Have you ever thought about foster care? I’m sure a lot of people have but most people are so baffled by it, or concerned about getting too attached, or worried about risky children ending up in their home. Well I have begun compiling some tips for those considering it, or those in training. These are things I had questions about, or things I wish I realized before getting into this line or work… yes I did say work. I was going to make this one post, but it’s gotten rather long… so I will do this in two parts. One part for you, and part 2 for the kids.
- Find a good agency! NO! Find a GREAT agency! In IL, it has been my experience that DCFS (aka CPS in some areas) is underfunded and the staff are overbooked. This can make for terrible care for the kids, and leave you in a bind. I do not know if all states have it this bad, but our state does and I imagine we are not the only ones. Thankfully in IL we also have private foster agencies that work hand in hand with DCFS. We were blessed to find our agency and each caseworker we have dealt with has been the best of the best! They are on top of their work, they respond in a timely fashion (even on the weekends, not that I do that often), they submit paperwork one time, get you your requests on time, and if you are not happy they make sure you get happy soon! I have not experienced DCFS, but I have heard horror stories. You DO NOT want to work with a caseworker that is overloaded. So interview several agencies, don’t settle for DCFS.
- Broaden your horizons! When you fill out that paperwork you will have the opportunity to let the agency know what you can and cannot handle. What race or sex you will accept, and more. They really allow for a lot of specifications. But to be honest… when you get that first call the caseworker may know next to nothing about that child. They may have the sex wrong, they may not know if there are developmental problems or other issues the child may be experiencing. Many times, they are given very little information, and you are given even less. It’s just a part of the whole experience. That being said, you have to be open minded if you are going to foster.
- Dive into that training and take it to heart! I don’t know exactly how each state works, but I imagine they all require a potential foster parent to do some sort of training. We were lucky to complete training in a class setting with other potentials, lead by a couple who had been doing it for 20 years. I heard rumors they were going to turn it into a video course… kind of leaves you feeling alone. I feel alone enough because no one will really understand what we go through.
- Have a flexible job, or don’t work. I am probably one of the lucky few who has a VERY flexible job… my boss is my Pastor at our church. He gets it when I have to call in for a court date, or because one of my teens is having an anxiety attack. Fostering tends to take over your whole life. You just never know what will be required of you when you take in a kid. They may need medical attention, therapy, help in school, and more. Just the intake of a kid will set you back at work, there will be a lot required at first. It will settle down after a few months, but not always. You might have a developmental screening and find out your 4 year old is developed at an 18 month old status. Having a full time job and being a foster parent just don’t mix. Of course there are always exceptions, but you can’t expect it.
- Get used to lots of random people coming over to your house. Not just the kids, and their friends. You will get visitors galore! Don’t worry about the clhouse, just make sure it’s safe and that those kids are happy and well fed. You will see a barage of lawyers, the caseworker (maybe several), the licensing worker, the GAL ( this is another attorney, not sure if this is just an IL thing), CASA workers, physical therapists, speech therapists, child development specialists, and more. They will inspect your home for safety, look after the general well being of the child, and all kinds of other reasons. If you are not keen on lots of visitors then you might want to rethink this calling.
- Do it for the money. Yes, I said it, do this for the money. Not because the pay is good, not because it’s really a payment at all. I will be straight forward with you, I get paid well under $4 an hour to take care of 4 children, 7 days a week if you facter in an 16 hour day. Out of that 3 and change, I also have to feed them, cloth them, provide a roof over their head, a safe environment, transportation to doctors, therapy, court, over the counter meds, toys, birthday presents, Christmas gifts, money for the movies, or to Chuck E. Cheese. The list is endless, and I am certain I spend more than I make. So why would anyone do this for the money… because while it’s rewarding beyond anything you can imagine, it is a JOB! This is not a walk in the park, there will be crappy days. All the things that come with being a parent and so much MORE. You will get a call from a caseworker at 2am desperately begging you take a kid whose mom was just arrested. As a foster parent, you signed up for this, and it’s your JOB to open up your home. I hear stories about people signing up for this and being really selective about who they will accept into their home, either because they want to adopt or are not ready to take the plunge. While it is your right, you have to understand that the caseworker on the other end is under a tremendous amount of pressure, the kid they are calling you about is going through the most horrendous trauma they have ever experienced. Your job is to work together with that caseworker and help that kid.
- Get social! I have a couple of groups on Facebook that are for foster parents. One I can share, it’s nation wide. Foster Parent Support: James 1:27. This is a great place to ask the questions that no one else will understand and you get responses instantly. It may not be professional advice, but it’s great to have an understanding ear. Most of these people get it, not everyone but most. Even at 2am! Fostering is a lonely world, you are going to discover very quickly that all your mom friends with bio kids don’t get it and never will. So get involved in groups in your area, online or off!
- Your Lifestyle! It will change, more than you expect it to. You are going to give more than you have ever given before, not just financially, but emotionally too. You may lose some friends, you may find new and better ones. You will not be able to just hire any old babysitter and go out, you might have to stay home. You might start to see your friends and family for who they really are, fostering is not just a test on you… it’s a test on your whole family. Give them time to come around to it, but don’t wait for them. Get used to hearing “I could never do that”, “They are so lucky”, and for other such comments to just make you furious. Get ready to roll your eyes the next time you hear someone complain, because you will experience and hear about much worse.