I started the foster process about a year ago and at the end of November, I was approved. About two weeks later I took in two little brothers ages 4 and almost 2. Since then, I’ve also had another little boy.
During the two placements between the three little boys, there’s a lot I learned. Some things they didn’t cover at all in foster class and some of the items they briefly, almost in passing, covered. So, I thought I’d share what I have learned with you.
I know that not everyone is going to have the same experience as me and that’s okay if you disagree with some of the things I post below.
Sign up for Women Infants and Children (WIC). One of my social workers told me to sign up for WIC with the newborn and it’s been great! Sure, it’s weird going into a grocery store and essentially using food stamps, but do you know how much formula costs!? And, with a growing little boy!? The process takes about an hour to get approved and you have to go in on a monthly basis to get your “checks” but it’s well worth it.
Emergency placements are filled with the unknown. Both sets of little ones I had in my house were emergency placements. You get a call, you agree to foster them for an unknown amount of time, and hours later you’re at home with children…gulp! If the children were just taken from the parent(s), it’s very possible all you get is their age, sex, and name. That’s it! You may not know of any areas of concern and get a history on the child. But, when you get the call for an emergency placement, ask questions! The receiving center may not have the answers, but they may.
Emergency placements are not a good fit for someone with a traditional, in the office, every day job. With one placement I had 17 appointments and 5 home visits in the first 21 days. Yup! 22 appointments in 21 days. That means appointments between Monday and Friday where you’re driving around, waiting, and not working. Or, they come to your house and you’re not working. I’m not sure too many traditional employers would appreciate or allow an employee to do that. So, before you sign up for an emergency placement, consider the time commitment and if it’ll work with your schedule. You also don’t have to accept every emergency placement that you get a call about.
Ask for your gift cards at the receiving center. The folks at the emergency receiving center in my area are great and will remind you about your gift cards but don’t feel embarrassed to ask if you don’t get them. In my area, you get one for Target and one for a grocery store for every child you get. It’s a nice gesture and quickly pays for the food you need to get one the way home with the little ones.
Parental visits are really hard! What causes me just about the most stress in this process is the parental visit. Not because I think anything is going to happen to the child(ren), but they often are followed up with questions from the social worker that start with “Mom noticed a scratch on <insert baby’s name> hand. Do you know how that happened?” These questions also come during the parental visits. Sometimes there’s an explanation, sometimes there’s not. When it’s not known where the scratch or other minor bumps and bruises came from, processes can start.
Parental visits can also be difficult because children sometimes can have a negative reaction after spending time with their parents. Outbursts occur because the child is confused and not sure what is happening. They don’t understand why they aren’t with their parents and can have minor or major outbursts because of it.
Another reason why parental visits can be hard is because you realize what is happening. The child(ren) was taken away from his/her parent(s) for whatever reason. Dropping the child off and picking them up you get to see the pain an anguish that can sometimes be on the faces of the parents. It can break your heart to see them and know that they can only visit with their child(ren) with a social worker present and for a few hours a week.
Parental visits can be many in a week. During class they mentioned parental visits and it was implied that there would be one visit a week. If you are doing an emergency placement, the number of visits won’t be known until the judge determines the visitation schedule which will be after you bring the child(ren) home. But, if you are doing a regular match, make sure to ask your RFA worker about the parental visit schedule. The visitation schedule can be an important factor in your decision to move forward with putting your name in for a match meeting. Although emergency, both my placements have had three visits a week.
Document everything! Every time the little one(s) scratches themselves, gets diaper rash, has a bruise, starts acting differently, document it and let the child(ren)’s social worker know as well as your social worker. This will help protect you if any questions come up.
You are, at best, priority #3. Despite the good deed you’re doing, you are not a top priority. The baby is the most important and his/her health, well being, and safety are top priority. Second is the mom. Social services’ goal is to reunite the mom with the baby and they will do what they need to help her. This sometimes causes problems and can definitely be frustrating so if you know this going into the process, you’ll be fine. Despite this, the social workers are always very thankful for the work that you’re doing.
There are lots and lots of social workers you’ll work with. During one placement I worked with six different social workers within the first few weeks. They all have their specific role but expect to work with more than one. This also means that you may have to repeat information as it doesn’t seem that information is necessarily shared between groups or, it could be that information isn’t updated in a timely manner. I’m not sure which is the reason.
The child(ren)’s social worker is key! They are the ones who schedule parental visits and other visits. Some will ask if times work well for you (these are the awesome ones!) and others will tell you what time you need to be somewhere without taking into account your schedule.
Take time for yourself. As much as you’ll love having children in your home, there can be a lot of pressure and stress and it can be overwhelming going from zero children to 1, 2, 3 or more. Make sure that once a week you get out and get a babysitter. Take even just an hour to walk around the block, go get coffee, sleep, or read a book. The more rested you are, the better foster parent you’ll be.
Love isn’t just through blood. Be prepared to fall in love with the little one(s) – even if you only have them for a little bit.
Do you have other things you’ve learned along the way that wasn’t taught during class? If so, let me know.