The first thing they tell you as you begin your foray into foster care is to surround yourself with a support system because you will need it. I didn’t really understand why I would need a support system until we were 2 weeks into our 1st long term placement and I was in the bathroom in tears. As we have traveled this sometimes up and down road of foster care, the number of people in our support system has gradually dwindled.
As a foster parent there are so many situations that you are put in that someone who isn’t in the foster care world really can’t understand. For example:
- We have to prove yearly that we are capable of caring for children in placement. It doesn’t matter that if we have biological children, or if we’ve been parents for 20 years – our homes and lives need to be approved every single year that we are foster parents.
- Our doors are on a revolving basis some days. Imagine trying to plan your week around parental visits, sibling visits, case worker visits, state nurse visits, CASA worker visits, law guardian/investigator visits, and any therapy visits a child might need. Yep – adding in a simple play date can seem totally overwhelming, and often times it’s impossible to do anything last minute.
- We can’t just get a baby sitter. We have to have one that can deal with any emotional needs that our placement kids have. We need a sitter who is CPR certified and who can handle kids with behavioral issues. Oh, and we need a sitter who can juggle at least 2-3 kids, feed them dinner and get them in bed. It’s easier to just stay home and watch a movie once the kids are in bed.
- Planning a vacation takes a lot of time and effort. We have to get approval from everyone involved, and if the birth parents won’t let us take the kids then we have to either not go on vacation, place the child in respite care or find a qualified sitter (see above).
- We have to be fingerprinted every year. This one drives me insane, because obviously our fingerprints don’t change, but it doesn’t matter. Every single year we have to take all the kids (see finding a sitter above) and get fingerprinted. Fun times.
- Our kids learn what a paternity test is, which admittedly I was hoping wouldn’t be something that my 6 year old really needed to know.
- We use WIC. (Women Infants and Children) Yes it helps with the cost of formula and extra food, but (for me) it’s humbling and embarrassing.
- Many times we live court date to court date waiting to see what is going to happen in a case. Life becomes almost impossible to plan more than a month in advance.
- We use terms like biological, resource, foster and adopted to describe our kids.
- We get used to hearing questions, some appropriate and some not, whenever we are out in public.
- If a case is being moved from reunification to adoption, then we talk about TPR. The termination of a parent’s rights is never easy, even if we really want to adopt the child. Knowing that we are playing a part in the biological parent’s rights being terminated is not something that we take lightly.
I could go on and on, but basically once we signed up as foster parents our lives went on fast forward and the situations we deal with can be hard to understand. I mean honestly, if you asked a friend how their day was and she told you that CPS called with a referral and 4 hours later the child was dropped off with a garbage bag of their belongings, so she had to drive to Target to get them some clean clothing which meant she has to miss the girls night out…what would you say?
There’s no judging here, believe me. If someone had said that to me 8 years ago I would have smiled weakly and said I’d call her later.
Honestly, foster care can be a lonely place to be. There’s not a lot of people who can empathize with a situation, or even understand it. Most people are blissfully unaware what CPS does, and have no idea that they probably have foster children living a few houses down. And that’s okay, because all foster kids want is to be a kid. And all foster parents want is as close to a normal life as possible. Really.
So the next time you ask a friend who might be a foster parent how their day was, and they tell you that they had to go to the principal’s office because their foster teen had a rough day, and when they got home the case worker was waiting to discus the 8 year’s old case and while she was meeting with the case worker the toddler drew all over the wall in permanent marker…..don’t hang up. Let her talk it out. Be supportive and encouraging. And then bring her chocolate. Lots of chocolate.