Thursday, January 23, 2014

Things I've Learned Along the Way (Part Two)

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 and hope that it helps some of you who are just beginning foster/adopt journeys of your own.  If you missed Part One of "Things I've Learned Along the Way," you can find it here.

Not-for-profits and other assistance - Contrary to public opinion, most foster parents aren't raking in the money.  Those of us who want the best for our children often have to seek assistance in order to help make that happen.  There are so many organizations and churches out there whose sole purpose is to assist foster children, fostering families, and youth aging out of care with scholarships for summer camps, clothing assistance, help during the holidays, providing initial placement necessities, etc.  Ask your caseworker, CASA, or your church if they know of any or search the internet specifically for "organizations supporting foster children in ______ county."  You might be surprised what all you can find!

Organization skills- With the never-ending mountain of paperwork, appointments, logs, and notes that foster parents must keep, it is sooooo important to find an organizational system that works well for you.  Keeping organized is one of the best things a foster parent can do in order to maintain their sanity.  It took a little while, but I finally developed a routine that works great for me (see the link above).  Now when a caseworker calls to ask seemingly random questions like, "How many visits has Bug had with his grandma?" I can quickly look it up and respond.  Don't invite more chaos by becoming overwhelmed by the paperwork.  Routine, routine, routine!  Trust me!  You won't regret it.

Privacy (or lack thereof) - One of the first things you learn about in foster care training is the privacy policy regarding your foster children.  Foster parents are not allowed to share ANYTHING with ANYONE regarding their placements.  Technically, we're not even supposed to identify them as foster children (although, seriously...  You show up to church with three new children one week, and people are gonna figure it out.)  No shared photos...  Not even Christmas cards of your family with children who have been with you for two years!  It's frustrating, but understandable to an extent.  What they don't tell you is that while your foster children have absolute privacy, you will have none.  That fact becomes very apparent during your homestudy when a stranger walks into your home and asks you extremely personal and somewhat embarrassing questions about your life.  As time moves on, you will be required to open your home to caseworkers, therapists, CASA volunteers, attorneys, random licensing workers, etc.  Some will walk in and make themselves at home, searching through your pantry for expired foods, digging through your medicine cabinets, and asking you more personal questions that you'd rather not answer.  And the lack of privacy doesn't stop there!  They'll even go after your friends and family by asking any frequent visitors to complete background checks.  I can see it now, "Hi Mr. Apartment Maintenance Man.  You are in my home more than twice a month, so I'm going to have to ask you to give me your social security number, your driver's license number, and all of your addresses for the past five years."  I have learned to limit background checks only to the people who will be babysitting my kids, and as far as anyone else is concerned, I have no other friends.  :-)

Questions - Don't be afraid to ask questions!  Ask questions before accepting a placement.  Ask questions throughout your children's cases.  Ask questions about birth families.  Ask questions if a situation arises that you are unsure how to handle.  You might not get an answer, but you'll never know unless you ask.

Remember that the goal of foster care is almost always reunification with family first - This is one lesson that many fostering families learn the hard way, even though they know that reunification is the goal.  Adoption-motivated families can have a very difficult time separating their desire to adopt from the ultimate goal of foster care...  To help families heal and reunite.  It can be especially difficult when caseworkers walk in and almost immediately ask if you would be willing to adopt.  I learned the hard way not to set myself up for even more heartbreak by believing that questions and conversations about adoption mean that the case is actually headed that way.  In fact, I have become so reunification-minded and an advocate for bio families who clearly love their children that I still have a hard time believing that I am about to finalize Bug's adoption.

Send important email correspondence to multiple people at once - It never fails.  I can email a caseworker ten times a day for a month, mark it as "Urgent," bribe with chocolate and Diet Coke and not get a single response until I decide to copy multiple people on my messages.  It's amazing how quickly things get accomplished when you've emailed the caseworker and copied their supervisor, your agency, your child's GAL, CASA, etc.

Transportation assistance - As a single, full-time working foster mom I know that I am simply not able to take off work to transport to/from visits.  I tell the placement workers up front that I will need someone else to transport to/from visits.  While different agencies and counties have their own policies regarding foster parents providing transportation, my county has always provided transportation for my little ones' weekly visits because they know before even placing them with me that they will need to do so.  I do try to transport occasionally so I can talk to the birth family and answer any questions they might have, but for the most part, my county has workers who transport and supervise visits for foster parents who need help in that area.

Utilize the knowledge and experience of long-time foster parents - No one...  I do mean no one...  understands the ins and outs of the foster care system like a long-time experienced foster parent.  Search for blogs, search for online support groups, and develop relationships with other foster parents who have been there.  Some of my closest friends are fellow foster moms who I have met online over the past five years.  Don't be afraid to reach out!  We're nice, and we're pretty smart cookies, too!  :-)

Vocalize any major concerns, but learn to let go of the "small stuff" - As foster parents, we have to learn to accept that everyone has different standards when it comes to parenting.  What might be unthinkable to us might be perfectly normal for our children's birth parents.  I would never in a millions years give my 3-month-old Kool-Aid and goldfish, but wouldn't you know, your baby returns from a visit with exactly that in his diaper bag.  Your first instinct might be to immediately tell their caseworker, but you know what?  The caseworker is going to say, "At least they are feeding him!"  Learn to voice major concerns (like when Bug came back from a supervised visit reeking of marijuana which ultimately led to a random drug test and ceased visitation upon the results), but try to look at the big picture when it comes to minor concerns.  No, they might no parent the way we would, but if it's not a behavior that would result in removal from the home in the first place, don't work yourself up over it.  Lead by example when you can, but learn to let go of the "small stuff."

WIC eligibility - I had no idea that my little ones were automatically eligible for WIC until another foster parent asked why I wasn't using it for Booger Bear.  He had already been with me for eight months at that point!  Since then, I've utilized my kiddos' WIC benefits until they turn one year old.  Saving $150 or more a month on formula and baby food is a huge blessing and worth the slight inconvenience of having to go up to the WIC office once every three months.  I haven't ever used it after my little ones have turned one, but I probably would if I had several children who qualified.

And that's just PART of the CLOTHES!
X-treme hoarding of all things "child" - I have learned that something happens to ordinarily reasonable women when they become foster parents.  I prefer to call it "nesting," but some might call it "hoarding."  There's just something about knowing that we could get a call for any age or any gender that sends us into "Always Be Prepared" mode.  Over the years I have made a fervent half-hearted effort to minimize my stockpile of baby gear, clothing, toys, and other infant/toddler supplies, but it seems my "foster mama hoarder" tendencies run too deep.  I have, however, managed to think smart when it comes to my awesome collection.  "Convertible" is the name of the game!  When making purchases for baby gear and other larger items, I have learned to invest the money in items that will grow with the child or that can be easily converted for any age.  I can get a call for a 2-year-old, a newborn, or a 13-year-old and can use the same frame as my cribs convert to toddler beds and then full-size beds.  The same goes for things like bathtubs, highchairs, toys, etc.  Well...  Maybe not for the 13-year-old, but you get the idea.

You will likely never have to use a lot of what they teach in your yearly required training classes - "Water Safety..."  While I suppose technically I do use what is taught in that hour long class on a daily basis, I am fairly certain I could have figured out not to leave my 1-year-old unsupervised by the pool all on my very own.  "Emergency Behavior Intervention..."  I believe I have taken that particular class at least six times now, and I have never had to use a single thing.  I foster infants and toddlers.  Any "therapeutic holding" that I do is of the "rocking to sleep in the rocking chair" persuasion.

Z...  Um, yeah.  I can't think of a "Z" so I'll leave you with another "Y" - You won't always attach to the children who are placed with you...  and THAT'S OKAY!  Don't beat yourself up for not feeling that instant bond with a baby.  Don't let yourself get down because you can't seem to connect with an older child in your care.  What matters is that these children feel loved, safe, secure, wanted, and cherished while they are with you.  Sometimes the bond of love grows softly over time.  Other times, it might never fully develop, and THAT'S OKAY!  It is okay to say "no" to adopting a child with whom you don't have that connection.  By saying "no," you are giving that child an opportunity to find a permanent place with a family who does.  I believe that all long-time foster parents have been in this situation at one time or another, and are often afraid to admit that they don't feel that attachment...  As though something must be wrong with us and if we just try harder, that bond will come...  I have learned over the years that my feelings are absolutely valid and shouldn't be taken lightly or overlooked.  You won't always attach to the children in your care...  and THAT IS OKAY!

And there you have it...  Tammy's words of wisdom (for what they're worth ;-) and what I have learned over the past five years as a foster (soon-to-be adoptive) mom.


Brittany Lee said...


I recently found you blog and have really enjoyed it. I just started writing my own as I am just starting the process of becoming a single foster mom :)I mentioned your blog in my post today.
Your posts are hilarious, informative, inspiring, and comforting. Thank you!


Unknown said...

As a long time licensing worker, I find some of your information very informative, and I will share with some of my foster parents. Regarding the "Privacy" section. It's true, I tell people it is intrusive and uncomfortable, but I don't like that you suggest that people lie about who is in the home and who isn't. I don't limit it to baby sitters, but anyone who has inferred influence over the child by their age, relationship and repeated unsupervised presence in the home. A college age child, visiting family, boyfriends, etc. I'd rather people embrace the process and use it to their advantage to remind people that they have to provide background check information if they want to stay in the home. Maybe your cousin and all her kids will want to stay elsewhere for the summer. Someone once told me that I could never do checks on everybody who helps her with the child, and I have to accept that. But if I do see the same people every time, then they need to do the checks, and that's it. And hey, there's a time when everyone should stop fostering if they don't want to continue to subject friends and family to this.

Roxanne Sclottman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roxanne Sclottman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roxanne Sclottman said...

Excellent information. I'm struggling with visitions. Our child's mother is our niece so we definitely thought supervised visits would be easier than they are. I want to keep communication open. However, the role she needs from me seems to be reminding her to do what she has to. She wants me to call her with all updates yet she will not call to speak to her child. She misses court and visits and then gets mad at me for not reminding her of the appointment. I work full time and I'm now raising her child and balancing all of the appointments required for fostering along with caring for my own family. How can I separate wanting to have open communication with her from making her handle responsibilities.

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