I’ve put off writing this for months. But it keeps coming back up because of the thousands of questions I receive about being a foster parent, how to become one, what it’s like, etc. I feel that I need to use my voice for the 700,000 children in this country who live in foster care.
Before I continue, there are a couple of very important things that I need to make clear:
1- I have the upmost respect and love for foster parents who provide love, homes, support and advocacy for our country’s most vulnerable children. There are also good social workers, and I commend you for working so hard, with such little that you get back, for the children. Your hands are tied on so many things, and I appreciate your sacrifices. You do the hardest work.
2- The system, in some cases, works. However, many times, it fails.
3- This is not to discourage you if you want to become a foster parent, we need great ones. However, there is a reason there are tens of thousands of children in every state, across the country, unable to have placements. It’s because its hard. And I wish I knew what I know now, a very long time ago. It’s important that you understand and know what you are signing up for so you can make your decision with your eyes wide open.
4- The goal of foster care is always first family reunification
5- We were NOT foster parents the first 3 years of being parents. We were permanent guardians. We had no desire, ever, to become foster parents. So our role when we became foster parents was simply just being Mom and Dad, like we already had been for 3 years. At no point during our time as parents, did we ever go into it believing or were told that there would be a time we would not be with our children. Forever and always, we knew that we would be together.
That is, until we weren’t.
I’ve told part of the story as to how we lost the children overnight, so that is not something I want to talk about right now. Right now, I want you to know the truth about what it’s like to be a foster parent.
Before I was a foster parent, I didn’t know. I didn’t know how hard, horrific, exhausting, and painful it is. You can never know until you have to live in it. The amount of stories of pain I have heard and seen because we entered into that world has shattered my heart this past year. Our children deserve more.
The social worker showed up unannounced to our home the first time we met them. In fact, we didn’t even know that we had a social worker or that anything in our life was changing. Our permanent guardianship had just been terminated by the biological family member who signed it over to us, because of an incredibly unexpected contested adoption. Because of that, the state had to do an investigation even though we had been a family for over half of their lives.
The children went from not knowing anything was wrong, to a stranger showing up to our home, and then asking our very young kids, incredibly dangerous questions.
Questions that they are not supposed to ask. Questions like, “What family do you love more? What family do you want to live with?”
They were asked about how they are punished, what life was like before our home (which had been years before), what they were fed for dinner, if I drink or take anything when I get stressed out… and that was within the first 3 minutes.
Child Welfare Programs often hide behind a mask of not having enough funding, so the case workers are over worked, have too many children on their case load so they’re not able to keep up with any of them…
but the reality is that there is a lot of money behind child welfare programs… but children stay in care for years and years and years, while thousands of dollars are poured into ninth and tenth changes for parents to finally and hopefully change. The children remain living in limbo and uncertainty for years.
When you become a foster parent, just to become licensed, here is what was required of us:
-Intense background checks
– 8 weeks of all day classes on a Saturday learning about child safety, how to help children through grief, how to discipline, etc
– In home visits where someone would come interview both Mike and I, AND our kids to make sure we were “okay” parents
– Interviews of the children, asking them what we feed them for dinner, what happens to them if they get in trouble, if they’re yelled at or hit, etc, etc, etc.
– We were required to get finger print clearance, had to have a fire extinguisher on both levels of our home, had to have all medicine in a special type of locked area, a certain type of pool fence, certain type of fire alarms and carbon monoxide alarms, etc.
-TB test and a physical from a physician
– Mike and I were interviewed both together and separately questions like:
Had we ever been sexually abused
What mental health issues we might have
How much money we make
What our relationship is like
What experiences with loss we’ve been through
How we find relief from stress
If we smoke, drink, or take pills
-To leave the COUNTY in which we lived, we had to ask someone else for permission.
– As a foster care parent, people stop in unannounced to check in to make sure you’re being a good parent.
– As a foster care parent, people stop in once a month to repeat the same interviews with you and the children.
These are just some of the things we had to do to become certified foster parents.
When you have children in your care, you will get a surprise visit every month making sure you’re “doing a good job”, and a monthly scheduled visit from your case worker who will interview you and the kids. You will also be reasonable to take them to their parent visits, and any other type of appointments, advocate for them at the team safety meetings, at the foster care review boards, go to every court hearing, etc. It is almost impossible to be a foster care parent if you have a full time job.
When kids come into your care, you will go through an intake, to see what type of mental health or physical health services they need. On average, because of the lack of mental health care in this country, the children will have to wait at least 2 months just for their initial visit. These are children who have been abused, neglected, and taken from their lives and homes… and have no access to help.
What court is like:
It doesn’t matter how great of a human being you are, you are going to be attacked in court. Even though the reason that the kids came into your care has nothing to do with you. In your foster care training classes, you’ll learn this. You’ll learn this and they’ll try to prepare you for the stress that is about to engulf your life… but nothing can prepare you. They’ll teach you how to respond to allegations of abuse, of neglect, and of lies that are directed at you. Our agency always said, “It’s not IF it happens… it’s WHEN… so let’s prepare for it.”
Your agency will give you an injury log, so that if your foster child gets a bruise, or a scratch, or any normal kid injury, you have a log to write it down so that you can’t be accused of being the source of the injury.
When there is pain, when bad decisions have been made, usually people can’t admit fault, so it has to become someone else’s. When we’d go to court, which was at least once a month, the majority of the time I listened to lies about me by the opposing side. We spent over SIX FIGURES in ONE year not only trying to protect our children, but also defending my integrity, my honor, my name. Biological parents have attorneys that the state pays for… but not you. You get to pay for your own… if they allow you to have one (and often, they won’t).
In the court room, several people are there giving their opinions. But in the end, the judge makes the final calls. Its heart breaking because the same case can have literally 100 outcomes based on the people who are assigned your case. There are no definite rules, there are no rights for the children… the child welfare program is to give parent’s chances to get their kids back… there is little to do with best interest for the children. As a foster parent, you have entered to a realm of complete powerlessness. However, it is important that you advocate for your foster child. No matter who listens and who doesn’t, that is your role. You must use your voice and have a support system who can help you through it all.
As a foster parent, you are given all of the responsibility, but none of the power. If you know our story, you know our kids were taken from us when I was out of town… after four years of being their mother, they were taken and I could not even make it back to say goodbye.
We received one email from the state social worker. It said,
“Make sure you pack the kids birth certificates and passports.”
That was it. That was all.
There were several times we were told that people were too busy with other things to get done what needed to get done in our case.
If you want to become a foster parent, do your research. Make sure you have a foster care agency that you get liscensed through who can help you advocate for your rights. Go into it knowing that it will affect you, your spouse, your biological children, and your close family.
40-50% of kids in foster care will not complete high school.
66% of them will be in jail, homeless, or die within a year of turning 18 and out of the system.
The statistics are alarming. Politicians elect whatever officials they want to head the child welfare system. In Arizona, the past Chief of Police is over the entire Department of Child Safety. He has no experience in mental health, no experience in development of children, no experience with foster care. Theres a big law suit in Arizona right now, where all kids in foster care are suing the state for neglect. It’s the same story, over and over again, but there’s no change.
After a child is adopted, there are three level of appeals that a parent can take to overrule the adoption. There are many cases where children are adopted and are with their adoptive family for years, and then the adoption is overturned. It is heartbreaking.
If the child you have adopted has any part Native American in them, at any time, even after adoption, their tribe shows up and says they want the child, immediately they have to be given back.
So, here’s what YOU can do!
1-Become a CASA in your state. CASA’S are so needed and stand for a Court Appointed Special Advocate. You advocate for the child, and do activities with them once a month. You are allowed to speak for their best interest in court and can play a huge role in the outcome of a case. There is currently a shortage of CASA’S in the country because of how many kids are in foster care. You can look into it and apply HERE.
2-Find a local foster care agency, and see how you can donate time or resources to them and families. We used the agency AASK.
3-Get involved with organizations that help provide relief to foster families in your area. Organizations like Austin Angels.
I hope change can come. I hope strong people will intervene in these children’s lives as sources of strength and hope. I hope less people will have to experience the heartache that the system brought on us.