April 24, 2014

Foster Parenting, A Teachers Perspective

Had a student in foster care? Heard about parents abusing the system on the news? Generally curious about the process? Great! Continue reading. (There aren't any instructions if you answered no to all of those questions. What's that joke about there being two type of people? Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data and...)

I decided that I'm settled enough to finally do what I've been expecting/planning to do since my brother was born - become a parent. I bought a condo with extra space, cleaned it up to a welcoming state and started foster care class.  

Turns out foster care class is a lot like education classes. We learn about the repercussions of trauma vs. typical stages of development. I took psych 101, adolescent psych and educational psych in college, nothing new there. Not to mention I observed in a school for kids with emotional and behavioral disorders, and since then have worked in three different high needs high schools. Then we talked about behavior management. This is essentially classroom management, except you get to revoke cell phone privileges for 24 hours instead of 90 minutes. There hasn't been much new information for me coming from an education background, but it is different to consider what I could handle in my home, after a day of teaching, as opposed to in my classroom for short stints of time. Plus it's always fun to think back through all my students; the day when a kid who was selectively mute spoke to me for the first time was such a victory and one I had forgotten about. 

Just like at school where you have guidance counselors, administration and the school nurse to help out with your students, foster care takes the "it takes a village to raise a child" message seriously. Every foster family is assigned a social worker that stays with them through multiple placements. Each child has a social worker, an attorney, a therapist, a physician (ideally the one they have grown up with), an educational advocate (for kids with IEP's) and of course their birth family. I have a feeling the number of appointments I'm going to be driving to will be mind boggling, but I feel much better knowing there are so many people who are there for every kid. Are they overworked? I'm sure. But so are teachers and that doesn't stop us from caring and noticing and doing our jobs. The state has set in place quite a few deadlines (phone contact with family in first 24 hours, doctor visit in first week, team planning meeting in first month) so that none of these important steps get overlooked. These are things that as a teacher I had no idea were in place, I'm glad to know they are. 

Also news to me: frequently social services is already working with a family when they make the decision to take custody of the child(ren). I assumed if I filed a 51A they would take custody as soon as the allegations were confirmed. Of course they remove any child who is in danger immediately, but that's not the only way a child can end up in foster care and it isn't the only role of DCF. 

They are seriously desperate for foster parents across the country. Especially families who are willing to take in adolescents (at one point there weren't any in my town who would take teens, I'm not sure if that's still the case but it seems likely). Normally the process is apply, have a brief interview and home inspection (Do you have smoke detectors and a room that's not a closet? Great!), take the class and then start the home study (more in depth interview and home inspection). But because I'm willing to take teens my social worker is getting most of my home study done before the end of class. When I told her that I'm traveling all of July (PCMI and TMC!!) I expected her to be disappointed that I wouldn't be able to take a placement until August, but instead she replied, "Are you open to short term placements before then?"

While there is a shortage of homes for kids, the process is still thorough. Beyond the 30 hours of class I've had four hours of interviews so far and there are a few questions left that the social worker needs to ask after I've finished the remaining 3 weeks of class. Plus it took me a long time to complete my family profile (and I'm only a family of one!). I imagine the home inspection is different for someone looking to take in small children but even so two different social workers have toured my home. I've already been CORI-ed and will be fingerprinted in a couple weeks (a CORI is local while fingerprinting is national) and I needed four references (employer, doctor and two personal ones).

Fitting this entire experience into a single post is a bit unreasonable, so I hope you'll ask questions about the things I've skipped. I don't intend to turn this blog into a teaching/foster care blend, but any insight we can get to the experiences of our students helps make us better teachers, so I may share occasional experiences with the foster care system that inform my teaching. What would help inform your teaching?


  1. Awesome.

    Just awesome that you're taking this enormous step for these kids (and yourself!)

    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?

    1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. Thanks for this. My wife and I are hoping to foster in the future. I certainly will appreciate the insight!

  4. Thanks for this. My wife and I are hoping to foster in the future. I certainly will appreciate the insight!

  5. Hi! I'm so excited that you're doing this, especially taking older children. Have you settled on a specific age range? Number of kids at a time? My husband and I are licensed to have two children between the ages of 0 and 5. We chose that age range because it puts us within the same range as all of our friends with kids.

    So far we've had three kiddos - a 10 month old for 2 weeks, a newborn baby for 5 months, and a 19-month old for nearly 6 months so far. Considering what we were told by our caseworker, we never expected to get such young children once, much less three times in a row! We sort of expected getting a 4 or 5 year old, but thanks to the way emergency placements happen, we have been the ones to answer the call when these three kiddos entered the system.

    Did your foster care class talk about trauma-informed care at all? While I have 8 years of experience teaching kids, this approach to caring for neglected and abused children was new to me. It made me reflect a lot on particular students I had in the past who weren't in foster care, but clearly they were experiencing issues beyond the norm. After my foster care training, I can guarantee I would have worked with those kiddos in a very different way. I feel like teachers in my area would benefit greatly from this kind of training.

    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. It was a very long and involved process. It amazes me that there are folks who will go through all that so that they can milk the system for foster reimbursement money.

    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.

    I know you're not planning to turn this into a fostering blog, but I do look forward to hearing how things are going and about your experiences. Best of luck to you!

  6. Responses to all these questions and more in this post: http://drawingonmath.blogspot.com/2014/04/fostering-questions.html