Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Foster Experience

  I've been getting a few requests to tell about our whole fostering experience. So here goes, from the beginning.

  We had been debating getting foster kids for about a year. It was obvious we weren't going to be able to get pregnant, and adopting babies was too expensive. We bandied about it back and forth for awhile, weighing the pros and the cons.
   Pros: There are plenty of kids, we could pick an age range and temperament set that suited us. The state helps supplement the cost of children (Yes, nobody wants to admit to this reason as a reason, but it's a valid point). The foster care system provides a lot of services to help people be successful parents; classes, training, continuing education, and other services. They have a 24/7 helpline if you have questions/concerns/ frustrations about the kids. And we knew we would be making a difference in kids' lives.
  Cons: The kids will be traumatised. The kids will have behaviours. They probably won't be well behaved, because they came from vary levels of dysfunction and/or neglect. The kids will probably have a higher degree of need than natural-born children. Birth families. Stigmatism from others; foster care has a bad rap, and sometimes people aren't understanding.

   It finally came down to my husband saying "I have always wanted to be a dad. So if this is the only way to do it, then I would like to do that. Please." How could I resist?

   So we found a fostering/adoption agency, and went to an information meeting. We filled out basic profiles on ourselves and learned more about what fostering/adoption really meant. We were encouraged, if we were still interested, to take the PS-MAPP class.
   In Kansas (and about 1/2 the US), MAPP classes are the required 30 hours of training before licensure. We learned about the types of abuse/neglect, normal development, acceptable forms of punishment, typical behaviours, and did lots of case study examples; among lots of other things. The point of MAPP class is information, and to help people make whatever decision is best for their family. Adopt, foster, mentor, nothing...all of these are possible outcomes.
   Along with the MAPP class, we had to take a 3 hour discipline and 3 hour first-aid class. We also had to do home studies. One was the state agency came and inspected our house and made sure everything was safe. We had to add magnetic locks to cabinets with contraband (matches, chemicals, knives), baby gates to the top and bottom of the stairs, and an insulated blanket around the water heater. In addition to the physical home study, there was also a psychological portion. We were given questions like: describe your childhood. (Technically that isn't a question, but you get what I mean). The object was to answer thoroughly, and in-depth, so the agency can make sure we are psychologically prepared and safe to have kids.
   After all that rigmarole, we thought we would get kids right away. I had just been fired from my job, so it seemed perfect timing. However, I had, apparently, made a few comments during class that worried the teacher. I said something to the effect of "I would be crushed when foster kids leave." The instructor seemed to take that to mean "I will do everything in my power to make sure integration doesn't happen because I want kids". So she suggested we weren't a good fit for foster care, and recommended we should only adopt.  She also put a 6 month waiting period on our application, because she didn't feel we were ready.

   After about 2 months of this, we switched agencies. We told them about the problem of the other agency's instructor. We were assured that they did things a bit differently, and her recommendations won't be considered, because they do their own analysis.
   So another round of home study (and 4 months) later, we got temporary license. We were so excited, because we felt we were FINALLY going to get kids. The previous 6 months had been so emotionally draining. We were excited to get kids, disappointed and hurt because of the instructor's opinion, confused, happy to switch agencies, annoyed with waiting, irritated because phone-tag is no fun.
   The thing that nobody seems to tell you about the foster system is that your feelings will be hurt. It is hard, an emotional roller coaster, and aggravating. And this is before you even get kids! It felt like we would get so close to having kids, and then something would come up, and we'd have to start at the beginning again. And the whole time, people would say "Why do you want foster kids? My [uncle, niece, cousin, neighbour] had foster kids, and they burned down his house and killed his cat." (That's a slight exaggeration, but you see the point).

  We had looked at a few families for adoption (we wanted sibling sets), but weren't sure we were cut out to be parents; weren't sure if we wanted forever kids. So we chose to do respite/emergency care. This is for kids who need a break from their foster parents (or vice versa!), kids just entering the system, or kids who need a place to stay during a transition between homes. Basically short-term care.  Our preferred level of care is family care, or the "easiest" types of kids.
  Our first placement came at the end of September. We got a call saying there was a sibling set, a boy and a girl, who needed a place to stay for a few days. The girl was autistic, would that be a problem? We said no.  Turns out, there's a reason why you need additional hours of training before you're technically allowed to have higher need kids.  The placement was very difficult. The girl needed constant attention; she was always poking, touching, screaming,etc. The boy was very obviously used to his sister getting all the notice, so he was always saying "look at this!" "come here!"
   What I'm trying to say is that both children were very needy. They weren't bad kids. They did what they were told, didn't lie or steal, and weren't destructive. We just weren't prepared to deal with the level of need that would be best for them. So 2 days into their stay, I called my worker and said I was done, that I couldn't handle dealing with them anymore.
  I felt like a failure.  I felt like I had let down the kids, their worker, our worker, my husband, my mom, myself, everyone. I truly felt that I was a terrible mother. In my head I would tell myself "What kind of person just tosses kids out because they're difficult?" I beat myself up about those kids so much. I still do in fact.
   But what I learned from it is that getting the "right fit" of kids/parents is extremely important. It's one thing to clothe, feed, and make sure kids' needs are met. It's quite another to be able about them and want them to thrive. The first placement took so much out of me (and let's be honest, I'm not very nurturing or good with extreme neediness), that I didn't have any energy left over to want to provide anything but the basics.
   Does that make me a terrible person? No. It just means that my tolerance limit, and my preference is for lower-maintenance kids. And that's OK. I talked to my worker, and was very clear about what our limits were. I told her how I felt about the experience, and what I could have done differently. In fostering, it is very important to have a good relationship with your worker. You need to feel comfortable enough to be honest, because you can't give kids what they need if you don't have what you need.
  After that experience, I was super gun-shy. Let me be clear. These kids were our only parenting experience; the first kids that we'd been around 24/7. And it was a negative situation. I was afraid every family would be like that; that every placement would be horrible.
   About 2 weeks after that placement,we got a call about another sibling set. They told us about them, and they seemed to fit within our limits. We were excited to try another placement, but scared they would be like the last one. I imagined in my head the experiences we would have; I would take them to the park, we'd cook dinner together, I'd help them with their homework, and they would read before bed. Even though I didn't know these kids, outside of a 10 minute conversation with their worker, I had already started to imagine a life with them. Not as forever kids, but a life with them in it, for however long they would be in our care.
   Then 2 hours later, their worker called back. They wouldn't be coming to us. I cried. Because I had invested so much hope and dreaming, even in 2 hours, in these kids. Even though we had never met them, I really did feel like they were already part of our family. And it didn't happen. I was crushed.
   3 days later, we got another call. Same kids. A placement didn't work out, did we want them? I was elated. I felt like things had worked out, after all, and that everything would be like I imagined.  3 hours later, we got a call that their Grandmother stepped into the picture and would be taking care of them.
   As happy as part of me was that the kinship had worked out, I felt betryaed.  How could the agency do this to me? Why wouldn't they check out something like that at the beginning? Would every placement, or hope of placement end in tears? I was really angry with the system.

   About a week later, we got another call. Another sibling set, boy and girl.  They would be a long-term placement, that is staying with us until things either: get better with their family and they can go home, things get worse with their family and they're eligible for adoptions, or we disrupt on them (which means asking for them to leave).  I was excited and scared. I hoped it wouldn't be like the first placement, or as disappointing as the miscommunicated placements.
   Again, I imagined life with these kids. Scenerarios in my head, what we'd talk about, things we'd do...I hoped that it would work out, and we would all be happy.
   So we finally meet the kids. I picked them up from another temporary home. When I got there, their current guardian said "Oh, you're picking them up? Good luck!" Then carried their stuff to my van and said bye.  In their file, I had seen they had about 4 homes since they'd been in care (about 2 months). It seemed these were problem children, so I was really nervous.
   I had a breakdown the first day. I felt like nothing I did was right. I couldn't make oatmeal correctly, they hated the food, they didn't like the sheets on the bed, hated living upstairs...Everything was wrong, and the girl complained and whined about everything.  My husband came home about 4 hours after I had picked the kids up. I ended up crying into his shoulder saying "I can't do this..."
   I told my husband that if we were ever asked to talk to a MAPP class, I would say "If you're OK with never being good enough-no matter what you do,say, or buy-then fostering could be for you."
But you know what? I kept trying. It took a few days, but we figured out a system. I don't make oatmeal like she wants it, so she makes it herself. We have a chore chart for everyone. Everyone has the rules posted in their room. It's not perfect, but it works, and we're happy.  The boy said after 3 days "I don't care if the judge says we can go back, I want to stay here. You guys are nice." The girl took a little longer to warm up. I think she thought that liking us would be betraying her family.

I learned something. I'm a good mom. I'm not perfect. Especially in the mornings, or with loud noises, I'm prone to snapping. But I care about the kids. I try to talk to their teachers, and help them with their homework. I know what foods they like, and can talk to them about their feelings. I can be what my mom wasn't, though I don't know where I learned it.  Just because I had a bad childhood, doesn't mean that I can't give kids a good experience.  I never thought I would be able to love a kid, because I never felt loved as a kid.
   Somewhere along the way, I had turned from a traumatised child into an adult that can connect with traumatised children. 

   We're currently on week 2 of having these kids, and things are still going well. Yes, there are behaviours and situations that aren't perfect. But kids are kids, no matter whose care they are under.  Things are stable. And we don't know if we'll have these kids 2 months or 8 months, but that doesn't really matter. Because the short story is, they are part of our family, until it's safe for them to go back to theirs.

  So that's my fostering experience, abbreviated and minus about 10 gallons of tears. It's a roller coaster, and it can drain you dry. But it's rewarding in it's way. Would we foster another family (or potentially adopt), after these kiddos leave? I'm not sure. Honestly, it doesn't really matter right now. Because we're in a good place, the kids are in a good place, and things are stable. And that's really what fostering is about.

If you have any questions/comments, feel free to email. Under profile, there should be an email button.


  1. I am so happy for you. It's awesome that you have a family that's working for you right now. And how great for those kids!

  2. I am visiting from LJF. Thanks for telling your family's story, it is good to hear about the struggles and the successes. I am happy that you and the kids have found a balance, I hope the placement continues to work out for the best for all of you.

    1. Welcome and hello! Thank you for your good wishes. :)

  3. Congrats on surviving two weeks. I did it for two years with high risk tweens/early teens. It was insane. I learned a lot. I will always have respect for foster parents, forever. I'll also warn you that if there is sexual abuse that was involved, when they become teens a lot comes out, and it's scary.

    1. That's what we're afraid of. Though supposedly these kids don't have any sexual trauma...

  4. And autism is a training of its own even if your the biological parent.

  5. Hey lady, thanks for sharing this too! Kids are not easy and I believe that Foster Parents like you are angels on earth.