How to harness numbers to set better expectations
When you decide you’re going to become a foster parent, you sign up for 30+ hours of classes, find an agency that will pick your personal story and life apart, and you’ll literally label containers in your linen closet so you know where Hydrocortisone cream is for your home inspection. The preparation to become a foster parent is unreal—and crucial.
I feel like Nick and I did a lot of preparing of our home, our hearts, and our heads on how to parent children in foster care. We did extra reading on trauma-informed parenting, sensitive discipline, and boundary setting with extended family and friends.
What we didn’t dive deep into was the data behind the machine of foster care and the Department of Child Services.
Now, I can’t say that digging into data really is the most important, crucial part of foster care. At the end of the day, your role and job is to care for the child in your home.
However, if you’re anything like Nick and I and you want to be eyes wide open on all the hard, challenging parts of this journey it can be helpful to know the numbers behind what will happen with your child’s case.
The ever-present tension of foster care
In its best form, foster care is like an amicable divorce. Both parties communicate regularly and make every effort to do what is best for the child stuck in the middle. In my opinion, self awareness and humility is a huge part of what can make foster care (and divorce) successful for the child. You need to know your limitations, faults, and be able to bend toward the other adult for the sake of the child.
In the case of our little man and our journey in foster care, self awareness is very high on our end as foster parents working closely with our little man’s family. We over analyze what we wear to court, carefully practice statements we might read in a foster care review board meeting, and always make a point to pray and take a deep breath before approaching challenging conversations.
Beyond communication and self awareness, there are practical efforts we can make to respond to this tension between our roles in his life.
In our home, we regularly mention our little man's mama. We call her by her name, talk about what she does when they're not together, and share in our excitement when it's time for him to visit her twice a week. We have photos of her in frames within eye level and make a point for all the boys to know her and her role in his life.
When opportunities arise, we have phone calls on speaker phone and have occasionally had additional visits just us and her. When people say he looks like us, we smile and share how he has her beautiful smile, infectious laugh, and stunning hair color. Nick and I are the biggest influences on our son's life right now so its our responsibility to him, to keep her presence alive and well in his mind, not knowing the future of his case.
The emotional toll of managing this responsibility gets a little more challenging. At the end of day, as a mother and woman, I am regularly confronted with the reality that I am his primary parent and she is his mother. I will always do what is required and called for as a parent, but when decisions are made for his life, I do not hold the coveted title that would otherwise define my role in his life.
In his life, we likely hold a high place, but in the eyes of the court, we are, as foster parents, the last in line because we are a part of the system’s work. We are rolled into the child services bundle of services and play a service provider role
The practical aspects of honoring biological families is a lot easier than managing the emotional tension of parenting someone else's child.
1. The flexibility of your schedule
Foster care is nothing but an intrusion into your normal daily life. Obviously it's full of beautiful moments, huge stories of redemption, and incredible transformation, but the nitty gritty reality of foster care requires flexibility and patience.
In just the first 24 hours of being placed with a child, you should have at least two visits from professionals (licensing related and social work related), and a doctor's appointment. I'm assuming that's the mild end of things. Hearings, visitations, and follow up appointments come shortly after that first day.
When we were placed with our little man, it was a Tuesday. Nick and I had prepared our bosses for what was to come but in reality had no clue of what we might be demanding. In the remainder of that short, first week, we had two doctor's visits, a home visit from our licensing agency, and a visit from a child social worker. The second week included parent visits, a hearing for the case, another follow up doctor's appointment, and numerous phone calls from all parts of the foster care system to make sure our little guy was being taken care of. We were juggling board meetings, contract negotiations, and work events while also parenting our biological son.
Flexibility is key.
In honor of Foster Care Awareness Month, I shared our journey as foster parents in Raising Arizona Kids Magazine. Here's a brief look at our journey.
“Hi! It’s nice to meet you,” I respond a bit forcefully, after being asked for the millionth time before 12:00pm whether all my children ‘are mine.’ We’re at the public library and my double stroller tricked another passerby. When you walk toward me and take in the scene, you can see one of my three children sitting in the front and another either holding my hand or the stroller, walking beside me. It’s only when you walk past me or come toward me from another angle that you can see the additional seat situated behind the front seat.
I have three boys under the age of two-- they are all 8-months apart in age. They are all mine, yet they are not all mine as we are foster parents to one of these precious boys.
Click here to finish reading on Page 12 of Raising Arizona Kids' May Issue.
And other Foster Care Basics