February 27, 2014

Foster Care FAQ

So many of you know that Mike and I became licensed foster parents as of this January and have started to get questions about what that means. Hopefully this will answer many of them and give an opportunity to ask others, so here we go with a seriously text heavy post. Sorry, I know it's not as fun as pictures. :)

What is foster care? Is it just another way to adopt?

Foster care is a safe and temporary home for children with the intent of reuniting them with their birth families as soon as a judge deems it safe to do so.  While it is possible that placements may end up being available for adoption, the goal is always to reunite them with their birth parent(s) or other biological family. There is no such thing as "fostering to adopt" - you foster to help bring birth families back together. This means working with children and their families to make their living situations safe. We are dual licensed (approved to foster and adopt) so that if one of our placements is not able to go home and has parental rights terminated; we could decide if we wanted to be considered as their forever family if they come up for adoption.

What kids are in foster care?

The most recent stats I have heard are from childwelfarepolicy.com for the year 2011. In Iowa, there were 6,344 children in foster placements, including 1,088 waiting for adoptive homes. However, IFAPA (Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parent Association) lists only about 2100 foster parents across the state. Children in foster care are as varied as kids can come and usually are there by no fault of their own. They range in age from newborn to 18, from all racial, cultural and economic backgrounds. The vast majority have experienced some kind of abuse or neglect, which can sometimes lead to potentially negative behaviors or attachment problems.

Why are we doing it? 

First of all, it's definitely not because we're "saints" or anything like that. We're not. We're doing it because throughout the Bible, Christians are called to care for the weak, orphans and the fatherless. We will only be able to do this by remembering the (often rejected) love that God has shown us. Yes, it will be incredibly hard to love unconditionally through difficult habits/behaviors, kids who are (understandably) ungrateful to be removed from their families, and potentially un-responsive birth parents. It will be heartbreaking to send our foster kiddos back to conditions we may not feel are ideal or even decent; but how could we not try when there are so many children who desperately need a safe home? We're adults. These children need consistency, safety and love more than we need to avoid the pain of them going home.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Katie Davis, a missionary in Uganda, who at about our age has adopted/taken in 13 girls. The quote is about adoption, but applies very well to foster care as well:

"Adoption is a beautiful picture of redemption. 
It is the Gospel in my living room."

Katie and her girls

What did you have to do to be licensed?

After we got somewhat settled in the house, we knew we wanted to look into filling it with foster kids. The licensing process took us about 6 months once we got rolling. At the end of June we had a local foster dad and some of his kiddos over for dinner to find out more about foster care. The official process (at least in central Iowa) starts with attending an information session (which we did in July) put on by Iowa Kids Net. If you are still interested after the information session, you are fingerprinted, background checked and apply to take the 10-week licensing class called PS-MAPP. The class in August was already full when our paperwork went through, so we started in October.
During the 10 weeks of PS-MAPP you: attend 30 hours of in class time learning about shared parenting, fill out a mountain of paperwork and a licensing worker performs a home study which includes visiting your home for safety inspections, collecting references, and asking lots of personal questions about anything and everything you could ever think of. It seems a little overwhelming at the time, but one of our PS-MAPP teachers gave us the best example of why it's all worth it: imagine you are a parent who has had your child taken away and put in some stranger's home. What do you want to know about them? I'm guessing everything! Our foster kiddos' birth parents won't be given our home study, but they can be reassured that DHS spent serious time to be sure our home is a safe place for their kids.
After PS-MAPP, it takes about a month or so for DHS to approve or deny your license. At that point, they mail you your approved license application. Licenses are good for one year. Each year we will have to each do 6 hours of continuing ed (this year we will have CPR/First Aid, Medicaiton Management, Child Abuse Reporting and maybe Caring for Children with HIV) and go through a renewal process to keep our license.

So how do kids actually end up with you?

Part of the licensing process is discussing with your worker what kinds of kids are a good fit for your family. Those decisions all go into their matching system and then when kids come into the system who are at least close to matching our criteria, we get a phone call. They tell us what they can about the kids (age, genders, family visits/ therapy, known behaviors, etc) and we decide then if they are a good fit for us at that time.
We are licensed for up to three kids, but take calls for sibling groups of two, so we would only have two new kids at a time. Ideally we would be looking for kids 0-4 years old but accept calls for kids up to 8, as we were told the youngest kids usually have an older sibling also looking for placement. We will take either gender (pending ages - only kids under 6 can share bedrooms co-ed), any race and physical needs (minus being wheel-chair bound since there are stairs at all 3 house entrances) and with low to moderate behaviors. We also specifically said "yes" to taking in kids with HIV+ status. However, other than the license capacity these are only guidelines and we can say yes or no to any call we get.

Aren't you worried about what Baby Girl will see/hear?

Long story short, yes. There is a good chance that as foster parents we will have to deal with topics like sex, drugs, or abuse way earlier than we would like to. HOWEVER, I would be more worried about what we would be teaching Baby Girl (and any future kiddos) if we didn't take placements to avoid uncomfortable situations, especially considering how much I remember knowing by the time I was 10! This obviously doesn't include anything that would risk their safety - I draw the line at anyone being unsafe in our home.
Our biological children are going to get the opportunity to grow up never knowing that it's not "normal" to open your home to strange kids who need a safe place. They will get to learn that there is more value in filling another stomach than in having that new toy/dress/game etc. and that sometimes, other kids need Mom and Dad's attention more than they do. Life is not all about them, it's about loving on people who need it most.

When will you start taking placements?

Because of the wonderful surprise that is Baby Girl (only 2 months without birth control!), we will not be taking any of our own placements until this fall a the earliest. In the meantime, we will be doing respite care for some of the other local foster families. Respite is pretty much overnight babysitting for foster kids and can only be done by other licensed families (you wouldn't want your daycare provider leaving your kids with just anyone). We will do respite for the first time in March when we have an upper elementary aged boy for a week and would really appreciate your prayers as we dive into parenting head first!

How long will the kids stay with you?

The biggest reason that we are not taking placements until after Baby Girl is born is because there is no way of knowing how long any child with be with us. We know placements that were expected to be 3-6 months that went home after 2 weeks and "just the weekend" placements that were adopted by the foster family 2.5 years later. Respite on the other hand is planned ahead and scheduled, so we will be able to do that in the time before and after Baby Girl arrives.

What do I need to know as your friend/family?

  • Because we are taking younger kids, they are much more likely to be "emergency" placements instead of being planned. That means that kids could be coming at very short notice (less than 24 hours). We will need you to be flexible with us as we could be bringing extra guests to Christmas, etc. that we can't RSVP for. In the same way, once we have placements, we can't promise whether or not they will still be with us for whatever event is coming up. We may RSVP for 4 and then only be a family of 3 by the time of the party. 
  • While they are in our home, these kids should be treated just as much as "our kids" as you do Baby Girl. They will not need any more reasons to feel out of place than they will already have! We understand that this can be difficult for things like Christmas presents for a surprise placement, etc. but we will try our best to help with those situations (we're more than willing to buy a gift for you to wrap so they also get one from "Grandma"!). 
  • Remember that just about everything about these kids is strictly confidential. Their reason for being in foster care, history, medical/emotional/behavioral needs, etc are their business and theirs alone. This is especially true with their HIV status. I may do another full post about HIV after we take the training course, but feel free to shoot me any questions you have about it in the meantime. In the rare case that there is an issue that needs to be shared, it has to go through DHS approval. Know that when we respond with "we can't say" it doesn't have anything to do with you not being discrete or trustworthy, we really can't. It's the law. This means that there will be no identifiable information or pictures of foster kids on here, Facebook, etc. Technically we can't even say that they're our foster kids (pretty sure you'll pick up on that one on your own anyway), just guests in our home. 
Please feel free to ask anything not covered here, but know that we haven't actually had a placement yet, so there's A LOT we don't know. Either way, I'll do my best to either answer myself or find it for you. 


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