As my husband and I are in the process of being re-licensed to open our home to foster children again, I wanted to take a moment to share our foster story. There is such a need for foster families and my hope is that by sharing this story, others will be inspired and encouraged to join us in any way that they can.
Our journey into foster care started when our youngest was around 3 years old, my husband and I began discussing the future of our family. Neither of us felt like it was complete, and so the idea of foster care came up.
At the time I really wanted to have a daughter. I love my sons but had always pictured myself being a girl-mom. My husband is just pretty chill and was up for whatever I wanted. (God love him!)
We fairly quickly jumped into the process and “signed up.” I looked a little bit at agencies but most of the ones that I found in my quick google search seemed focused on adoption or required you to pay a fee. We ended up going through the state to be licensed. (In retrospect, I should have done further research and found an agency – but more on that later.)
The licensing process was pretty intense. It required 15-20 pages full of very personal questions, interviews with social workers, inspections, and so much more. I expected most of this going in, but here are some of the things that were surprising to us.
- We all had to get TB tests
- The licensing requirements for our house included locking many items up – all of our medicine, vitamins, alcohol, cleaners, and other dangerous items. It was a hassle to lock all of this up and it is still a hassle.
- We had to lower our water heater temperature. The social worker would check the temp of our hot water when she came out.
- We had to take a lot of classes – 40 hours worth.
I mention all of this, not to scare you off, but to let you know. If you are contemplating getting licensed, make sure that you plan for some time off of work to complete things like fingerprinting and social worker meetings.
The licensing process is a hassle but, eventually, you get through it and are licensed and ready for your first placement. We got our first call within a few days of being licensed. A social worker called and let us know that they had a family of 5 siblings aged 4 – 16 that needed placement. We could only take 2 because that was how many beds and car seats we had. The social worker tried hard to get us to take 3 – all of the girls, even though we were only licensed for 2. I remembered in my training that they kept telling us that it was okay to say no. What I didn’t realize was how hard that was. My heart went out to these kids. How sad for them to be taken out of their home and then to have to be further split up.
In the end, we stuck to our guns and just accepted the 2 younger girls. The social worker let us know that they would bring them by shortly. The following hours felt so long! We had no idea exactly what time they would arrive. I wasn’t sure if I should hold dinner for them if I should put my boys to bed? Who could I even call when it got to be 7:30 and still, they had not arrived. (This was a good lesson I learned early on, find out who will be bringing them and get their phone number so that you can be in touch about specifics. The placement coordinator usually has no idea of the schedule for drop off.)
When the girls arrived, one walked right in and made herself at home. The other was shyer and stuck to her sister’s side and didn’t make eye contact. It turned out that they had been removed from their home the day before and had been in an emergency foster placement overnight. They were confused. No one had really told them what was going on.
We received very little information. This was something that I wasn’t prepared for. We had no idea why they were removed, what their status was, what the plan for their future was. Looking back now, I understand why, but at the time, this was shocking and very confusing to us.
In retrospect, what happened was this: When kids are brought into placement, the social worker who was working with their birth family is the one who removes them from the home if it happens during normal business hours. (If it is at night or on the weekends, it may be the on-call social worker.) Within a few days of placement, the kids are transferred to a different Social worker who does the foster care side. In addition to this, there are court proceedings going on to determine the status of placement, visitation, etc. All of this leads to quite a bit of confusion. The social worker who dropped the girls off was the on-call social worker, so she knew very little about their case.
We muddled through the first night. It was hard. I could tell that the girls were confused and scared, but I had nothing that I could tell them. In reality, I was pretty confused and scared as well.
Over the next few days, there was a flurry of activity. The girls had to be registered for school. (They weren’t able to start the day that I registered them.) They had to be taken to the doctors and the dentist. Both of these appointments resulted in additional appointments for cavities and follow up doctors’ visits. They also came with very few clothes, so we needed to go shopping for necessities. Their new social worker also wanted to come to visit them (during the day time.) I mention all of this to note that when you get a new placement, plan on at taking at least a few days off from work if possible. It is chaotic, stressful, and busy.
As time went on, the biggest concern became how to manage the meshing of our family with these kiddos. The older girl ended up being the oldest child in the house which caused a good amount of upheaval. My oldest son was used to being the one in charge and being the responsible one that people looked up to. He was sort of replaced, so to speak. The younger foster daughter had a similar experience as she was used to being the baby of the family and in our house, she no longer was. This placement made us very aware of birth order.
These girls were with us for a little over 6 months and then they were moved to be closer to their siblings. There were a lot of mixed feelings when they left. We were sad for them to go. But, there was, honestly, also some relief. We were able to have a break and to regroup. We were able to learn from the experience and plan for what we wanted going forward.
Our next placement was a tough one, but also the kiddo that I most connected with. He had been in 11 different foster homes prior to coming to us. When I heard that, my heart just broke and I (foolishly) thought, oh, I can help him with my counseling degree and background working with kids – I am the perfect fit as his foster mom. In retrospect, I should have realized that even though I had a lot of training and experience working with kids who are suffering the effects of trauma, my husband and bio-kids did not.
There were a few things that were extremely hard about this placement. First, like I mentioned, my husband and kids were totally floored by the behavior challenges and at a loss for how to handle this kiddo. I ended up devoting so much time and energy to him that my bio-boys and my husband felt neglected and abandoned. Second, this kiddo needed a lot more behavioral help than the State was giving him. This was partly because he had been moved so often that he wasn’t able to get established and into the care he needed. And partly due to the fact that there are very limited resources for kids in the system who need significant interventions. All of the kids are on the state insurance and the few places that accept state insurance rarely have openings.
We went around and around with his social worker trying to get him additional services and help. We were able to get him into a counselor who was an intern and had very little experience. We were also able to get him some services through the school but this is a long process and tough for kids who are bounced around between schools and school districts.
Eventually his social worker (who was the 3rd social worker he had had since coming to us) got so frustrated with us asking for help for him that they determined that the problem must be us and they decided to move him. To this day, my heart breaks over this. The reality is that the system is deeply flawed and while everyone is trying to do their best, there just aren’t anywhere near enough resources which leaves everyone stretched thin and unable to give the help needed in way too many cases.
This experience made us realize the importance of going through an agency versus just being licensed through the state. I truly believe if we had had a social worker who was on our side and able to see what was going on in the home we may have been able to stabilize this kiddo and get him the resources that he needed instead of having him be further traumatized by another move. Not to mention that we would have received the support and guidance that we so desperately needed through this situation.
After this situation we floundered a bit as a foster family. My husband and sons felt very burnt out. I felt so depressed and heartbroken. We ended up deciding to try taking teens to see if that would change up the dynamic a bit. My husband really liked this idea as he felt like he might be able to better relate and guide an older child. Plus, there are so many teens in foster care and so few families who are able and willing to take them.
We ended up accepting placement for 10 different kiddos over a period of 3 or 4 months but none of them stayed longer than 1 week. Here’s what we learned from our rollercoaster few months of trying to foster teenagers.
- Teens are much more involved in where they go for their placement. We had a number of placements that never came about after agreeing to them. (Totally understandable, these kiddos should get a say in where they live, but this wasn’t something we had expected.)
- Teen issues are a lot bigger. We had a kiddo run away, kiddos that came to us as emergency placements but ended up back home because the system determined that they lied about circumstances, and kiddos that were moved far away to be with relatives.
- Teens are a lot more expensive. Adult clothes cost so much more. They need a lot more school supplies. They need and want good tech devices.
- Teens are very connected to their peer groups which makes it hard to connect. Most of the kids who came to stay with us would spend the majority of the time on the phone or on social media with their friends. It is a lot harder to set boundaries and rules about this when they have been living independently for so long.
If you are interested in taking teens, I would say go for it. Just be prepared for potentially going through a lot of transitions and placements while you work on finding the kid who stays.
Our last placement in Washington was a temporary placement. We went into it knowing that it would be for 2 weeks – 3 months. This was an interesting dynamic as it meant that we tried hard to keep them in their schools and daycares which were a bit of a drive for us. These two little boys were amazing. They meshed with our family so well and we had a great time. We were so sad to see them go and yet so happy for them to be able to go back to their family.
After that placement, we ended up moving out of state for my husband’s job. And, after a year or so, we decided it was time to get relicensed. That process is finally through and as I write this, we are waiting for our first new placement in Texas.
This time we have chosen to go through an agency. We have also gotten much clearer on what we are willing and able to accommodate. Someday I hope to be able to work with high level needs kids again, but for now, while my bio-kids are in the house, we will only take “level 1” kids (meaning that they don’t have significant behavioral or medical needs.) We will take 1 or 2 boys. (Turns out I actually really like being a boy mom.) We will take kids who are in school and younger than my oldest son.
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