|1 Peter 1:2|
** WARNING ** - This is going to be a long post.....
This is all the basic ins and outs of how our family being a foster family will affect the lives of everyone around us. It may or may not be things you already know or would necessarily think about, but they are important things to know as everyone adjusts to our new family dynamic.
1) Our Placement Expectations
It is our state's policy to license you for the most they possibly can, when you are willing to do so. This is in the case you are needed for a back up, emergency, or respite care placements. Our state caps households at 5 children, meaning we can place up to four, because Red already lives with us. Likewise, our state requires us to be a certain number of years older than our placements, so our age group is capped at 14.
What we will be licensed for, and the placements we expect to accept, are two very different matters. We imagine that we may have placements of up to three children, newborn to 5 years old. We are happy to accept older children, when they are part of a sibling group placement or as emergency and respite placements, but we are trying to preserve an age gap where we can so that no children joining our family are too close in age or older than Red (since she is an aunt, not a sibling). We have chosen to cap ourselves at three children for one simple reason, currently, that is the number of available seat belts in our cars. One day, we'll break down and get a minivan, but, for now, it's not the first project on our list. Ultimately, we know and trust that the Lord will open doors when we least expect them, and His plans are so much better than our own. The perfect placements are out there for us, and we are learning to trust in His timing.
2) What to Call the Children
Call them by their names and refer to them as our children. Our goal is to incorporate them into our family, not make a distinction or separation between them and us. For every intent and purpose, they are our children, unless they are away visiting their parents or removed from our home. However, even then, they will always be important members of our family. Sometimes circumstances will demand otherwise, but, whenever possible and legally correct to do so, we will claim them as our own, and we ask that you not refer to them using the foster label when they (and we) are around to hear it.
3) What They Call Us
They will call us whatever they feel is right, within reason. We will be introducing ourselves by our names when we meet them (well, technically, my name and DH's nickname), and things will evolve from there as they become more adjusted and acquainted with our home and family. Over time, they may call us some version of Mom or Dad, but we will never ask them to do so. If they come to this decision, it will be on their own. Please be aware of what they call us, so you know who they are talking about. This is important because if they do call us Mom or Dad, but they did not do that the last time you saw them, it would not be good for you to try and explain that they have been removed from their birth parents' home, when they are really asking where we are or what we are doing.
4) What They Call You
They will probably call you some variation of what we call you. If they do come up with a nickname for you, as long as it is appropriate, please do not correct them. Children usually give names based on some connection they make between who you are, how you are connected to us, and your role in their life. If you absolutely hate the name, please have a conversation with us about it. We will try to get to the bottom of why you have been given this name, and we will work with them to call you by something more preferable. In the mean time, we'll wait and see what they come up with. It's a learning experience for everyone.
5) The Parents
This is a tricky topic. Please never assume you know or understand the circumstances surrounding the children being temporarily removed from their birth families. The social workers, therapists, DH, and I are probably the only people who should ever talk to the kids about their bio-parents. And, yes, special training on how to approach this subject was involved. If the topic comes up when you are speaking to the kids, the best response is a quick change of subject, an "I don't know," or a "You can ask [enter our latest name/title here]."
Fostering is designed to be temporary. There is a lot we will never know about each child's life before they enter the system and (depending on how well we co-parent with the family) after they are reunited with their families. Our goal is NEVER to make a child feel like there is something wrong with their parents, but rather to reinforce and encourage the positive.
Basically, we have a confidentiality agreement with the state that clarifies we can not give out information on the children, unless it is on a necessary/need-to-know basis. So we understand that you are curious, but we really can't (and won't) be sharing what we do know. Likewise, we can not post their names and pictures all over social media. I'm sure you've seen blogs with pictures of kids with marked out faces. (I'm really not a fan of that.) Haven't figured out what I'll do yet, but I'll try to share, even if it is just pictures of the backs of their heads. The blog will have a blog nickname for each child, chances are they will not be called that name in real life. However, if you know us, we are sure you will be able to figure out who is who.
Confidentiality is a funny thing because, as the foster family, we have to try to preserve ours, while having our entire lives on display. Literally! Our application to the state actually said that when I get stressed I take hot baths, after everyone's asleep, to unwind, and, when DH carries tension in his shoulders I massage them to help him relax. (I actually blushed, several times, reading our copy of what was sent to the state. I don't remember ever sharing those things, but there they are in black and white. At least we "[exhibit] many strengths." That makes it worth it.) Basically, our life is an open door to the state, our licensing and placement social workers, each child's social worker, each child's guardian ad litem (GAL worker, also known as CASA workers in some states), transportation workers, county fire marshals, judges, therapists, etc. However, we have control over the amount of information shared with the families.
Usually, birth families only know our first names, until they have been to planning meetings, court, etc., and a visitation schedule has been set. From there, we can ask to be advised as to whether the family is a safety concern or not. After that, it's up to us. We have to decide how much interaction we have, have much personal information we share, and how much contact we encourage (within the boundaries set by court order). Yes, we have the unique experience of co-parenting with my mom for Red, so we feel pretty comfortable with the idea. My goal is to have something to hand the parents at every visitation, whether it's a craft the kids made, photos, or a progress letter. We want to establish a relationship with the parents because we don't want to ever "lose" the kids. We want to be able to stay in contact long after they have gone home, especially for the children who will be old enough to remember us.
7) Holidays, Special Events, Travel
We have to give notice when we travel with the kids, and receive travel documentation. If we take them out of state, we must do so with the permission of either the parents or a judge, especially if visitations need to be rescheduled. My point with this is that our flexibility is shrinking. We have to have advanced notice to prepare for EVERYTHING! We may be late to things, not be able to make it at all, end up spending holidays with birth families instead of our own family, or may not make family vacation or reunions. Life as we know it is about to change, and we will do the best we can, but please be understanding when something comes up. Things are not always within our control.
8) Purchases and Gift-giving
We don't expect you to buy things for the kids. If you are going to be passing things out to other kids at an event and do not plan on having something for our kids, please just let us know so we can have something prepared for them. Please also note that any gifts given to the kids becomes theirs, and will go home with them. They usually understand sharing and borrowing, so just watch the wording. Telling them you have a special toy you know they'll love to play with may be accidentally understood as receiving a gift, especially for the younger children.
9) Placement Duration
We will most likely not know for sure or ahead of time. Children may come to us with a few days notice or a few minutes notice, and at any time day or night. Likewise, we know they'll be with us as long as they need to, but we will not always know specifically how long that will be. We will know about court dates ahead of time. We will know roughly what is on the agenda for the hearing, but courtrooms are volatile and there are an infinite number of circumstances, rulings, laws, etc. that could vastly change an expected outcome. Basically, we will not know until we know, and the social workers will only keep us as informed as we need to be. We are not the SWs, so chances are we will not know the specifics. Our immediate attention is on the children in our care. We will probably approach it one day or one week at a time, just trying to enjoy the time we have with them.
10) Laying a Foundation for the Future
We aren't just fostering children, we are fostering families and sharing the love of Christ. Even when a child is removed from our home, they are forever a part of our family. The relationship and bond we form with both the children and their parents, during the time their little loved ones are in the foster care system, will often dictate our ability to stay connected and/or involved in the children's lives in the future. It may be hard to understand sometimes, and, yes, our hearts will break a little every time a child leaves our home, but our ultimate goal is to share our life, love, faith, and help families, whenever possible. Oh, and, yes, I will be one of the crazies with pictures of kids all over my house, constant streams of birthday cards being mailed out, and probably always have a bit of a funky smell as I walk around covered in stains and snot. Haha!
There is a lot we will (or won't) know and/or tell you in the future, as specific needs and court orders change from placement to placement, but for now this is a general guide of what to expect as we receive foster placements. Thank you for supporting our efforts. We understand that our decision to foster will also affect you and your families. Some people do not understand, or even fear, what we are doing, and have chosen to walk out of our lives (we aren't even officially licensed, yet). We don't love them any less for this decision, but it does give us an even greater appreciation for those who have stayed, supported, or even stepped up in our lives. There are no words to express our gratitude and love for you!