Tuesday, May 12, 2015

foster care: part 9 - the final installment (unless you ask more questions:)

"Tomorrow" turned into "next month"!  Life has been hap.pen.ing. over here.  :)

How long did it take for all of you to get into a groove?
Our first placement was only five days long, but I'd say we were in one by the time they left.  They still had tantrums, nighttime was full of waking up, and one of them still had some trouble with liking Joel, but things were pretty smooth overall.   They seemed to feel comfortable in our house within about... a minute of arriving.  One had a hard time adjusting to Joel, but after a day or so she wouldn't scream when left with him.

It took Joel and me a few days to come up with a routine because we'd never been parents before, and we made some changes with our second placement.  With our current placement, things were a little weirder because one started school after a week, so we got into a routine and then things got changed up.  They were comfortable with us almost immediately, though.

Now, that's not to say either placement thought of us as parents right off.  The first group thought we were a sleepover.  That was rough.  The second group had some issues with dishonesty at first because they didn't know whether they could trust us.  That lasted a few weeks, and we're still (six months later) working on always keeping an open dialogue so they know they can talk about what they're feeling.  But we definitely feel like a family.

Is anything easier than you anticipated?
- The kids are!  In the training classes, we were prepared for the worst.  In fact, towards the end of the classes, we were told that a lot of what we were being prepared for was more difficult than we were even licensed for.  That's not to say all Level 1 kids are as "easy" as ours have been, but ours have been great.
- Also, consistency.  I've found that, with specific goals and reasons for why I say / do what I do, consistency in many areas is pretty easy to maintain.
- Potty training was.  It only took Little Girl three or four days.
- Grocery shopping with kids is not as difficult as I anticipated, although there's still one I prefer not to take with me.  Haha :)

Did anything surprise you about fostering?
- how quickly we loved them and mourned losing them - Our first placement was only five days long, but I couldn't believe how much I missed them when they were gone.
- how demanding parenthood really is - Before we started fostering, pretty much all of my time was my own.  I thought I'd mentally prepared myself to give it all up, but man!  The day Joel went back to work after getting our first placement was a BEAST.  It was much harder than I'd anticipated.  I was thankful they left after a short time and then we had a couple weeks before the next (longer-term) ones, because I got to actually prepare myself for what was coming. 
- how great Joel is at handling tantrums - He taught me how to do it!
- how God sends the right kids at the right time - When you have a biological child, you can be fairly positive that the right child is being sent to you, right? :)  When you do foster, you get a phone call that asks if you want someone and you have to decide if s/he's the right child or not!  It's felt (to me) like a lot of pressure.  But every time we've prayed about a placement, it's amazed me how clearly we know whether to say yes or no.  
- how nervous I was to meet biological parents at the first couple visits.  Also, how nice the parents have been.  (We've been told ours are some of the most polite.)
- how many times they wake up at night - I expected this with babies.  I did not expect it with older children.  With both placements, we were getting up consistently every night about eight times a night, usually to screaming.  Thankfully that only lasted a couple weeks with our current placement, although there are occasional regressions.
- that I don't beat myself up about my parenting - From everything I've heard and read, I fully expected this to be something I would struggle with.  The reality is, I feel happy and proud of the parent I am.  I truly (and not pridefully) feel like we do a pretty great job.
- Our schedule is busier but the middle of the day is much less busy than I expected.
- how little TV we watch
- how much I have to censor myself, others, and media - I don't talk crudely, I don't swear, I don't listen to music that does, I don't watch inappropriate things on TV.  But one of the first dinners we had with another family after getting foster kids, someone told us about a hilarious episode of some show... that was all about someone hiding drugs around the house so they wouldn't get arrested.  Wait!  Stop!  Our kids know too much about that exact drug!  This isn't funny!  (2) I've always talked with my friends about how much I love darker skin.  I still love dark skin, but I'm much more conscious about how I say it now that I've had four children with dark skin.  I don't want them to feel weird or so different.  (3) I took the kids to a PG-rated movie during Spring Break.  In the movie, a family member died.  I almost had to take Little Girl out of the theater twice because of how hard she was crying.  

What have you learned?
- After our first placement (and first time as parents), we decided not to sing kids to bed.  They were up SO MANY TIMES per night, we were singing all night long!  Now we use a CD.  Haha :)
- I feel like we've learned pretty well how to deal with tantrums.  Our first placement was pretty volatile, and we had to learn that quickly! 
- how to get pee smell out of carpet, even when it's old
- Weekly visits can double as free babysitting for weekly dates!  if you're okay with your weekly date being 50 minutes long. :)
- I LOVE kids (as opposed to babies).  When we first started, we thought we'd only want infants.  Now, we're so in love with kids who can interact - and say why they're upset - that I think an infant would be hard.
- The support system - both for us and them - is so much bigger than I realized.
- how to let go of "perfect" when it comes to asking the kids to help clean
- that "play alone time" is important for my happiness and really good for them
- how little I smile when I'm needing to be efficient, even if I feel happy
- how to let Joel take over after work - and that he's happy to do it and wants to
- Reading novels sometimes doesn't make me the best mom.  I live so much in a cloud when I'm in the middle of a good book!  It's hard for me to not resent having to stop reading to help someone.  I've been practicing being better about this.
- how to do hair - Little Girl has thick hair that goes down past her bum + fringy hair around her face, and she hates having hair in her face.  I've learned a LOT about braiding. :)

Would you do it again?
100%, yes!

Would you recommend it to others?
Not to everyone, but I would recommend it to many more people than do it.  People always tell me , "Oh, I couldn't do that," or, "You're so much better than me," but I think many more could do it and would love it than realize.  So if you've ever had an interest, take a look!  Call a DCFS office!  You can also foster through other agencies (not government), although I don't know how that works, so if the government isn't your cup of tea, explore your options!  If you're waiting for the "right time," by the way - for things to be perfect at home before you bring in extras - things will never be perfect.  

I'm so happy I got so many questions and could clear up a lot of misconceptions!  I'm also really happy that a lot of you came back and kept reading!  I'll check the survey answers every so often to see if I've gotten any new questions, so please feel free to ask more if you have more!

Read other posts on this topic:
Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7 -- Part 8

Ask more questions


“Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do!  Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress?  All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!  Voldemort is no different!  Always he was on the lookout for the one who would challenge him.  He heard the prophecy and he leapt into action, with the result that he not only handpicked the man most likely to finish him, he handed him uniquely deadly weapons!”
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

foster care: part 8

What are the rules about religious exposure?
They (DCFS) really want you to treat foster children as your own.  If you go to church, pray in your home, have family scripture study... you involve them the way you would involve your own children.  If you have a parent request that you not take them to church, we were told you can still take them but stay with them in the foyer (or switch off with your spouse).  That way you don't have to miss church every week.  You don't need to ask permission to take them, but you stop taking them to class if you're asked.  

Neither of our placements came from LDS homes, but we still take them to church and do Family Home Evening and everything.  We have had parents request that they not give talks in Sharing Time or the Primary Program.

Are you infertile?
Okay, just so you all feel better, I wasn't actually asked this question (by any of you).  It is, however, something that people assume ALL THE TIME.  I can't tell you how uncomfortable it is to be held after Sunday School for 15 minutes to get advice from old women about how I need have to wait for the Lord's time to have children.  Anyway - the answer is no, not that I know of.  :)  

Are you allowed to get a babysitter?
Yep!  We get this question all the time, actually.  Any babysitter you would get for your own children, you can get for foster kids UNLESS they'd be overnight.  Then you have to have them with a licensed respite caregiver.

What about the process is probably different or the same in other states?
I'm waiting back to hear about this answer.

How do you help your kids deal with trauma?
The easiest way I can think of to explain this is to say, we try to always make sure they know we're there for them and aren't going anywhere.  Like at night, where we might say, "Suck it up and go to bed" to some kids, we say, "I'll stay until you're asleep" to these ones [sometimes].  Or, when it's been a really rough day socially for her, one of us will stay home from the family dinner or sit in a separate room with her until she's ready to see anyone.  When we get babysitters, we make sure we get ones they know and/or have them show up a half hour early to just hang out with us.  

As far as other issues that come with trauma: Our therapist has said that issues like dishonesty tend to be tests - Will we stick around?  Will we get super mad?  Will we be honest??  She counseled us to say, "Oh, I bet the person who did this was thinking, '______,' but at our house we ___," instead of, "Who did this and why are you lying about it?"

When they play aggressive shooting games, we say, "Remember, we only shoot when we're soldiers or policemen, and we only shoot bad guys," or, "Okay, that's enough of that kind of game.  Let's play grocery shopping."  If they're aggressive toward each other (which almost never happens), we have the offender do something nice for the victim, "so s/he knows how much you love him/her and you know how to be nice."  We talk a lot about well we need to treat brothers and sisters, too, in hopes that they'll grow up being able to help each other.

How long did it take all of you to get into a groove?  What surprised you about foster care?  and some more. :)

Previous posts on this topic:


“DON’T —” screamed Snape, and his face was suddenly demented, inhuman, as though he was in as much pain as the yelping, howling dog stuck in the burning house behind them — “CALL ME COWARD!”
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

foster care: part 7

How long do you think you'll be a foster parent?
No idea!  Until it's time to be done. :)

How do you help foster kids deal with the trauma they've experienced?
Man!  I've been working on this question for half an hour!  This is a really hard one to answer.  Trauma shows itself in so many different ways.  I think a lot of people equate trauma with sadness or something? - I did before we became foster parents - but it's so much more.  It comes as aggression, lying, sadness, mistrust of adult figures, attachment disorders, ... And all of those are dealt with as their own issues.  but.  not the same way you would deal with them if they belonged to "normal" kids.  Our kids have a play therapist, and that helps.  She gives us things to talk about at home, like how to deal with emotions so you don't explode like a volcano.  But we also do other things differently.  We have more allowance for  certain behaviors that we wouldn't with biological kids.  

Okay, I need a little more time to think about how to explain this clearly... I'll try to do it justice tomorrow.

How do you talk to them about what's going on with their parents?
Sometimes the kids have bad days / nights / times when they just really miss home.  When she cries, "I want Mommy" (or some variation), we usually respond, "I know, honey.  She's not here.  I'm sorry."  If she's out of it, we leave it at that.  If she's pretty coherent, we usually follow up with, "Where is she?" and she answers, "At court."  OR We follow up with, "Why isn't he here?" and she answers, "Because he made a bad choice."  With this particular placement, that's enough to calm them down.  

"Why did you take me away from my family?"
"I didn't take you away.  Court took you away.  But it was because there were some bad things happening at home.  You know how Mommy ____? [or] You know how Daddy ___? [or] You know how ___ was at your house?"
"Those things make houses scary / not safe / not healthy for kids, so Caseworker asked if you could stay here until your house is safe for you."

"When will I get to go home?"
"When the judge has decided that Mommy / Daddy has made enough good choices."

"Why did you decide to take care of us?"
"We got a phone call from Caseworker one day, and she said, 'The two cutest, best, most fun, most awesome kids in the whole world need someone to take care of them.  Can you do it?' and we said, 'YES!'  And she was right!  You are the cutest, best, most fun, most awesome kids in the whole world!!"  

Those are all real-life scenarios that we experienced multiple times per day at first and now experience weekly-ish.  When the case changes, Caseworker tells us and it's our job to tell the kids.  That's a little harder.  I can't say exactly how we handle it because it would give away what's happening right now, but generally, we say that parent/s made a good choice (if the case improves) and what the good choice was or a mistake / bad choice (if it goes downhill), usually without saying what the bad choice was.  

They know that they're here because of bad choices.  We've talked about what those bad choices were and why they were bad (so hopefully they don't get perpetuated).  We encourage them to pray that their parents will make good choices, and we talk about how people can make bad choices without being bad people.  We also remind them how much their parents love them.  

We refer back to the judge / court all the time so they don't think it's our choice or the caseworker's that they're not home right now.  When court dates come up, we tell them a few days in advance and then, every time they / we say prayers, we pray that the judge makes the best choice.  

What route should I go if I'm looking to adopt through foster care? + If you wanted to adopt through foster care, how long would it take to get the child?
Sign up for foster care!  Let the agency know you either want kids who are already legally free or who are headed that way.  And then be patient.  Some cases go really quickly.  For example, if I'm a mom who's already had several children removed permanently and I just had a baby, it's possible that the baby be taken immediately and my parental rights terminated.  I know of a family right now who had DCFS call and say, "We have five kids ready to be adopted.  Will you take them?"  So, some cases can be quick.  The majority, though, are not.  I've heard of cases taking 2-3 years, sometimes up to five.  Tons of second chances to the parents, appeals... It can take a couple years to get to the point where parental rights could be terminated, and then some parents sign away and others fight.  The time really all depends on the parents and the judge.  Overall, don't plan on it taking less than at least a year.

Do you feel like you're really able to help the children in the long run?
I sure hope so!  We teach good habits like we would to biological children, but there are other habits we teach a little more aggressively because of the situation.  For example, I don't know how I feel about allowance normally, but we give it to these kids.  Money management can be linked to family life situations, so in an effort to help stop the cycle they're a part of, we give them a little bit each week.  Then if they squander it all at McDonalds, they did it with $5 instead of $5,000.  We also help them put 10% into savings and 10% toward a charity of their choice.  This morning, one decided to spend his money on breakfast at McDonalds.  As we were driving away, he was ECSTATIC about his purchase.  We all celebrated with him - it's fun to spend your hard-earned money on things you love!  About ten minutes later I said, "Your chocolate milk cost $1.  Do you think that's a good price?  There's no right or wrong answer, I just want to know what you think," and also talked about his hash brown ($1) and sandwich ($3).  He decided that the hash brown and chocolate milk were totally worth $1, but $3 was a little too much for a sandwich.  And then we talked about how it's good to recognize that but also know that it's okay sometimes to pay a little more for something you really want.

When the kids say something nice about one of us, we say, "Make sure you marry someone like that when you grow up, okay?  Someone who's (whatever they said nice about us) and makes you feel safe."  

We probably talk daily about who's in charge of whose body, what to do if someone does something you don't like, and that it's not your fault if that happens.  Our kids don't have personal experience with that, but you just never know.  

We've also introduced them to religion, and they're passionate about it.  One loves praying so much that the idea of forgetting when he goes home worries him.  We teach a lot of religion generic-ly ("read the scriptures" instead of "read the Book of Mormon"), since we don't know whether they'll go to church or to which church when they grow up.  

Basically, we try really hard to parent offensively, if that makes sense.  Probably moreso than we would normally, even, because I think it's easier to assume (even if mistakenly) a safer future for bio children.  And we're praying that they'll remember something of what we're doing.  Maybe they won't save or donate 10% of their paycheck, but maybe he'll remember that he doesn't want to spend $3 for a sandwich every day.  If nothing else, they'll see temples during the rest of their Utah lives and now know what they are.  Or in 20 years when they're remembering that they were in foster care, maybe they'll think of a family that had fun together, loved and helped each other, went to school every day, got angry without yelling, cleaned up messes, and played Mario Kart instead of Grand Theft Auto.

the rest of the trauma question, What are the rules about religious exposure?, Are you allowed to get a babysitter? and some more :)

Previous posts on this topic:


Neville and Luna alone of the D.A. had responded to Hermione’s summons the night that Dumbledore had died, and Harry knew why: They were the ones who had missed the D.A. most . . . probably the ones who had checked their coins regularly in the hope that there would be another meeting.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Thursday, April 9, 2015

foster care: part 6

Do you have to own a home to be a foster parent?  What if you move?
You do not have to own a home.  You can live in an apartment or other rental property, you just need to have the required bedroom square footage available.  

If you're moving locally, the new house must pass the same inspection as the old house, but otherwise it's okay.  If you have a placement, he / she / they stay with you as long as you're not moving far enough away to interfere with visits or reunification.  

How do visitations with their biological parents / family work?
When children are first removed, DCFS tries to get visitation worked out quickly so the children don't feel isolated from their family.  At the beginning of a case, visits are usually once a week for an hour, and supervised by the kids' caseworker.  They generally take place at a DCFS office.  We take our kids to the office and, when the caseworker gets to the lobby, we leave for an hour.  The parent(s) come during that time and play / visit / eat with the kids.  At the end of the hour, we go back to the office, kids say goodbye to their family, and we leave.  The judge decides who from the biological family gets visits.

As cases get closer to reunification, visitation evolves.  The next step is a 2-hour unsupervised weekly visit.  "Unsupervised" means "unsupervised by a caseworker."  It's still supervised, but by a trusted someone the biological family chooses.  These visits don't take place at the DCFS office.  They can be at a park, a mall, or another public place.  We take the kids to the designated meeting place, and when the parent(s) and other person get there, we leave for two hours.  When we get back, kids say goodbye to their family, and we leave.

When the family is very close to reunification, they get to do things like overnight trips at the biological family's home.

How much do you know about where / the situation they came from?
When we got the phone calls about our two cases, we were told a lot.  Much more, in fact, than I expected.  As time goes by and kids begin to trust us, things come up in everyday conversation and we get more detail from the kids.  At this point, we probably know more than the caseworker does.  That being said, there are many cases where the caseworker making the initial phone call doesn't know much.  S/He knows enough that the kids needed to be removed, but maybe not much about their past.  The way we had it explained to us in class was, "If your kids had just been taken away from you, how willing would you be to sit down and tell a caseworker all about them?"

Do foster kids bring belongings (clothes, toys, etc.) with them, or do you provide all of that with your stipend?
Ours haven't brought much.  Our first placement brought the clothes they were wearing.  Our second brought nothing.  They were given two pairs of clothes, a backpack, one pair of shoes, and a stuffed animal between their home and ours, but they brought nothing from home.  When children enter the foster care system, the first foster parents are required to spend $163 per child on new (not used) clothing.  This is additional money, not taken from the monthly stipend.  Every month after that, the foster parents are required to spend $42 on new (not used) clothes.  This can be spent monthly or spread out, as long as the money from each month gets spent.  

As far as toys go, ours just used what we already had at our house.  With our first placement, that wasn't much, so we bought them each a Barbie doll on the day we got their clothes.  With our second placement, we'd gotten a couple more things and had a better idea of what we were doing, so we didn't buy them any toys.  Since then, our kids' biological family has brought some of their toys from home for the kids to take to our house.  As far as I've heard, that's not entirely uncommon.  We've also had Christmas and both birthdays, so there's no shortage of toys now!  Haha :)  

Are there always kids waiting to be placed?
I had no idea how to answer this question! so I sent it along to my RFC.  Here's what she had to say:
That's a hard question to answer.  We do pretty well at getting a child into a home that's a good match quickly when they first come into custody.  Sometimes, especially for teens who need a higher level of care, they might go to a shelter.  Sometimes we have younger kids in there, too, but we try to avoid that.  Sometimes kids who are in big sibling groups or need a more structured home will go to a shelter while we find the perfect home for them.

Do you spend a lot of time waiting for a placement?
We haven't.  However, there are a lot of people on our Facebook support group who have.  I don't know if they're the majority or a loud minority, though.  I do think our RFC does a really good job at getting us placements as soon as we're ready for them.  We might get them more quickly because of how open our "wants" are.

How do you handle it when the kids are transferred somewhere else?
Truth - it's pretty hard.  We attached to our first placement quickly and expected their stay to be fairly long-term.  It ended up being about a week.  On top of that, we only had about two hours' head notice before they were gone.  It was rough.  We spent a couple days feeling out of it.  At nighttime, it was hard to appreciate sleep.  We would've rather been woken up if it meant having them there.  It took Joel a few days and me about two weeks to be ready for another set of kids.  About three weeks ago, I found one of their ponytail holders right behind the couch skirt.  I don't know how it survived the number of times we've cleaned and vacuumed that room in the six months since they left, but it sent me into a funk for a couple hours.  A ponytail holder!  Don't get me wrong - we love our kids now and know these are the ones we're supposed to have now, but I will always love those girls.  I won't let myself think about what it will be like when these ones leave.  I hope it will be easier in some ways, though, because their leaving should be less abrupt.

That being said, I think it's a LOT easier to let them leave when you're honestly cheering for them to go home.  You're sad they're not with you, but how could I wish you away from your family when I know that's where you want to be?  With your family, who you've grown up with and have good memories with?  Especially if I know they have done everything they can to get you back and make a good place for you?  That's how it was when our first kids left.  I mourned them leaving, and that last morning - when I knew they were leaving but they didn't yet - was sad.  But knowing they were where they wanted to be and that it was safe made it easier.  In fact, after they left, we prayed we'd never see them again - because if we did, that would mean something bad had happened.

This is the one of the most frequent questions we get about doing foster care.  It was something for us to adjust to when we decided to get our license.  But when it comes down to it, here's how I see it: relationships everywhere change and end.  People's interests evolve, they die, they move, they grow up, they change.  The difference between me & my children and you & your friends is that I know mine are going to leave.  Knowing something will happen can help you prepare for it.  Here's how Joel sees it: Why deny yourself something wonderful just because you know it will end?  The pain of them leaving is much less than the joy of having and loving them.  He was talking to a divorced friend recently who said he wished he'd never met his ex.  Joel asked, "You would wish away your children just to have never met your ex-wife?"  No!  Because the good + happy is greater than the bad + sad.  

next Tuesday:
How long do you think you'll foster?  How do you help them deal with the trauma?  How do you talk to them about their parents?  and some more.

There are about three more posts' worth of questions, fyi. :)
(More questions?)

Previous posts on this topic:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5


Even though the world may break, and all shall despair at what they’ve lost, life will always return.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

foster answers: part 5

How regulated is your home?  Are there regular calls / visits from the kids' caseworkers?
Each year the licensor visits your home twice - one scheduled visit at (re)licensing time (in the first year, this is the home study), and one unannounced visit.  The unannounced visit is to make sure you're still following the rules you committed to (and that there aren't, for example, medicine bottles being kept on the counter instead of locked up).

In case it hasn't been made clear so far, there are two caseworkers involved - one is ours (mine and Joel's) and the other is the kids'.  They call ours an RFC.  She clarifies policy changes for us, tells us about upcoming education opportunities for maintaining our license, answers questions about filling out paperwork, does her best to help if we're having trouble with our kids... that kind of thing.  She's a huge resource for us.  She sends emails every so often to check up and visits our home every couple months.  These, so far, have always been scheduled visits.

The kids' caseworker's main responsibility is to the case.  She goes to court, supervises visits with parents, works with the parents, etc.  She visits our home once a month to talk with all of us (meaning Joel, the kids, and I), talk with just Joel and me if there's information the kids shouldn't know yet, and talk privately with the kids to make sure things are going well at our house.  

What are the requirements if you already have kids?  (ex: If you have daughters, can you only foster girls?)
If you already have children, the main requirements are concerning bedrooms.  Boys can't share rooms with girls, and there needs to still be the proper amount of bedroom square footage per foster child.  You may choose to only foster girls if you have daughters, but there are no requirements I know of that would force that.  They do ask that you only accept a proposed placement if you feel it would work well with your current children. (Example: Would you accept a child who is older than your oldest?)

Do you have to own a home to be a foster parent?  What if you move?
(I know I promised an answer, but I'm currently waiting for a response from my RFC to make sure my answer was correct.)

How long, on average, do you foster a child?
The average time is one year.  

Do you have any idea how long your kids will stay with you?
Short answer: No.  Long answer: Legally, I can't say much.  I can say that whatever happens will be pretty drawn-out.  By that - as far as I know - I don't mean two years, but you can't know parents'  future decisions.  Every situation is unique.  The younger the children, the more predictable the time frame (because DCFS wants infants in a stable environment quickly - within about 18 months).  The older they get, the fuzzier the time frame gets.

Do you have any hope of adopting, or do you want to just stick with fostering?
I kind of answered this in Part 3, but here's a more straight-forward answer.  Joel and I started fostering with the understanding (between each other) that, if any of our cases led to children needing to be adopted, we'd probably do it.  I say "probably" because there always circumstances you can't predict, but the way we see it, if we love the children enough to keep them for the long drawn-out process that leads to termination of parental rights, we'd love them enough to keep them forever.  So, fostering is what we set out to do, but we are absolutely open and willing to adopt.  I don't want to say we hope for it, though, because I honestly want to root for all our kids' parents to straighten out.

How do visitations work?  How much do you know about where they came from?  Do they bring belongings with them?  and some more. :)

Previous posts on this topic:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4


The woman gave an angry little titter.  “Think your little jokes’ll help you on your deathbed then?” she jeered.
“Jokes?  No, no, these are manners,” replied Dumbledore.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

foster answers: part 4

What was the qualification / licensing process like?
When we first decided to get licensed, we called the DCFS office to schedule a preliminary in-home interview.  A week or so later, a caseworker came to our house to see if we would be a good fit for the foster care system.  It was a very general interview, and she didn't inspect our house.  She mostly talked with us about why we wanted to do foster care, what demographic of child we were open to, etc.  This is kind of a "make sure they're not crazy" interview.  At the end, she invited us to attend training classes.  The schedule / location for the training classes is not posted anywhere publicly.   You have to be invited to attend.  (The schedule is different every month to accommodate for different family schedules.  They show you the schedule for a few months so you can attend the sessions that fit your schedule best.)  

There are eight 4-hour training classes.  They start over every month.  You have to start with either class 1 or 2, but after that you can go out of order if necessary.  (Example: If you had to skip class 4, just keep on, but then next month, you go on the night class 4 is being taught.)  You have a few months ((I can't remember exactly how many - between three and six) to complete your training once you start.  Our preliminary interview happened the day the March classes started.  Because we were busy that week and couldn't attend class 1 or 2, we started the training in April.

Our process took longer than most because we had an odd schedule this year.  So, as you do the training, you also are supposed to be doing paperwork (diagramming your house, writing about your family's personality, CPR training, getting background checks...).  Once everything's turned in, you can schedule your home study (typically scheduled about six weeks out).  Because I was teaching at the time, we chose to start our paperwork as we were finishing our classes (so we wouldn't be doing everything foster at once).  We did some, and then it was May - the last month of school and Fiesta Season - during which I chose to focus on finishing school.  When school ended, we worked like crazy getting things in since I would be out of town most of June.  Our goal was to get everything in so we could schedule the home study and have the six-week wait while I was gone.  Unfortunately, a couple pieces of paperwork got lost in the turn-in process.  Some of that required me to be present, so it wasn't resolved until July.   Once everything was in and processed, it was time for the home study.

We were assigned a home study person (I can't remember the official title), and sadly, we were assigned one with too much on her plate.  We tried and tried to contact her and schedule something, but were unsuccessful for 2-3 weeks.  At the end of that time, we were assigned a new person.  The day she was assigned to us, she called and scheduled our home study for the next week!  Finally!  The ball was rolling again!

Safety requirements for foster homes:
a smoke alarm on each floor; a fire extinguisher (minimum 2A10BC five point, rated multi-purpose, dry chemical); banisters on open staircases; railings around decks and porches higher than ground level; at least four feet clear around the furnace and water heater; 60 square foot bedrooms for single occupancy, with at least 40 square feet per child in a multiple occupancy bedroom; a separate bed for each child; bedroom storage place for each child; a working window in each bedroom; a first aid kit in the home and each car; locked storage for all medication, including multivitamins; locked storage for hazardous chemicals, including cleaning supplies and outdoor chemicals; locked storage for firearms; a telephone that always stays home; posted emergency phone numbers; enough seat belts for the number of people in the family; infant or toddler car seats; gates or doors on stairways; safety plugs on the outlets

Not having any of those things can fail you.  So.  We spent the week and a half before our home study making sure we had it all.  :)  A lot of people clean their houses like crazy, too, but we figured, if you'd fail us for what our house normally looks like, you might as well fail us now.  So we straightened, vacuumed, cleaned the bathrooms, and made sure the bedrooms were emptied of the junk being stored in them, but we didn't worry about things like cleaning baseboards or making sure our tile job in the front hallway was finished.  

As it turned out, the interview was a way bigger part of the home study.  Our lady scheduled four hours and took every minute.  She interviewed us together for about an hour - What's the strongest / weakest part of your marriage?  What kinds of things do you fight about?  What are your hobbies?  What kinds of food does your family like?  How do you resolve conflict?  Why do you want to do foster care?  Tell me about your parenting styles.  And then she interviewed us each individually for about an hour and a half each - Where did you grow up?  What was your relationship like with your mom while you were growing up?  What is it like now?  How often do you talk?  How often do you see each other?  (Repeat those four questions for every member in the family.)  Tell me everything you've done since graduating high school.  What are your strengths and weaknesses?  How do you act when you're angry?  etc., etc., etc.

Then for the last 15 minutes she walked around and looked at our house.  Haha :)

We were blessed to have a very efficient home study person.  Instead of listening, taking notes, going back to the office and typing the report, she asked permission to type it up as she listened.  So, instead of taking two weeks to get it done, it took no extra time outside of the interview.  She got it to her supervisor that afternoon to read and evaluate because she knew he was going out of town.  Usually it's about a month after the home study that you receive your license in the mail.  We got ours three days later.

So we were officially licensed!

How long was it between becoming licensed and getting your first placement?
About a month and a half.  But like I said, most of the time was because of our schedule.  I was out of town again for most of September.  (I know, it was a weird year.)  Because we knew that'd be happening, we asked them not to give us a placement until I got back.  Well, we said, "If you really need us and Joel needs to use his vacation days to be a stay-at-home dad until Alison gets back, we absolutely will do that.  But it'd be easier on everyone, probably, if you waited until Alison's back."  About a week before I got home, we got a call about a placement.  We said yes, and Joel got off work and everything... and then we got a call back and said we wouldn't be getting the kids after all.  It was those kids' caseworker's first time placing, and she mistakenly told us it was a sure thing before it was.  That was pretty heartbreaking.

I got home on September 30, and on October 9, we received our first placement.  After they left, we asked for a little time to get our hearts and home ready for new kids.  We gave DCFS a day that they could call again, and on that day, we got a phone call about our next (and current) placement.  Some people wait a long time (sometimes months), but we've never had to wait much longer than our availability.  I personally think it's largely due to the fact that we'll take kids who are a little older (not just infants) and also because we can take - and want - sibling groups (as opposed to just one child).

Yeesh!  That was huge!  And hopefully not too dry. :)

everything else I originally planned for today.  haha :) Do you have to own a home?  What are the requirements if you already have kids?  and some more.

Previous posts on this topic:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


Who could ever learn to love a beast?
Beauty and the Beast

Thursday, April 2, 2015

foster answers: part 3

Do most people foster with the intent to adopt, or do you have to view all situations as temporary?
When you first sign up, they ask if you're signing up for foster care, foster to adopt, respite, or kinship.  (I think that's all.)  There are no absolutes or definites in foster care, since everything depends on people's [the parents'] choices, but here's the breakdown: Foster care has a higher chance of being temporary than foster to adopt, respite is when you take care of kids for a short time - like a weekend when the foster parents need a break - and kinship is when you're taking care of a family member's child(ren).  Joel and I do foster care, but we're open to adoption if any of our cases lead to that.  I don't know the statistics of everyone, but of the people in our training classes, it was about 50/50 foster and kinship.  Of the foster, about half of those were hoping to adopt.

Joel and I love our kids very much and hope they get to go home as long as that's the best place to be.  They love their family and want to be with them, so that's what we want for them.  We decided early on to always root for the family honestly (and not secretly pray they mess up).  However, if things go badly and our kids ended up needing adoption, we'd do it in a heartbeat.

Do you get paid to do foster care?  How much?  Is it a payment or just enough to cover expenses?

Yes, you get paid.  It's set up as a per-day amount and depends on the age and "difficulty" of the child.  (You're paid more to care for children with harder behaviors.)  With our two children, we get just under $1000/month.  Whether that's a payment or just enough to cover expenses depends on how frugal you are, I guess.  :)  They also reimburse for case-related travel.  (Example: For miles to and from therapy, you get reimbursed something like .38/mile.)  To help prevent people from fostering to make money, they ask for pay stubs and the amounts of all your monthly bills (just during the licensing process, not all the time) to make sure you have a livable income without the DCFS check.

What do your kids call you?
On the first day of a placement, we tell the kids they can call us Joel and Alison or Mom and Dad, since we're the mom and dad of this house.  So far, they've mostly called us Joel and Alison, but sometimes Mom(my) and Dad(dy).  We've had one who, when he's in a  public situation where he doesn't feeling like explaining foster care to people, calls us Mom and Dad, but Joel and Alison the rest of the time.

Can you foster kids if you have animals?

Yes! But they won't call you if the child they're placing has a problem with animal cruelty.

What resources are available to help your foster child? Who pays for them?

SO MANY.  In fact, they just put out a magazine this month to make sure we knew about more of them.  As far as resources we utilize - both kids have weekly play therapy paid for by the state.  All school-age foster kids have a mentor / tutor who meets with them once a week.  There are training classes all the time (for us, not the kids).  They're always on different topics, so you can attend those that apply to your situation.  There's holiday help (like the Angel Tree and an extra stipend per child at Christmas time).  There are storage units full of donations (clothes, backpacks, books, sheets, school supplies...).  Foster kids have Medicaid.  They also have a lawyer.  (In every case, there are three lawyers - one for the state, one for the parents / family, and one for the kids.)  If they want to join a club / team / take lessons, etc., fees can be paid by the state or through Wishing Well.  Kids who age out of the foster care system get help finding a place to live, paying for college, and paying for medical expenses for a certain number of years.  There are also many people and businesses in the community who donate free or discounted resources.  That's what Wishing Well is.  There's a local Kung Fu place that gives free classes to kids in foster families.  Thursday's Heroes teamed up with the Utah Foster Care Foundation to throw a BYU Football Foster Family Day, where foster families got to meet / take pictures with / hang out with the BYU football coaches and team members.  There are a ton of resources!

What happens if you want to take a trip?
In-state: You have to tell the kids' caseworker.  S/He is actually the legal guardian, so if a natural disaster happens or something, s/he needs to know if you took a trip to three hours away to go camping where there's no reception.

Out-of-state and you want to take the child with you: You need permission from the caseworker and, I believe, the parents.  Then you take them as if it were a normal family vacation.

Out-of-state and cannot or do not want to take the child: (I don't mean you're taking everyone but the foster child - I'm not heartless!  Imagine it's your anniversary or something.:)  There's a thing called respite care.  Y'know how, at your job, you build up paid vacation days?  Well, as a foster parent, you build up paid respite days.  You get one a month, but you can save them up.  When you want to use it, you let your caseworker know.  S/He will find a respite home or you can ask on the Facebook group if there's anyone available to help out.  Then, it's like if you were dropping your kids off at your in-laws' while you go on a cruise - you drop the kids off at the respite home while you're gone, but both you and the respite family get paid for those days.  (Remember how I told you the payment was per day?)

Next Tuesday:
What does the licensing process entail?  How long was it between becoming licensed and getting your first placement? and some more. :)

Previous posts on this topic:
Part 1, Part 2


“I haven’t got any options!” said Malfoy, and he was suddenly white as Dumbledore.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince