Thursday, August 28, 2008

Foster Care 101

I've had a lot of people over the years I've been a foster parent say things to me such as: "Why don't their parents want them?" or "I can't believe they would just give them up like that." Etc. A lot of people just don't understand what foster care means. So, here is a VERY brief introduction to foster care...

To be a foster parent you have to go through training/classes and background checks, and a homstudy. The classes give you an IDEA of the kiddos you could take in. As a foster parent, you can let the agency know what you are open to or willing to parent as far as ages, medical needs, past histories, etc. They may still call you for a child who is "outside" these parameters, just to see if you would be open and because they needed a placement and maybe thought you'd be a good one. They also may have NO information on a child other than their gender and age. You can say yes or no to any placement they call about. They do not normally take a no as being a bad thing, but more that you are thinking through what you can handle and/or are comfortable with and that's a good thing because it means that the children you do take in will be a better fit and will hopefully get all they need and deserve from you and others will hopefully find a family that's a good fit for them.

Foster kiddos come into placement for different reasons. Sometimes parents voluntarily put them in care due to their inability to parent at the time, but that's rare from what I've seen. Most of the time, children are removed from their parents due to unsafe environments which falls under many circumstances: drug use, prostitiution, neglect, abuse, etc. There are sometimes, though I haven't expereienced it myself, when children are removed for invalid circumstances and shouldn't have been at all. Many of my kiddos have actually come from other foster homes. Some were relatives and then they turned out to be a bad placement and the kids were removed from them, or they were removed from bad foster homes, or just foster homes which were not wanting or able to keep them any longer.

When a foster child is placed with a foster parent, their goal is to return them home. BUT for many this does not or will not happen. The parents still "want" them, but either are unable or unwilling to do what they need to do to change the situation that got the child/ren removed. Does that make sense??? They typically have 18 months in IL to get their act together and if they don't, then the state starts termination proceedings. Typically. This is a guideline though and if the state thinks that the parent hasn't had enough opportunity or is trying, it can be longer. My friend J's foster daughter has been with her for over 3 years and was with another foster home for a while prior to her coming to my friend, and they are just now starting termination.

IF they are heading toward termination, this means they begin to get things together for a court hearing to take the parent's rights away. IF the rights are terminated, then a foster parent has the option of adopting their foster child or helping them to transition to a new home as an adoptive placement there. Once in a while a relative will come forward who wants to adopt them, but normally if a foster parent has had this child/ren for a year or more, they are considered as a permanent placement first before other relatives as they have a bond with that family. Remember I said once in a while or typically for most of this, because this tends to be the norm, but does not mean it will go that way.

So... Braeden I got at birth, three days old, from the hospital. A friend of mine had his 2 year old brother and 1 year old sister in foster care at the time. She had had them a year so we were pretty sure they weren't going home, and she couldn't take a new baby on top of the two she had, so I talked to people about "wanting" him and was allowed to be his placement. His rights were eventually terminated because parents wouldn't do what they needed to do, and I was able to adopt him when he was 2 1/2.

Olivia came to me at 3 1/2 with her brother who was 6. He had some major issues and behaviorally I couldn't do it much longer. They ended up moving him and allowing her to stay with me. Mom wasn't doing what she needed, and then dropped out of the picture 8 months before her rights were terminated. We then found out that she did that because she was pregnant and didn't want the state to find out. It worked and she still has Olivia's now 2 year old sister at home. I adopted Olivia last September.

Then there's Liam (by the way, these names all have been changed from their birth names). He came to me at 9 months old, from another foster home. He was placed in the other foster home at 4-5 months old. His foster home did nothing with/for him at all and the caseworker wanted him removed. So he came to me at 9 months not knowing how to sit up, crawl, stand, nothing. Within a week he was doing it all! :) He has come far, but is still lagging developmentally in some areas. His mom recently signed surrender of her rights and we are pursuing termination of bio dad's rights at this time, moving toward my adoption of him hopefully within the next year. (Yes, year, the whole thing takes quite a while!)

In IL, the foster child/children are provided a medical card to meet their medical/dental needs, day care is paid for as long as you are working or in school, and you receive a monthly subsidy check of which a certain amount is to be used for clothing and allowance (toys,etc). If you adopt a child from foster care, either as their foster parent, or a parent with a homestudy looking to adopt a child in need of a home, these things come "with" the child and continue until they are 18. Also, adopting through foster care allows you a certain amount of money toward the adoption itself. For me, here in IL, this has meant no adoption costs whatsoever. It's not "free" per se, because someone IS paying for it, but it's subsidized and is paid for on behalf of the state for the child to find a forever family.

Foster children often come with "issues." They have just lost everything they have known. Even if it was a horrible situation they came from, it was their home, their family, their sense of "normal." They could have trouble with attachment, aggression, behaviors, emotional trouble, eating issues, sexual acting out, developmental delays, or they could just not understand how to live in a family. BUT, they all need so much that so many out there could give, even if only for a short time. They NEED love, stability, care, attention, concern, knowledge of what it's like to live in a family, and to see the eyes of a caregiver/parent light up when they walk in a room. They DESERVE it. These are the children often forgotten. The children who become victims time and again in this horrible system of foster care. Sometimes animals in our country have more "rights" and "protection" from abusers than these children do. Hard to believe, but it's true, check the laws. And yet, many of these children, because of their histories, drugs in their system at birth, horrors they've witnessed, even if adopted into a wonderful, loving home, can never truly escape these pasts. It may show up in hyperactivity and play itself out in a classroom where they are labeled a troublemaker. It could become a part of their personality in ways that are incredibly difficult to manage. Or it could just show itself in silent tears at night. But foster care is needed. Godd foster parents are desperately needed!!! So, if God is tugging at your heart, if you are thinking about it at all, at least give it a try, go to some classes, meet with some foster parents, see what you could give a child.

That's all. My two cents. :)


Stacie said...

Thank you for sharing this post. I have been thinking of becoming a foster parent for quite a few years now. Your insight is very helpful.

Shea said...

This is a very good explanation! I am sure that this will help many people as you have made it so easy to understand some of the steps.

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About Me

I am a single mom to four amazing kids; each of whom just happen to have been adopted. The first three were adopted through foster care, and we just completed an international adoption from Haiti. Our family has grown through adoption and I am all the more blessed to know each of my children. I worship a mighty God, teach Special Ed, love bargains, and am inspired by Pinterest... come along with us for the ride!

Olivia - 14

Olivia - 14

Braeden - 11

Braeden - 11

Liam - 9

Liam - 9

Macy - 5

Macy - 5

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