Who wants to be a foster parent?

That’s not the new title of a game show but it is an honest question. I think I may want to be one in the next few years and I think anyone interested in being a foster parent should know all they can about it. I personally have gone through various mentalities about my relationship to children and, like I hopefully conveyed in my LARC post, the decision to have children should and can be a well-informed one and foster parenting seems like the definition of informed parenting. I’d like to thank Bettina Judd for being the first person to make me seriously question whether I want to have children and why, because for a while my thoughts on childbearing were “It’ll probably happen” which is not overly thoughtful. If you want thoughtful then let someone screen you in a multitude of ways to determine if you’d be good at caring for kids who really need someone. Foster parenting just seems like a great idea for someone like me, there is always a need for foster parents, and it’s a great way to serve your community.

So what would I need to do?
Well, luckily I’ve been working with foster care at DSS and I can answer that question. Recently, I helped our foster care worker make a pamphlet on becoming a foster parent and I’m registered for a training session on foster parenting. Here’s the inside of the brochure I helped make:

 

brochure

You can see some of the frequently asked questions and a fairly thorough list of what is necessary to become a foster parent. As always, if you have more questions, it’s a great idea to call your local DSS and get in touch with a foster care worker.

Who does foster care help?

That’s a pretty broad question. Technically it helps anyone involved in foster care. Foster parents help kids that are taken into care, they help parents that need time to make some corrections in order to get their kids back, and they help foster care workers by being available. I’m going to go the statistics route for this question. So in America as of 2014 there were¬†415,129 children in foster care. In Virginia specifically (where I am and where the DSS I where I’m working is located), there were¬†4,597 children in foster care. 238,230 children exited the foster care system in 2014 and 51% of them were reunited with parents or primary caretakers while 21% of them were adopted. About 46% of the children in the foster care system in 2014 were in non-relative foster family homes. The median age of the children in foster care in 2014 was around 8 years old. Approximately 42% of these children were White, roughly 24% were African American, and nearly 22% were Hispanic. Around 52% of the children were male and 48% were female. So there’s the big picture on demographics.

Well then, who needs the most help and how do I help them?

Okay that’s more specific. You can see from the brochure I attached that you can make some choices about what kids you take in (age-wise but if you applied to be a foster parent you signed a document saying you would not discriminate based on gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, or ability so keep that in mind) but there are populations that have greater needs than others. Like the brochure said, kids between 11 and 16, sibling groups, and teen moms need the most help. You might be wondering why they need more help. Well, the teen age bracket can be hard to place because of the kinds of trauma these kids have endured and their reactions to such trauma. Additionally, foster families may be more inclined to take in younger children because they have biological children of a similar age. If you think you could make a great home for a teenager in the foster care system then make that known. Placing sibling groups may be difficult in terms of space foster families may have. If you think you could have room for five (or however many) siblings then I highly suggest going for it because it is better for the children emotionally if they all stay together. And teen moms may have difficulty in placement because a family member may wish to take their child in but may not want to take them in as well. Keeping the mother and child together is beneficial in the same way keeping siblings together is beneficial in addition to allowing the teen to learn about parenting their own child. This would be a great thing to take on for any potential foster parent who thinks they would be good with any age group. Foster parents may lack space or resources for certain groups (like not having a home with access for a child who is wheelchair bound or not having enough beds for all of the siblings in a family) but having people that are willing and able to take on any one of these groups is invaluable and, as always, DSS will do everything to help you take care of these kids.

But Sadie, your brochure says that the goal of fostering children is to reunite them with parent. What if I really want to adopt?

Well, like it says, if a child cannot be returned home, then foster parents can be considered as adoptive parents. I do have an excellent resource for this question, though. Courtesy of the Director of DSS (who has shared with me her own incredible story about her relationship with foster care), I give you adoptuskids.org! She described it as the match.com of adoption sites. You can go to the tab “Meet the Children” and put in some general characteristics of kids you might be looking to adopt (mostly age and number of kids). Maybe you really want to adopt a teenager, so you’d set the bars between 13 and 19. Maybe you’d be willing to take in up to 3 kids, so you say you would take a minimum of 1 kid and a maximum of 3. Maybe you want to find the kid closer to home, you can limit your search to a few states but you can also look at kids all over the country. There are more than 5,000 children registered on the website and there are far more kids across the country looking to be adopted so if this is the right choice for you in terms of childrearing, then here you go.

I’d like to end by saying that foster parenting isn’t for everyone. It’s a decision not to be made lightly, similar to choosing to bear children. It’s a tough job, it’s a detailed process, and you may find yourself in a situation that you didn’t expect. Some kids come into foster care traumatized. Some of them have disabilities. Some of them come from backgrounds with which you have zero familiarity. They all need someone to look after them. If you’re the kind of person who could say “My desire to care for these kids is greater than any potential discomfort that could arise while they are with me” then I think you’d make a great foster parent and it could really be worth your consideration.


Foster Care Sources

https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/foster.pdf

2 comments ↓

#1 Suzanne Raitt on 06.30.16 at 12:47 pm

What a great post. I love the way you are picking up all kinds of threads from earlier posts and comments. This one is full of information and thoughtful reflection. Maybe one of the takeaways is that there are many many ways to have children in your life, if that is what you want. I agree with you that there are few languages and opportunities in our culture to articulate why one does or doesn’t want to raise children. And it’s hard as a woman to be upfront and definitive about wanting to be child-free. That position always seems to need explanation in a way that wanting children does not. My aunt long-term fostered triplet boys starting when they were 18 months old (long-term fostered as in, they lived with her until they were adults and consider her to be their adoptive mother). She could not afford financially to adopt them and the local authority agreed to the long-term foster arrangement so the boys could stay together. It was really beneficial for everyone – the local authority provided financial and other kinds of support that really helped her in raising them. She became a single parent when the boys were around 10, and she had an older daughter as well. Anyway – all of this is to say that presumably there are as many different ways to foster and different fostering experiences as there are children and parents. Great that you draw attention to them – and great that you are learning and experiencing so much.

#2 Sadie on 06.30.16 at 2:54 pm

You bring up a good point about being able to afford adoption. I feel like class (in terms of financial status) isn’t something I have covered well in some of my posts which seems odd to me because I feel like it’s a major systematic division that can encompass so many elements of intersectionality as we discuss it academically. Wanting to have children but maybe not wanting (or not being able) to have biological children can be a financial impossibility of some people because the adoption process can be expensive. Fostering children, for the short term or the long term, typically is something that anyone can do provided that they are financially stable enough to provide a safe home for a child. I wish I had wrapped that up a little better in the post because wanting to nurture children shouldn’t and does not have to be limited to those in higher income brackets. There are many different ways to be a parent, if that is something someone wants to do.

The Director gave me permission to share this story and I feel like it is the perfect example that there are many ways to be a family. Back in the early 1990s, the current Director of DSS had recently graduated college when she got a knock on her door from Social Services. They told her that she was the only relative able to take custody of her 16 year old brother who had run away and they asked if she and her husband would go to court to take custody of him and then of course find him. She agreed, went to court, and found his car, which she sat on the hood of until he came back to it and asked who she was. She explained she was his sister and that she wanted him to come home with her. Fortunately, he agreed and they were able to build a relationship together. Because of several turns of events, the Director left her husband at the time to take care of her brother in Charlottesville as well as go to graduate school and her brother managed to get a completion certificate for high school, get a degree from a community college, and then go onto further higher education. She took this job in Orange to stay close to him and he’s been stationed in Charlottesville ever since. Anyway, this goes to show that foster care can mean anything and being a foster parent can mean anything but mostly I think it shows that foster care is dedicated to what a family is in essence: a group of people who care about each other, come what may, for however long they are given.

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