Now that I've had a few placements, I've found that I am very quickly learning how the system works (or doesn't work in some cases). I'm still a newbie though, so I could always use helpful advice from people who have been where I am. I thought I would use this forum to provide some real-life insight and tips from experienced foster parents to people new in Foster/Adopt Land.
What you may not know:
*** Your life will no longer be your own if you don't set some ground rules. ***
The vast majority of the initial foster care training classes are geared towards what to expect from the children in your care. Very little emphasis is given to what to expect from the adults in Foster/Adopt Land. It can be extremely frustrating and overwhelming for new foster parents when they have no idea what to expect.
Example #1 - When I got the Immobile Munchkin, she was brought to my house by a Case Aid and my Family Specialist from my agency. The morning after she arrived, I was bombarded by phonecalls from people wanting to "set up a time to come to the house." My FS wanted to set up her follow-up, the Munchkin's caseworker wanted to come by, and someone from someplace I hadn't heard of until that point wanted to come evaluate her. I later learned that young children entering foster care in Texas are automatically evaluated by ECI (Early Childhood Intervention) to determine where they are developmentally and to schedule different therapies if needed. No one had ever mentioned that before. I also received phone calls from Star Health (medical insurance) wanting to do a medical history for the baby (a baby who I knew absolutely nothing about other than that she came to me in a body cast and a helmet that she had to wear 23 hours a day to reshape her skull). I had to schedule a follow-up with the doctor at the hospital, a regular physical exam, and a dental appointment. There were four people wanting access to my house (next week's "Foster Friday" topic) within one day of placement and multiple outside appointments needing to be done within two weeks! It would have been more, but the Munchkin was moved into her new home after 5 days.
Example #2 - When the Booger Bear came to me, I had a little better idea of what to expect based on those few days with the Munchkin. Within the first two weeks, Booger had visits from his first caseworker, his new caseworker, my family specialist, ECI, and an investigator. Angel came less than a month later, and things really got crazy. Fortunately, the kids had the same caseworker. But that was pretty much where the similarities ended. Over the rest of the year we had monthly visits from their caseworker, my family specialist, and each child's CASA (court appointed special advocate). Also making appearances over the course of the year were one of Angel's attorneys (she had two - one as a parent and one as a child), a psychiatrist, the director of my agency, case aids providing transportation to visitations, and a rep from Licensing. It was insane! And those were only the people coming to the house! We had multiple required appointments away from the house as well! I had pretty much had enough, leading me to write the "Enough is Enough" post.
"What did I do to make things easier on me and the kids?"
Simply, I learned that they need to schedule around me. I'm a single working mom, and I have no intention of losing my job, so they need to work around my schedule. I plan one weekday a month to take off work and let all of the regular monthly visitors know a few weeks ahead of time. If they want to do their home visits during a weekday, they need to schedule for that day. Otherwise, they have to do evening or weekend visits or they can go see the kids at their school or daycare and do my interview over the phone (I didn't even realize that was an option until about 9 months into the placement and the Booger's caseworker mentioned it off-handedly).
I also try to let the monthly visitors know as soon as one of them schedules their visit at the house. More often than not, one or more of them will try to visit at the same time. It's definitely easier on me and the kids, and it's really helpful having the adults involved in the case together in order to be certain that everyone is on the same page. Because there are so many people involved in these cases, lack of communication tends to be a HUGE problem. Getting several of the key players together at one time has been very helpful for all of us.
I try to schedule outside appointments on my one day off a month as well (ex. dentist, physicals, etc.). It's usually an insanely busy day, but if I can get the majority of the month's appointments done in one day, it leaves the rest of the month for the kids just to be kids. There are inevitably unavoidable things that come up that can't work around my schedule (ex. court dates, weekly therapy, agency audits, etc.), but for the most part things are getting easier as I figure out what all I can control. I found out recently that some therapists will go to the kids' schools so that would help considerably. I'm also lucky because I get a case aid to do transportation to and from visitations for the kids due to the fact that I'm a single working mom.
With so many appointments, it can be difficult to keep track of it all.
Mimi's Tip for the Week:
*** Purchase a dayplanner with lots and lots of room to write down appointments and notes for each child, and keep it near you at all times. ***
I have a large (8.5 x 11) weekly planner that never leaves my side when I have a placement. I use it to keep track of everyone's schedules as well as to jot down notes about visitations, milestones, behavioral problems, giving medications, etc. It comes in incredibly handy when I complete my monthly progress reports and med logs for the kids. Keeping it with me has also helped when I get the inevitable phone calls asking, "When did so-and-so last go to the dentist?" or "How many visits have the kids had with their parents now?" It's a great way to keep track of schedules as well as doubles as a diary of sorts. Believe me, I can't tell you how many times I've had to go back and reference notes and other pertinent information in mine. Having everything in one location is a huge help when it comes to the paperwork.
So what about you?
How do you other foster parents keep track of everything? Do you have any advice for new or potential foster parents when it comes to all of the required appointments, visits, paperwork, etc.?
*** Next week's topic: "Foster Friday" - You're Coming to My House? ***