I have learned a bit in the 1.5 years that I have been doing this and I am going to write it down and hope that it helps others.
I volunteered to be a mentor through our foster care organization but I think it scares them. (see below)
Not everything I write here will be true in ever state. I can only speak to what I know. And I live in Pennsylvania. Our kiddos are placed out of Philly.
As I understand it, even every county is different…
So here you go…
1. Don’t believe the timelines. People will tell you how long something will take. They will give you absolutes. Don’t believe a word of it. They may want it to be true. But, usually it isn’t. Act as though everything will take at least 6 months to a year longer than you think and make sure you are okay with that before you agree.
2. Court is the only thing that matters. Don’t ever think that you know what is going to happen in your kid’s case until after your court date. Those months between court can be full of intrigue and scandal but none of it matters unless the judge says it matters.
3. The players will change. The case workers, social workers, attorneys and even judges may change. In fact, they probably will change. Don’t get too attached. And don’t build strong relationships with only one person.
4. Get to know everyone. In our area every court case involves at least 5 state reps: a DHS case worker, a City solicitor for DHS, a foster agent case worker, a child advocate social worker, and a child advocate attorney. Make sure you know who they all are and reach out to them from the start of your case. It’s also good to know their supervisors…
5. Everyone is over worked. All of the people you work with work with too many other families. They see too many kids and have too many emergencies. If your situation doesn’t involve the ER or the police, then they have bigger problems. This is why it is especially important to know everyone in your case. Because if you need something done you can call around until you get it.
6. Build a relationship with the birth parent. This one may be hard. And this may not always be possible. But the better you work with the birth family the better off the kiddos are. When you work together for the best interest of the kiddos, everyone wins. Also, if you are interested in adoption it is the only position you can be in if you’d like to try to convince mom to give up her rights voluntarily.
7. You don’t matter. This sounds harsh, but it’s true as far as the courts are concerned (and court is all that matters, right?). Your opinions will not be sought. Your input will not be solicited. The only way you have a voice at court may be through the child advocates office. Make certain that you speak with both the attorney and the social worker 30 days before court and tell them everything you know, suspect and wish for the case. This is really the only way you can make any difference in the court proceedings.
8. It’s all about the judge. This one is hard too. You can’t choose the judge. You can’t get to know the judge. And ultimately there is nothing you can do if you have a judge who doesn’t seem effective. But it doesn’t matter because they are the end and the beginning of your case. Our first judge was pro-kid and moving toward termination, our second judge is pro-parent and moving toward reunification. Nothing in the case changed, just the judge, and suddenly the goal and outcome were completely different. They say that you should only have one judge for the duration of your case. They told us that. They lie.
9. Everyone lies. This is another one that may sound harsh, but I have found it to be true nonetheless. Many of the lies aren’t intentional. Many are ignorance and misinformation but it’s possible your case workers may bend the truth to make the picture seem brighter for you. They may omit the details. Fudge the timelines. It’s not intended to be a betrayal. Ultimately they do what they do so they can do their jobs and sometimes their omissions and lies are for the betterment of the kids. Don’t trust one source. Again, this is why it is important to know everyone on the case.
10. The best resource you have is other foster parents. Because everyone on your case has things that they can’t say. And they can’t tell you they can’t tell you. They will not offer up information that will cost the state money. They will not tell you about how to get the approval for your daycare subsidy but another foster parent will. Go to the meetings, find an online support group. There is usually an answer, you just have to work for it. And BTDT foster parents already have.
11. Keep everything current. This goes along with almost everything above but we were told at least twice that our kids would be leaving our house. So we didn’t renew one of our subsidy programs, and they’re still here. I told the woman at WIC that I would like to cancel our appt because we were told dad was taking the kids and she said “Yeah, let’s go ahead and schedule it anyway. Hopefully, you won’t need it. But it’s better to be prepared.” And that’s a lesson that stuck with me. No matter what, it’s better to be prepared.
If you apply for federal funding for day care, CCIS, then even though the wait list is sometimes over a year long, DHS will pay for your daycare. But you have to be on the list first. So Apply.
DHS will not pay for every daycare program. If you can, it would be best to choose one from their approved list before you have a child placed with you.
Your foster kids are eligible for WIC. This means you can go get checks for WIC food from the WIC office near you. If you have infants this is a huge help because they supply formula. The income you report on your WIC application , and your CCIS application, should be only the amount you make to foster the kids. Not the salary from your job, if you have one.
Shopping for WIC can be hard. I have gotten some stares, glares and muttered comments. It takes a while to understand which items you can and can’t get and every check has to be processed separately so it takes a while. And people can be idiots. I have found that the Giants in our area are best because they have WIC symbols on the approved items shelf tag. MUCH easier than Acme.
Diapers are really expensive and there are no programs that supply diapers. Make sure you keep that in mind when trying to determine if you can afford to foster. (or even what age group.)
Also, on that note, being a good foster parent doesn’t pay well. Especially if your kids need to be in daycare. We lose money on our kiddos every month. And since our plan and goal has always been adoption we don’t mind too much. But if that is not your plan, it is best to look at all the financial issues before you say yes to that placement.
I make the distinction above about being a good foster parent not paying well because I have seen some bad foster parents who took the money and didn’t care for the kids. Our kids came to us from a kinship placement with one outfit each and a winter coat that DHS took from their donations pile. Their older sisters were in a home that they came out of eight months later with just the clothes on their backs. They had been borrowing the woman’s “real kids” clothes for visits and school. She was not a good foster parent. And she is no longer a foster parent.
Being a foster parent is hard. No matter what your goal, or your reason for doing it, it’s hard work. It’s 24/7 work. And it involves planning for a future that is uncertain. But still you have to plan. Know what the next step is for your kiddos because it is what they need next. Don’t hold off on buying that winter coat, scheduling those swimming classes, or arranging the tutor. In fact, if you can, don’t hold off on anything.
They deserve the full effort. The most you can give. Just like you would if they were yours.
Because while you have them, for however long that is, they are yours.
Okay, on this note, for those of you following along at home. We have our next court date February 8th. On that date we will have had the children for 2 years and 4 days. And it could still go either way.
So for the next 4 months I will not be focusing on being a foster parent. I am just going to be a parent. And in that last month I will be calling everyone on this case to make sure that all the i’s are dotted because they weren’t at our last court date and I am not sure any of us have another 5 months in us.
Crossed fingers, positive thoughts and prayers are always welcome.