Fostering: A Line in the Sand
Whether you are an easy going person or someone with very strong views and convictions, we all have our breaking points. Our values, tangible or intangible, are things that define us. We all have moments that we will not back down from. Each of us has a line in the sand that we will not cross. [Wikipedia refers to the line in the sand as a metaphor for a point, whether tangible or intangible, where beyond which a person will not advance.]
As a foster parent it is important to have an idea of what that line is before you accept a child into your home. While I encourage foster parents to be flexible and to look outside of themselves to provide better care for foster children, it is just as important to be honest with yourself and the system. Being a foster parent has many rewards but it is also a very draining commitment. Not being honest with yourself or the system will only lead to a lot of unnecessary stress and pain for all those involved.
When going through the initial training process you will have several opportunities to speak with a home study worker. Use those times to talk about you concerns (we all have some) about what being a foster parent means to you and your family.
If you are worried about having a child in your home of a different color or ethnicity make sure it is listed in your file. Concerned about interactions with birth families? Ask questions. Make sure you are honest about the gender, age, and needs level of the children you are willing to have in your home.
Most importantly if the thought of not having “constant aid” from the system worries you ask for a foster parent mentor or look into a private agency. While I stand behind my decision to work with the Department of Children’s Services, private agencies are around for a reason. I have friends who work for private agencies and friends who are foster parents through other private agencies. Case managers for private agencies can do a little more hand holding than the over-loaded case managers of DCS. Some private agencies may also align better with your personal belief system as there are ones that are Christian based.
Before jumping on the private agency bandwagon remember to do your research. State vs. private agency is all about personal preference and goals.
I could end the post right there. Always be true to yourself and honest with the system. Check into private agencies if you feel you can not work with the state. I wish life was as easy as giving out simple advice.
I know our posts at times seem rather idealistic and our intentions perhaps a bit altruistic. The truth is not all cases are the same. Rent-a-Dad and I have been extremely lucky in the cases that we have received. The birth families involved in each of our cases so far have seen “getting caught” as a wake-up call and realize this is their second chance. This has allowed Rent-a-Dad and I to be mentors for these birth families and help with reunification. This is not possible with every case in the system. We know we will not be able to take this approach with each and every case that comes our way.
Whether you are considering becoming a foster parent; are in the middle of the process; have only been a foster parent for a short time; or are a seasoned foster parent, you should make time to sit down with your spouse and family to go over your pros-and-cons list. Creating a pros and cons list defines your motivations and can accentuate reasons why/why not to become a foster parent. Sometimes the reason for “why not” is as simple as your children may need more of your attention at this moment. For Rent-a-Dad and I, we feel revisiting this pros/cons list helps keep us focused. If at any point the cons outweigh the pros it might be time for us to reconsider being foster parents.
When creating a list ask yourself why is fostering important to you. Do you just want to adopt or are you looking at fostering as a long term goal? Can you work with birth families? How involved do you want to be in the process? What are your feelings about re-unification? What age range or needs level can you work with? Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions that will lead to your line in the sand. Don’t be afraid to share that line in the sand with your case-worker.
For Rent-a-Dad and myself, the line in the sand is about knowing what cases we can not handle. Right now we know we could not handle high need cases, or sexual abuse cases where re-unification is still an option. We are not equipped to work with high needs or special needs children in our home. While we think we could help children who have been sexually abused we know that we can not work with their family.
By knowing what our line in the sand is, we are able to be honest with DCS. Our case worker has documented in our file everything we feel we can handle as well as all the things we do not feel equipped to deal with. This line in the sand enables proper placement.
So far we have not received calls that would make us re-enforce our standpoint. If we were to receive a placement call that raised concerns for either Rent-a-Dad or me, we feel secure in not accepting that placement.
Accepting a placement when you know it would be a bad call is not only setting yourself up for a stressful time but potentially setting the child back as well. So yes, I encourage being flexible but knowing what you can not be flexible about is just as important.
A good example of what I am talking about is a family we met while doing ongoing training. The dad is a cop who has also worked at one of the correctional facilities. With one of their cases he knew the father who had been arrested. He had personal interactions that colored how they could handle the case. In hindsight the foster dad said they never should have accepted the case because he did not believe in reunification with the birth father.
This foster family realized that they needed to further evaluate the level of care they could provide. They had already filled out the foster family strengths and needs sheet where age, gender, and level of need are detailed. They still wanted to be foster parents but were questioning their ability to be involved in the reunification process. They asked themselves what type of foster care they could provide. Should they only handle respite placements or placements where the system is moving to sever parental rights? The answer was something they had to be honest about with themselves and the system. The answer was their line in the sand.