Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dear Fosterlings

About a month ago we got an exciting opportunity to speak on a panel to a class of prospective foster parents who are getting ready for certification and their families. We were supposed to talk about our experience and give some tricks of the trade to these new fosterlings. When Brandon and I were going through our initial training there were nurses from foster care's pediatrician office, a matcher, a homefinding caseworker, a management worker, an adoption worker, and 3 foster families. On this panel there were 6 foster families and 1 management worker. Foster parents LOVE.TO.TALK. It is what it is- we have a lot to say. By the time it was our turn to tell our story, I felt pressed to finish up quickly and I only said about half of what I wanted to tell the class. I tried to stick to stuff that the other families hadn't talked about, and I ended up making us sound like we only take respites. I kicked myself all the way home thinking, "I should have said this. I should have said that. They need to know this stuff!!!". I did say, "Go read some foster care blogs!", so maybe they'll stumble upon this post. I know at least one of them found us- Hi Rachael!!

 Here's my experience and tricks- for fosterlings:

Hi, My name is Teresa Foster Parent. My husband an I have been foster parents for a little over 2 years. We have seen 13 children come into our home during that time- 5 placements and 8 respites. After our last MAPP class, it took a little less than a month to become certified. It was 2 weeks from our official 1st day open to bringing home our 1st child.

We got the call for our 1st baby- a healthy newborn-  at noon and we picked him up at 6pm. He came with just a onesie and enough formula for 2 bottles. I had gone to Walmart before picking him up and had what we needed already. Trick- have some money set aside for new placements. We spend $250-$300 on our first couple of Walmart runs for our kids. Since the clothing check and daily stipend won't come for 6weeks after the child is in your home, you'll need to have cash on hand. Also, even though our kids are automatically qualified for WIC, it can take up to a month to actually get an appointment, so you'll be buying formula until then and that money does not get reimbursed. We replace our "new child" fund when the child's 1st check comes in.We were initially told he would stay for 3 months, and he stayed for 8 months before returning to his Dad. He had 5 visits/ week because his parents didn't get long well enough to visit together. Eventually he was doing 2 supervised visits during the week with Mom and spent weekends with his Dad. I learned with him how unpredictable court can be- we had him packed and ready to leave several times over those 8 months only to have the judge extend his stay with us. We went to court with him every other week for 8 months. How often you go to court solely depends on the judge. The judge in our next case only held court every 4-6months. Trick- Go to court when possible. It will give you a better picture of what's happening in the case, and let the judge see you and see that you are there for the kid. You will also have the chance to interact with the child's parents and lawyer. When the baby was returned we had 11 days notice before the move.

3 days before our 1st baby went home, we got the call for a sibling group. The boys were 18 mo and newborn. We had 20 minutes between the call and picking up our 2nd son. He was in the CPS investigators car on his way to the agency when the matcher called and I got there as fast as I could. I brought him with me to Walmart that day. He had only the clothes on his back and a coat that the caseworker had in her office. Everything was bought and ready when his little brother was released from the hospital (with no possessions) 2 weeks later. The judge ordered jail visits with one of the parents for the boys every week. I accompanied the children and their caseworker to the jail 3 times. Trick- transport children to their visits when you can and really try to do the 1st visit so you can meet the parents and start positive communication. Parents will usually cause less trouble for you if you extend yourself to them We were still at the supervised visit level when Dad asked to have the boys for Christmas. There wouldn't be anyone to transport or supervise on Christmas day, but the judge left it to the "county's discretion". We decided that it would be best for our sons to have both of their families on Christmas. We had our relatives over for Christmas breakfast and presents and then did dinner at their Dad's house. We offered to supervise the 3hr Christmas day visit. Trick- you will never regret going above and beyond for the children you love.

We were childless for 3 weeks before getting the call for our 4 yr old. During that time we got several calls for children who were out of our age range. Trick- It's really important to be honest about your families abilities and comfort zone. We don't have any older children in our family or close friends, and we haven't ever worked with high functioning older children. There is a lot to be said for people who can stretch beyond their ideal placement and help an older child than they expected. However, if you legitimately can not parent a child they call you for, you have to say no for the sake of the child. No child deserves a parent that wishes they never took him. We have said no at least 10 times since being certified and they always call us again with children in our age range. Saying no will not make the matchers dislike you. Our 4 yr old son is medically frail and we needed a lot of training to care for him. While he has been our most challenging child, he has also been the most rewarding. We have seen him progress so much this year.  Taking a child with special needs requires more time and advocating than other placements. Since his condition can become life threatening and his family and caseworker were not proficient in his care, I have had to stay with him in visits and have spent quite a bit of time in the hospital and at appts. All of his medical expenses are covered as well as his equipment and supplies. I've never even had to purchase a gauze pad out of pocket. There is so much support provided for foster parents who take in medically fragile or behaviorally challenged children- including respite care where the child can spend some time in another foster home while you take a short break. Trick- When you get certified, you will be assigned a Homefinding caseworker. This is YOUR caseworker- she's the one who will do your yearly re-certs and will be available to provide support when you get placements. You'll be working closely with your child's caseworker, but they won't be helping you work through your feelings or figure out your role. Lean on your Homefinder, she will be very valuable to you. There have been many times when my homefinder has been able to help me sort out confusing or frustrating things that come up in our cases.

We had Baby 4 for 6months when we got the call for a newborn being released from the hospital. We got the call at 5:30 on Thursday and I picked him up at 3:00 on Friday. So far his case has been relatively uneventful. We were matched with him because we had provided respite for his sister when she was in care. Trick- Say yes to some respite calls. We've taken 8 kids for respite, and we love it. It's basically babysitting, and at the very least it will help you network with other foster families and it could lead to a placement for you. I've even heard of cases where the foster family decides not adopt a child in their care and the family that did respite was able to adopt that child.

Some other tips we have are:

Give the child's parents copies of pictures you take while you have them. It will help you build a relationship with them, and it will allow your child to have pictures of special times when they go back home. The pictures you take may be the only baby picture or 1st day of school picture that's ever taken of them.

Go to the trainings offered by the county. Foster parenting is hard and we can use all the preparation we can get. There is a legal training and "saying Goodbye" training that are excellent. The class you should take ASAP is Fostering the Sexually Abused Child. At some point, most foster parents will deal with issues talked about in that class. It's sad, but true and you don't want to get caught off guard.

Document everything you do in foster care. Keep receipts of all the clothing you buy the child, have a notebook for each child where you write down when you speak to the caseworker, child's attorney, parents or other family, etc. I like to keep most of my communication with caseworkers on email, so I have a paper trail.

Call or email the matchers when you want children placed with you. Remind them of any special training or experience you have and if you'll take any special needs. The fresher you are in their mind when they get a child to place, the quicker you'll get a call.

Read Read Read!! There a lot of great books you should pick up, but get these 2 first:

Success As A Foster Parent: Everything You Need To Know About Foster Care is a very great resource and an easy, fast read that comes from the National Foster Parent Association

Go to some free sample websites and look for offers for free samples of diapers or formula. Pampers and Huggies offer these periodically, and it's an easy way to have some extras around the house just in case you need a diaper to hold a new baby over while you run to the store.

There's still so much more, but I've been working on this post for a month now so I think this is enough. There is so much to say to new foster families. This journey is hard and long. You'll feel like you're lost sometimes. However, there are some really great companions traveling the same road, so reach out to them. Every tough time is more than made up for in smiles, hugs, and silly dances. Having a real impact on your community and another human being is amazing. You won't regret it.


  1. i enjoyed reading about your kids and when you got them. i didn't know you had been doing it this long. you seem like you are very good at working with the families which i think is awesome.

    and good tips, all are pretty much what we have run into too...except MOST of our kids did come with clothes.

  2. This post is wonderful! We just got officially opened yesterday, so it's all still so new and weird. I'll be checking out those books for sure. Maybe we'll see you at the banquet in November?

  3. We are awaiting our license and I find your blog so helpful. I love reading and learning about your family and drawing on those experiences. Thank you!

  4. I found your blog a few days ago. We're just about to hand in our application to become foster parents. My husband and I *really* enjoyed reading all your advice in this post. So thank you!