I remember receiving our first possible placement phone call from our licensing worker. It was the day she was scheduled to come to our house for the final time before we were officially set to welcome children. She’d be checking to make sure we had some of the basics in place: smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, water temps that weren’t too hot, etc. She was scheduled to be there at 4pm that day, and at 10 that morning she called to ask if we’d be open to fostering 3 kids. Um… Panic.
While I haven’t worked in the foster care field, I can only imagine how hard it must be to make these types of calls to prospective foster parents. These workers have to push because they have to find good homes for kids, and sometimes there just isn’t a home/family that is going to fit the exact criterion they are looking for. They still have to find a home, and they still have time restraints. I’m sure they hear “no” often, and it must be difficult. This explains why we’d be called about a placement before they had completed the final home inspection.
In our city, Peoria, when children come into care, the first agency on DCFS’s list (which is on a rotational basis) gets called with the open case. Once they receive the case, the agency now has about 45 minutes to find a suitable home for the children involved. 45 minutes. If they don’t find a home in that amount of time, the case gets moved to the next agency on the list to search through that list of homes.
This 45-minute window does not account for any children who are already in foster care and need to be moved from their current foster home. This is called a disrupted placement and could happen for a variety of reasons. A job change. A marriage in crisis. Big behaviors in a kiddo that a family isn’t equipped to handle. A needed time of refreshment. Issues between kids within the home.
These workers have to figure out where to move those kiddos as well as work under the time-constraints that come with children who are being removed from the only home they’ve ever known. What a difficult job.
For that first placement call, the one at 10am on the day we were to be licensed, I politely declined, wondering if saying no was now going to bump us down the list of potential placements. I didn’t want to have a negative label or be seen as “unwilling”, but I also knew that taking three kids that day was not the wise thing to do because Dustin and I had spent lots of time talking through possible scenarios.
Going in thinking that you just want to “help some kids” is a sweet thought at first, but the more I learned about the foster care system, the more I realized that that type of blissful thinking is often the unintended recipe for what could have been an avoidable disaster. I suggest having these important conversations while you are going through the required foster parenting classes. It’s best to have had these conversations in a calm environment, without the pressure of a precious kiddo’s story being shared with you.
It’s good to have some filters in mind before you’re standing alone in the church kitchen making 240 hot dogs for the Fall Block Party that you are in charge of, trying to decide if you should welcome an infant with some medical needs into your family in about an hour. (real life) The answer that day was also “no”.
So, while you’re learning about trauma and reunification plans and the system’s ins and outs, here are some filters that I suggest thinking through:
What is your best contribution? What are you (and your partner/spouse) capable of doing? What can you bring to the foster parent table that is unique?
Are you uniquely positioned to care for a child with special medical needs? Maybe you could say yes to a kiddo who requires extra doctor’s appointments or feeding tubes.
Are you open to parenting children who might need therapy for behavioral issues? What about kids who start fires? Teens who run away? Kids who have been diagnosed with a mental illness? There was a really specific list of all sorts of behaviors on our forms, and Dustin and I talked through all of them ahead of time.
How many kids are you open to?
This isn’t a question of just having enough actual space for kids, which is something to be considered, but it also entails thinking through your emotional capacity, work schedules, day care options, support systems, and parenting experience.
What kind of trauma are you willing to take on?
This is always a big one to consider, especially when there are other children in the home. While there are some times when you won’t know the types of trauma a child has faced, most licensing workers will be able to give you a little bit of an idea if there has been reported neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse. If one of those seems like a really difficult thing to navigate based on your own upbringing, the current ages/genders of the kids in your home, or any other reason, it’s good to be honest with yourself and your licensing worker.
We landed on 2 being our preferred number of kids to start with and really wanted siblings if possible. We didn’t want to be out-numbered (we have no biological kids by choice) and wanted them to have someone else to play with. We prefered girls and we were open to several special behavioral needs, but would be saying no to severe medical needs. It felt very weird to think through all of this, like at some level we were discriminating against certain types of kids. But at the same time, we were so grateful to have taken the time to talk about specifics. It gave us the space to be prayerful, intentional, and realistic about our capacity.
Another key component for us, and something I recommend for to-be foster parents, is to leave space for God’s grace. If we were all going to just say yes to things WE’RE capable of, then I think we’d all just say no to parenting in general. His grace is always a factor and gets us through when we take on a more than what we can handle.
Once you’ve thought through the factors, decide who will be able to stick to the plan and not be overly eager to say yes when you get a call. In our particular situation, we said no 4 times before saying yes, and I was the one to do that each time. In fact, I said “no” to our girls the first time around, which I’ll share about next time.
Thanks for reading!