting…. (November – December)
As much as any future foster parent may wish this part of the process away to just get on with the actual foster parenting, it’s the perfect introductory course into foster care. Maybe the discomfort prepares you for the trails of traumatized children and difficult social workers. Maybe the delays build the patience needed to await placements and court dates. Maybe the surrender of control prepares you for the challenges of parental visits and unanticipated changes – both last minute planned and cancelled. And maybe the sacrifice is meant to remind us of why we got into this journey called “foster care” to begin with.
Tip: If you leave pestering, condescending messages for your social worker every day, the chances of this 5-7 month process becoming exactly 7 months to the day are 100%. If you leave the progress of your home study solely in the hands of your (well-intentioned, over-worked) social worker, the chances of this 5-7 month process becoming exactly 7 months to the day are 100%. We found a happy medium – be helpful, do what you need to do, and keep the social worker informed of the steps you’re taking in that direction without being overwhelming… IT IS DIFFICULT, YOU ARE EXCITED, BUT BE PATIENT.
Extra, but very important side note: When you choose to get involved in foster care, well-intentioned workers, friends, and family will share horror stories with you. You must be prepared for the “worst,” but hopeful and prayerful for the “best.” There is, absolutely, sacrifice involved in foster care and, absolutely, risk involved in foster care. If you’re interested in an easy process of caring for or adopting a perfect little child, you may want to reconsider foster care (also, you may want to reconsider parenting, because spoiler alert: it’s all hard.) For every nightmare story you’ve heard, there is a miracle story to match it. I’ve watched children go into a home who, despite all they’ve been through, are sweet and easy and a joy to care for. I watched one of my best friend’s get the call for a baby who was “fast-tracked” to adoption not even 6 months after getting her license. These little stories don’t even address the little heart-miracles for those who experience those “worst” cases. Just be realistic about the risks while also remembering the miracles.