Want to become a foster parent? My previous post was about social workers. I will say that most of the social workers that I have met are great. However, not everyone is made out to be a social worker. The same applies to foster parents, there are some great ones and some not so great. Unfortunately it is those not so great ones that everyone notices.
The job of a foster parent is not an easy one. Kids are brought to your door at any hour with nothing and you are expected to know what to do with this child staring back at you. What do you say? What do you do with them?
I have had some kids that walked into my house and made themselves right at home. I have had some kids walk in crying (actually very few). I have also had some walk in and wait quietly for my lead. Generally I quickly introduce them to everyone, show them their room and ask them if they are hungry. Most of the time they say yes.
First meal is not some fancy homemade meal. Actually it isn't homemade at all. We normally order pizza. It is a hit. Although you may be the greatest cook in your county, to your new kids it will be unfamiliar food. It is quite possible that most of their meals are fast food or out of a can. You can ask them what they like to eat over a meal of pizza. I find that they are normally very honest with that question.
On the occasion when you do get bags with the kids, go through it. We had a foster parent in our county who had a baby for a month before she actually emptied the diaper bag. Imagine her surprise when she found drug paraphernalia in there. Yes, the diaper bag had been all over the place, even went to church. Check the bags. This also gives you an opportunity to see what the kids are going to need. They will need something.
We stock up on basics when they go on sale. We always have extra toothbrushes, toothpaste, clothing and even school supplies. I organize clothing in my garage in tubs by sizes. One of our earliest foster kids came at the end of winter. It was still cold enough to require a coat but I couldn't find any to buy. They didn't come with coats so I had to layer lighter jackets. The next year I stocked up on clearance coats for all sizes and sexes. Every state is different but in our county we get $100 clothing allowance to get what the kids need. When you look at the cost of shoes, socks, underwear, and other clothing items you can quickly go over $100. By having a stash I am able to concentrate on important items. Most of the time the biggest expense is shoes. I buy nice shoes, often they have never had nice shoes and it is amazing how much they love them.
So you get the kids settled in and the journey begins. This could be short term or years. They could tell you it is short term but that doesn't always mean anything. The thing to remember at this stage is that your job is to foster the children. Do not start talking about how much you want to adopt the child at this stage. Do not try to sabotage the parents. At this point you should be working with the parents, reunification is the plan. You should develop a relationship with the parents. I still have relationships with some of my foster children who went home and their parents.
If you are doing foster parent because of a burning desire to adopt be aware that adoption may not happen for years. You may have many kids in your home before a case goes to adoption. Or your first case may. Be prepared to support reunification because that is what foster care is. Be prepared to be heartbroken, because all foster parents are at one time or another.
There will come a time when either the parents are working their plan and reunification seems imminent or it is apparent that they are not. If reunification is not looking apparent, at some point a social worker will ask you if you will adopt if it goes to adoption. This is the time to speak up. You do not have to adopt, you can say no and they will look for an adoptive placement. Never adopt because you feel that you are required to. We have adopted children from foster care but we have let some be moved as well. I remember one little girl who was going to be available for adoption and we said no. She was only three years old. It was hard but we had just adopted Larissa and Anthony and it didn't feel like the time was right. She did get adopted and I think about her at times.
Foster parenting can be a challenge but it can also be a joy. Some kids will steal your heart and others you will be glad to see them go home. You never know what to expect and should be prepared for anything. It is always good to have some support from your local foster parents or others who have fostered. Others really won't understand all that you are dealing with.
I could write so much about my experiences but I would bore everyone. Anyone with specific questions? Any recommendations from other foster parents? I'd love to hear stories of other foster parents.