April 28, 2014

Fostering Questions

After my post on foster care last week people have asked some questions. I scheduled this last night to autopost while I'm at class tonight. If I learn something fascinating this evening I'll tag it on to the bottom of the post later. Or save it for another post, I did sign up for 30 days in a row of blogging...

I've taught a few foster kids (HS level), and (fortunately) most of them were well-integrated into loving families, and were mostly okay. But there's one that still bothered me. One kid was about to turn 18, and her family said that when that happened, she'd be kicked out of the house. Her birthday was in the spring, so mid-semester, she was trying to balance finding a place to stay, earn money, maintain her dance-team-captain status and her academics, and... live. I still don't know how to support a kid in that situation. What would you do?

Great question! Kids who turn 18 are automatically signed out of foster care, but here (and I think in many other states) they can choose to sign themselves back in. DCF will continue to support any kid who is in school or working until age 22 I believe. Even if you're in a state where signing back in isn't an option, that kid isn't doing all of that on their own. Of course it's still more than anyone should have to juggle, but they have a variety of supports. All you can do as a teacher is listen and be a bit flexible with assignments (help her focus on the essentials and learn to prioritize).

Anne Schwartz (@sophgermain)
Is there an age group you're assigned too?

I get to pick any age group. Right now I'm in the vague category of "adolescents" Before things are finalized then I will probably need to define that in terms of age. Then if any kid who fits my age range (and other qualifications - you can choose to specify gender and other possible issues, like I wouldn't take in a kid with a history of violence) there is someone at the office whose job is placement. She will call me and say "I have this kid, here's the info: ..." And then I get to ask questions. And apparently she's really nice and always says "Don't feel bad about saying no" which is great because the goal is to place a child in a home where they can stay for the duration of their placement. Sometimes DCF doesn't have all the information ahead of time and 'disruption' (moving a child to a new foster home) is unavoidable, but the goal is to be as clear as possible about what you can handle ahead of time so that kids can have some degree of stability.

Do you only get one kid or is there a chance at siblings?

The regulations state there can be a maximum of four foster children in a house at once. No social worker is crazy enough to give me four next month, but that's the limit. They try to keep sibling groups together whenever possible. If there are more than four kids that's not possible. There are also regulations about having same gender bedrooms (there was something about under age five if they're within two years of each other something something too complicated for me to remember) so since I only have one spare bedroom (and only kids in cribs can sleep in the parent bedroom) I can only have one gender at a time. So brothers? Maybe someday. Sisters? Could happen. Brother and sister? Not at this house.

Sue VanHattum

I went through the training and getting my home licensed, because I chose to adopt through social services, and in California the program is foster/adopt. When my son first came to live with me, it was considered foster care, until the adoption was finalized. I hope your experiences are fulfilling.

Not a question, but good information. The same is true here, everyone in my class is interested in fostering at first but some are open to adopting later.

Have you settled on a specific age range? Number of kids at a time?

I haven't specified a precise range yet but I get the sense that if high schoolers are included in my range I will get lots of them. I need to take school aged kids because of my schedule. I'm starting with one kid at a time and then might be open to sibling groups or multiple placements if I survive the first placement(s) without too much stress.

Did your foster care class talk about trauma-informed care at all? ... I feel like teachers in my area would benefit greatly from this kind of training.

They didn't use this phrase, but much of our time has been spent on the effects of trauma and how to approach students knowing this. I absolutely agree that all teachers should have training on how to work with kids who have experienced trauma

So are you officially licensed yet or is that still in process? We started our foster care classes in April of 2012 and we didn't get our license until November of that year.

I'm still in process. Two more weeks of class and then it should be rather rapid after class is over since I've done so much of the home study already. I think I sent in the application over Christmas break so it took about 5 months. The regulations in MA say that the social worker has 30 days to complete the home study after the class ends. That might be 30 working days but it's still a lot less time than your licensing process took!

Last question, are you planning to adopt or are you just going to foster? My husband and I are wanting to adopt so that makes fostering a bit more difficult because we're always hoping that the current kid will wind up staying with us permanently. Losing the baby that we brought home from the hospital was one of the most painful things I've ever experienced. I naively thought that because I've said good-bye to so many children every school year, that I'd be okay parting with a foster child. As it turns out, it's completely different and so, so much harder for me to do.

Right now I'm only looking at fostering. Maybe when I max out the pay scale I will look into adopting, I hear kids are expensive! The difficulty of parting with a child is another reason why I want older kids. They have a better understanding of the process and have already formed an attachment with their parent. I can't imagine how hard it was for you with the baby you took home from the hospital. I will say that the foster classes have been really good at explaining why reunification is the goal and they have been sharing all sorts of situations where it makes sense that a parent would need some temporary support. We had a guest speaker come in; her entire story was powerful (she was both in foster care as a child and has needed the support of DCF as a parent) but the part that stuck with me the most was the situation where DCF came into her life as an adult - she lost her job, her husband lost his job and her mother passed away (bringing up a flood of unresolved issues from a seriously traumatic childhood). No wonder she needed some outside support, but once she got help and was back on her feet she absolutely deserved to resume parenting her children. By the time she came to talk to us she had accomplished so much and her children are happy and healthy. That story was never the one that I had in mind when thinking of a parent whose child went into foster care, and I'm glad it is now.


  1. Tina, I think it's amazing that you're planning to foster... we were a foster family growing up. It was rewarding and enlightening. It was tough at times (we were mostly teenagers, too, being out on the farm) but still I'm glad we did it.

    1. What an experience for you to have as a kid. I'd love to hear more about it from your perspective!

  2. Thanks so much for the follow up post. That's great that you're willing to be, at least for now, just a foster parent. I can attest that adding the "to adopt" phrase muddies the waters quite a bit. We try very hard to remain objective and focus on what's best for the kid - whether it's reunification, being placed with relative, or staying with us - but of course there is the selfish reason we are doing this in the first place. We want to adopt, and we know that, which can make the fostering part especially challenging emotionally.

    By the way, I cannot even imagine having 4 kids in this house. Honestly, I used to think I wanted two kids, but even that has changed. One kid is just fine, at least for now. She is a bundle of energy and I don't think I could manage another one at the same time.

    I'm excited for you. I can't wait for the licensing process to end so you can be available for your first placement. It sounds like you are going to be a fantastic support for any child that ends up in your home.

    1. Thank you! Yeah, I grew up in a two kid family but all four of us are rather introverted so it was very quiet. I could handle a couple no drama kids or one bundle of energy but never four boisterous youngsters!