Monday, August 29, 2011


Peter is our first born child.

Currently a middle schooler, he swings between extreme maturity and total regression. At his best, he is our first strong support, able to lead the foster children in appropriate behavior just by example. At his worst, he makes me want to shoot him.

O adores him and jumps for joy when he returns home from school. Peter responds to the worship with grace and gentleness. He reaches down to hug this little preschooler with a grin that makes O's day and patiently reads him a book at bedtime. He gets down on the floor and shares his train tracks and racecars -- I suspect enjoying the excuse to play with these toys he claims to have outgrown. L looks to him for approval in little things, even glancing his way at times to determine if a laugh is acceptable or not. He rarely, if ever, abuses the power this gives him, choosing instead to gently guide them in how they should behave in our home.

But, he's still a pre-teen boy. Sometimes, he gets too loud or too rowdy. Sometimes, the pressure of being constantly the leader gets too much and he snaps at someone. Sometimes, he expects too much of the younger children and reacts too strongly when they don't remember to give him some space. I have to remember to allow him spells of rest, time with his peers and not make him grow up too fast too soon. Ultimately, this experience has made me even more proud of him than I was before.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Decision to Make

The next phone call came almost a month to the day after we had agree to take in the 3 siblings whose DFCS office was not able to keep a caseworker on the file long enough to schedule a meeting with us.

L is a 7 year old girl; O is a 3 year old boy. They are likely to be a very short term placement as there's a mother, father and grandmother all involved in the conversation of the best permanent placement for them. However, at that moment, they were sitting in a county DFCS office, looking for a place to sleep that night.

The agency had been turning away placements for children that would have fit well into our home over the past month while they held us available to the 3 G's. They had told that county so and now called us with the most difficult decision either of us had ever had to make. Did we want to continue to wait for the 3 siblings or could we take on these 2 instead?

Over the last month we had reminded ourselves not to let the waiting affect our reaction to the children themselves. Whatever reason for the delay -- Were the DFCS workers incompetent? Possible. Were they overworked and understaffed? Highly likely. The case had changed hands in that office at least twice in that month. -- regardless of who was at fault, it wasn't the children. Could we walk away from them now . . . never having met them?

Ultimately, we decided that we had to help those we could. The 3 we had been waiting for were currently safe, although separated; L and O were sitting in an office with nowhere to sleep that night. Within a few hours, they arrived at our house.

"This will be a pretty short-term placement . . ." Well, we learned with R and A that those words mean nothing. There would be a hearing on their case in 2 or 3 days. After that, we would know more about why they were here and how long they might stay.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Three

The next call came a few months later, after school was out for the summer. I had come to terms with the quick departure of R and A by reminding myself that we had given them a really good day. Maybe that was all we were allowed to offer them; hopefully it was all they needed. If a child returns to the foster system, their former foster parents are called; if they'd been taken into care again, we would know.

This time, there were 3 of them, ages 4, 2 and 1.5. Their father was incarcerated; their mother had surrendered the children into care, stating that she "couldn't cope." Both parents were former foster children themselves and there was no extended family to step in to help. This case was already looking for a family that would ultimately adopt the children. Was that us?

Big deep breath again. OK, we said. If it does turn into an adoption, we will have 6 children of our own and will be done with foster care. But we'll do it.

The three children were already in foster care, but split across 2 homes. The county DFCS office was looking for a permanent family willing to reunite them. Since the children were already in a safe place, we would have a slow transition process in order to make sure it was the best fit. The last thing anybody wanted was for these children to have to be moved any more times than absolutely necessary. We sent off our available dates and times for a "neutral site" initial meeting with the children and waited.

And waited.

And called to follow up only to be told that no one in the county office is returning phone calls, although they said via email that they wanted to set up a meeting with us.

So we were still waiting . . . a month later. When the next call came.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Our First Placement!

They arrived about 9:30 am. We had cleaned the house, made their beds, put a few clothes in their closets that we hoped would fit. We knew dinner was coming, so there was nothing to prepare there. By 9:15, we were both pacing, anxiously waiting their arrival, not sure what to expect, hoping we were ready.

We weren't. R wanted to explore the house immediately. He couldn't settle to one thing long enough to take your eyes off him. A was into everything. I'd forgotten that shelves of books and DVDs are irresistible to 3 year olds! While the caseworker talked to me about the paperwork and the initial things we needed to do, Mr D tried to keep up with both of the kids. Who of course wanted to go in two different directions!

Somehow we got through the paperwork. The caseworker left and we were on our own. Mr D took R out into the backyard to play with a toy football. A attached herself to me. Less than 30 minutes after their arrival, I walked away from her when she wasn't looking. She ran after me, calling "Mommy! Where Mommy?" For a second, I thought she was asking me where her biological mother was. Then she spotted me and joyously cried, "Mommy!" again. She was calling me Mommy already.

Dinner arrived with the volunteer. R and A were excited to see her and she talked with them a little bit. She gave them each a toiletry kit, which A carried around everywhere the rest of the day. She told me to call her if we needed anything, and I confessed I didn't even know what to ask for!

Our three "original" children got home from school and a baseball game began in the back yard. Around 5pm, we were getting dinner on the table. We realized we hadn't bought a baby monitor to put in A's room, so we would hear her if she got up in the night. Her room was at the top of the stairs and we had images of her falling down the stairs at 2am. One of the rules of foster care is that you cannot lock a child in their room, so we couldn't prevent her getting out of the room; we really needed to be able to hear if she got out of bed.

Mr D put a call in to our caseworker, to see if a volunteer would bring us a baby monitor. She said, "You won't need that."

Umm, we won't? We're pretty sure we do!

The caseworker had been about to call us when we called. They'd just gotten out of court. The judge said the kids had to go home.

They had been with us for 7 hours.

When we told R and A that they were going home and someone would come to pick them up after dinner, R asked if they would be taken away again. We didn't know what to say. We couldn't even guess if he was hoping for a yes or a no.

When they drove away, after many hugs and goodbyes and forced smiles, we looked at each other. We were emotionally and physically exhausted. It hadn't even been a day and it was one of the hardest things we'd ever done, letting them go.

Lesson learned: No one ever knows how long a placement is going to last.

The next day, we got the letter in the mail approving us to be foster parents.

Monday, August 8, 2011

And . . . we're off!

Although our family profile is still on file with an adoption attorney, it was full steam ahead towards foster parenting. We went through the hours of initial training. We submitted fingerprints for background checks. We handed over copies of our marriage certificate, our tax returns, and our financial records. We went through medical exams and drug tests. We got letters from the pediatrician and the vet stating that our children and animals were in good health. We submitted letters of reference from employers, friends and family members. We answered questions about our childhood, our parenting philosophies, our activities, and our marital relationship. And finally, someone came out to examine the house and talk with us about our fire safety plan, where our medicines and alcohol were kept, and which rooms would be used by the foster children. At the end of that visit, we were told we would get a letter stating our approval for up to 3 related children, ages 0-7; soon after that we would be called if there were children needing placement for whom our home was a good fit.

The day after her visit, the first call came. R was an "active" 6 year old boy and A was a 3 year old girl who the case worker described as "a pistol." They had been in foster care before, but the former family was no longer fostering, due to a change in the husband's work schedule. It would probably be a somewhat long-term placement, since it wasn't the first time they'd been taken into care. They were currently with a short-term care family, but needed somewhere they could stay as long as they needed to. Would we take them in?

We weren't ready, but we didn't have a good reason to say no. We took a collective deep breath, then asked if we could wait til the next day for them to arrive, so we could go get a few things we needed. Mr D took the day off work, so we were both home when R and A arrived around 9 in the morning.

Since they had been in care before, there was already a network of people who knew these children. One of them brought us dinner for the first night and visited with the children a little bit. She was able to tell us a little bit about their history and gave us the former foster family's phone number. School was still in session, so most of the day it was just Mr D and I and two new kids.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Foster Agency

The first question we had to answer about fostering was how to get registered. We began by contacting our local county DFCS office. We went to an orientation meeting where we learned about the certification process (long) and the needs (huge, especially for sibling groups and children over age 8). At that meeting, another attendee asked about childcare costs for foster children, stating that she and her husband both worked. The social worker explained that DFCS would cover those costs, but that there might be times where there would be a delay in getting the billing set up. For example, she might get a call on Friday at 4:30 with a 2 year old and a 4 year old; they would need childcare on Monday morning and the foster parents might need to pay for the first week and get reimbursed later. All I could think was, those kids should come to us. I'm a stay-at-home mom, so the childcare struggle is one less issue for us to manage.

The training meetings through the county were going to be difficult for us to attend -- 3 hours a night, once a week, for 7 weeks, no childcare available. When we asked the social worker, she explained that we could be certified by other agencies that might have training times that worked better for us. She gave us a list of options and we started searching.

We settled on a non-profit, faith-based foster agency. Essentially, counties outsource the placement of cases to these agencies by calling them to describe the need and asking if they have a certified family that's a good fit. Then, the agency case manager and DFCS case manager work together to make sure that the children are taken care of properly. The involvement of the agency takes some of the work off the DFCS case manager's plate; this is a good thing since county offices are often overwhelmed with too many cases and too few social workers to go around. The agency has the luxury of telling a calling county that they can't take on a case, if they don't have the staff for it; the state doesn't have that option.

For us, one of the biggest benefit of the agency is the volunteer network they coordinate. Because the agency we chose is faith-based, they partner with local churches to surround each foster family with a network of volunteers who are willing to perform small tasks that make a huge difference in the life of a foster family. Some volunteers may be available to baby sit (no small undertaking with foster kids. Childcare for foster children is strictly monitored and the babysitters must go through background checks, drug tests and training of their own.). Some volunteers coordinate the donation of clothing and other items like car seats, baby monitors and high chairs. Some bring food the foster families during the first few days of placement. The agency also gives us access to people who know the system. They know which doctor's offices will take Medicaid, what thrift stores will give us a discount on clothing purchased for foster kids, who to call at a charity to get big ticket items donated. In addition, they provide regular training (complete with childcare staffed with people certified to care for foster kids) to enable us to keep learning more about how to do what we do.

We could not do this without the support of the agency.