When I first started fostering, I naively thought that the initial training I received would prepare me for what I would experience as a foster (and hopeful adoptive) parent. Oh, how very, very wrong I was! Over the past five years in Foster/Adopt Land, I have learned many valuable lessons along the way. Some practical, some silly, and some very tough, emotionally draining ones... I thought I'd share some of the lessons I've learned with all of you (broken into two separate posts so you don't get too overwhelmed), and hope that it helps some of you who are just beginning foster/adopt journeys of your own.
Be aware of how fostering affects everyone in your life - When I decided to become a foster parent, I knew that it would take an emotional toll on me and my immediate family. I knew that the people who would grow to love my children would also experience the pain that foster care can bring. However, I never really thought about how my decision to foster would affect my extended family, friends, co-workers, etc. I have learned over the past five years that the people who truly care about me truly do care about my children as well whether they have the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with my little ones or not. They become emotionally invested. They experience my joy, my grief, my excitement, my stress, and every other emotion that being a foster parent brings. They are invested because they love me and whether or not they ever actually get to meet my children, my decision to foster affects them.
Childcare - I had absolutely no idea that as a single, full-time working foster mom in my county (thank you, Allmypretty, for reminding me to include that!), daycare for my little ones is free! Not one person at my agency or in CPS had mentioned it! I had walked into a daycare that was recommended by a friend when I got Booger Bear (fully intending to use my entire monthly stipend and then some to pay for it) and started talking to the director. She is the one who told me that daycare for foster children is free and was able to point me in the right direction. If you know that you're going to need daycare for your little ones, tell their caseworker up front to help speed up the process. Five years later, that same director is still one of my favorite people! :-)
Expect the unexpected - I always say that the only thing that is certain about foster care is that nothing is certain. Every single case is different. There is absolutely no way to predict what might happen in a case. Rules and laws are interpreted differently by everyone, and what might mean one thing to one judge means something entirely different to another. The same goes for agencies, counties, workers, therapists, etc. I have learned to answer new foster parents' questions with examples of what has happened in some of my cases and immediately follow up with "but there is no way to predict what will happen in your case." You will save yourself a lot of stress headaches if you learn to accept that anything can happen at any given moment when you're living in Foster/Adopt Land.
FMLA - I had no idea that the placement of a foster child is a qualifying event for FMLA, and I use every bit of it. I don't do the traditional "maternity leave" though. I use it intermittently for foster care-related appointments, medical appointments and illnesses for my child, court dates, etc. As long as you don't go over 90 days in a 12 month period, you're covered.
(and a second "G" because I thought of another one)
|Well, SEMI Anonymous... Lol.|
Home visit cleaning - I wrote a post regarding what I have learned when it comes to preparing for home visits earlier this year. Nearly five years after beginning my foster care journey, I have learned that as long as there are no blatantly obvious health or safety violations, we're good to go! I usually have a pillow mountain and a ball pit in the middle of my living room floor. The dishes and laundry are in a constant state of "almost" done as my mom and I tend to tag team the chores. If a caseworker comes for a visit when Monkey is here, they spend the entire time being entertained by a 2-year-old bilingual attention hog as he pulls out every toy and book in the house to give them a rundown on what's what, usually all the while also fighting off a teething Bug who digs through their purses and chews on their hair. By the time they leave, they're too flustered to remember that my "unmentionables" are in a pile on the dining room table!
Income taxes - Another question that I often receive from new foster parents is "How does fostering affect our taxes?" What many caseworkers and agencies don't tell you is that if your foster child has lived with you for more than six months within the calendar year, you can claim your foster child as a dependent. I would suggest filing early as often times the biological families try to claim the children as dependents as well, which can hold up your tax refund. Also be aware that your monthly stipend is not taxable income, and is not considered income on your tax return. That's the short answer. The long and more technical answer to the tax code can be found here on Foster Ducklings blog. She is a CPA and a foster parent and has done a good job explaining income taxes and foster care for those of us who don't like legal tax speak. Lol.
Just because the caseworker asks you if you are adoption motivated, don't assume that means adoption is likely - I learned this lesson the hard way with my first long-term placement. The caseworker, my agency, even his birth mom talked "adoption." Sometimes I think they dangle the "adoption" word in front of foster-to-adopt homes just to keep us around. That practice can be extremely difficult for parents who desperately want to adopt. In the years since, every single caseworker my children have had has almost immediately asked me if I'd be willing to adopt them. I have learned never to put any stock in "adoption" talk, and always look at each placement with the goal of reunification. Period. It has actually been surprisingly difficult for me to truly accept that Bug is going to be legally mine pretty soon, even though the "official" goal has always been "adoption by non-relative."
Learn to live in limbo - This is not an easy task for a task-oriented individual who very much likes to be in control. Believe me. I know! Unfortunately, when you make the decision to become a foster parent, your life is no longer your own. You live in a constant state of "hurry up and wait" with empty promises of "it'll be ready in two more weeks." "Two weeks" seems to be the standard answer to most questions regarding how long something will take in Caseworker Speak. Just be prepared to live in a constant state of limbo as you spend 99.9% of your time waiting for something... waiting for "the call," waiting for answers, waiting for something productive to happen in your children's cases, waiting, waiting, waiting...
Make an effort to get to know your children's birth families and to become a resource for them if it is safe to do so - If you've been a long-time reader of this blog, I'm sure you know just how much this statement means to me. I have my family solely because I reached out to my foster children's birth parents. "So many times, we hear the horror stories of how children end up in foster care. Horrific abuse cases are all over the news, and the general consensus among the public seems to be that children who end up in foster care are "better off" being adopted than returning home to their birthparents. While that may be true in those drastic cases, what many people don't realize is that roughly 80% of all children in foster care are there due to neglect. Neglect due to babies being born to teenaged parents who don't know how to properly care for them... Neglect due to parents with drug or alcohol addictions... Neglect due to parents with untreated mental illnesses... Neglect due to financial hardships beyond their parents' immediate control... Since I began fostering, all of my children have come from one or more of these situations. Five of my seven were also returned into their birthparent(s)' care (four to their birthfathers) after they successfully completed their service plans." (excerpt from my guest post at Attempting Agape)
Stay tuned for Part Two of "Lessons I've Learned Along the Way" in the next couple of days!