Tuesday, October 30, 2012

{23/31 Days} Organizations Making a Difference: Research & Policy Change

These organizations have provided invaluable research to offer our nation a true look at the foster care system. The results have helped social workers, lawmakers and the general public to see the strengths and weaknesses of our system and the impact that it has on our most vulnerable youth, prompting policy change and giving birth the many organizations described in this series that strive to make a difference.  

Casey Family Programs, established by UPS founder Jim Casey in 1966, is the nation's largest foundation whose primary focus is youth in the foster care system. The Casey Foundation has branched out to include multiple other foundations, each with a specific emphasis. Below, is their brief overview from Casey Family of Foundations:  

Casey Family Programs is a national foundation whose sole mission is to provide and improve – and ultimately prevent the need for – foster care. Established in 1966, the foundation draws on more than 40 years of experience and expert research and analysis to improve the lives of children and youth in foster care in two important ways: by providing direct services and supports to foster families and by promoting improvements in child welfare practice and policy.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization dedicated to building better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States. Established in 1948 and based in Baltimore, Maryland, the Foundation fosters public policies, human services, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of vulnerable children and families. In pursuit of this goal, the Foundation makes grants that help states, cities, and neighborhoods fashion more innovative, cost-effective responses to needs.
Casey Family Services was established in 1976 as a source for high-quality foster care. Casey Family Services today offers a broad range of programs for vulnerable children and families throughout New England and in Baltimore, Maryland. The agency is committed to ensuring that every child in foster care leaves the system with a permanent connection to a family or caring adult.
Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative was created in 2001 by Casey Family Programs and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, the Initiative is a major national effort to help youth in foster care make successful transitions to adulthood.
The Marguerite Casey Foundation,created by Casey Family Programs in 2001, is based in Seattle, Washington. The Marguerite Casey Foundation is a private, independent grant-making foundation that helps low-income families strengthen their voice and mobilize their communities. 

CWLA is a powerful coalition of hundreds of private and public agencies serving vulnerable children and families since 1920. Our expertise, leadership and innovation on policies, programs, and practices help improve the lives of millions of children in all 50 states. Our impact is felt worldwide.

Established in 1998, NFCC's mission is to build and sustain political and public will to improve the foster care system and the lives of the children and youth in its care.

California Youth Connection (CYC) is a youth led organization that develops leaders who empower each other and their communities to transform the foster care system through legislative and policy change. Their success over the last 23 years has served as a model that other states have chosen to emulate.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

{31 Days} Organizations Making a Difference - Discounts for Families

There are several different groups that have set out to make a difference in the foster care system through a myriad of ways. Over the next few days I’ll be highlighting some of these different organizations that offer discounts, research and policy change, camps for children, and support for families. These are pretty much all nonprofit organizations that primarily run off of donations and the hard work of volunteers. So feel free to jump in on one if it peaks your interest, you are needed. Of course tell me all about it – I love to hear stories! On the same note, if I leave some amazing organization out, please tell me about it, I may not have come across it yet and I would always love to discover more groups that are working to make a difference!

Today’s Focus: Discounts & benefits for Foster Families

iFoster is an amazing organization that is young and on fire! “By leveraging technology and aggregating a community of millions of voices and billions of dollars in purchasing power, iFoster attracts new external resources and supports from national and local corporations, philanthropy and non-profits. iFoster empowers these children and youth and their families to change their own lives, forever.In just two short years they have:

Over 12,000 members including youth, families, non-profit and gov't agencies in child welfare
Over 1,250,000 children & youth supported by iFoster members.
Over 1,500 computers delivered enabling 3,000+ children and youth.
Over $20 Million in savings realized.

Foster Cares has a similar plan and focus as iFoster but I have not seen any action or updates from them lately. Still keep them on the radar because it’s a great idea and every little bit helps. J

In addition to these two national organizations there are many statewide and local organizations that offer discounts to foster youth, families, and emancipated youth. Oregon and Washington offer free camping and day-use parking to their foster parents at their state parks.  Alaska’s FosterWear program provides discounts at major retailers.  Indiana offers a free membership to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. I recommend doing a Google search for “discounts for foster parents {insert state name}” and see what comes up. You can also repeat this search for your specific city.

If you are looking for local discounts and generally those that are involved with foster youth, you will probably find the best results by simply asking around. Ask your local Foster Agency, other foster parents and look into your local foster parent association. Your local foster parent association should not only know about area discounts and benefits, they may also offer several of their own to association members.

Consider partnering with your local foster parent association or other local group that shares a common goal of providing relief and positive opportunities for foster families to gather discounts from local businesses. I have found that many local businesses are willing to provide a small discount to show their support, many just haven't been asked yet. Imagine the difference it could make if a foster parent could save 10% on clothes here or get BOGO free there, the possibilities are endless - and very exciting! :)

~Tristen :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

{31 Days} Even Superman Had Foster Parents!

So often our society is bombarded with the stories and the grave statistics of a failed system. Those aren't the only stories out there. Many have gone through the foster care system and/or have been adopted and have gone on to create a powerful story with their lives. Most of these we will never know as they are quietly living out their lives in their respective towns, but these are true heroes, the champions that have stared down the statistics that attempt to define them and have chosen to write their own ending. One thing you will likely find that they all have in common - someone who helped, inspired, guided them along the way.

Check out Foster to Famous to see the stories of some celebrities that were foster kids and/or adopted including Cher, Ice-T, Eddie Murphy, Dave Pelzer, John Lennon, and of course Superman! Seriously, would Metropolis or the world have ever had the privilege of knowing Superman had it not been for the love and support of Jonathan and Martha Kent?  Encourage and empower the youth you come in contact with; grave statistics and the unkind words of ignorant people can attempt to define your future, but ultimately, the only one that can determine your tomorrow is you

Ashley Rhodes-Courter is an amazing young woman that has taken charge of her future. Her incredible story is clearly one that is still being written. Entering foster care at the age 3, she bounced to 14 different homes over nearly 10 years before being adopted at the age of 12. Still, she excelled in school because she believed that, "my education was the one thing nobody could take from me." This strength and resilience helped her to become a New York Times best selling author with her memoir, "Three Little Words," win countless awards for her writings and efforts to make a difference in the lives of foster children, and to even move on to seek a Florida state Senate position. See some of her story in the video below from the 2007 Brick Awards or read her whole story here, http://www.rhodes-courter.com/about.html.

Be inspired and have an amazing day! :D 


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

{31 Days} Steps Towards Adoption

When I need a feel good laugh, one of my turn to movies has been My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Nia Vardalos is simply hilarious and I've often found it a wonderful escape to enter her crazy world. I love to watch her blossom from gawky and insecure into outgoing and self-confident while the families of her and her boyfriend, Ian collide all around them in awkward absurdity.

Nia Vardalos has now earned a whole new ranking on my list of favorite celebrities (I'm sure she follows what I think, right?) as I recently discovered that she adopted through the US Foster Care System and served as a spokesperson for National Adoption Day. My heart burns for foster children and for them to find love within a permanent family, and like Nia, I have constantly run into road blocks (mainly due to lack of information), if only there were resources, publicity, awareness; if only some celebrities would speak up ... And she did. :)

Photo from People Magazine.   Nia Vardalos’s Blog:
Savoring the Last Moments of Summer

 Nia has told her story to several different news sources on a quest to debunk the myths. Thank you Nia, you are my hero! :D The basic summary: after a long 10 years of struggling with infertility she and her husband looked into domestic and international adoption, newborn adoptions fell through a couple times and then she discovered the children waiting within our nations foster care system. She states that there 129,000 legally free for adoption today. They found a local foster family agency where they were walked through the process by a couple social workers (her "super pretty angels"). Nine months after starting that process, her three year old daughter walked through her door for the first time. She describes the first time seeing her daughter as having the immediate sensation, "oh, I found you!" She even wrote a book about her experience, and I simply cannot wait to get my hands on it, Instant Mom: I Thought I knew Love, and Then I Met My Daughter.  She has such a beautiful story, and I am so grateful that she and her husband chose to speak up about their journey in an effort to raise awareness. I hope that this will open the doorway to many more beautiful stories, just like hers.

So, how does one get to those 129,000 waiting children?

1. Find a local agency that offers adoption (Nia recommends a Foster Family Agency)
** Go to http://www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad/ or AdoptUSKids, State Adoption and Foster Care Information to begin.

2. Decide what type of child (age, gender, physical and mental abilities) you are physically and emotionally able to care for.

3. Work with your social worker who will look locally and nationally to help guide you to the child(ren) that are a great match and then walk with you through the paperwork process of making everything legal (homestudy, fingerprints, etc.).
 ** You can also look at sites like The California Kids'Connection  or The National Heart Gallery  which can then direct you toward a Heart Gallery that is local to you. These sites allow you to "meet" waiting kids and read a little bit about them.

4. Wait. Pray. Prepare your heart and home to be a parent! :D

~Tristen :)

Tomorrow: Even Superman Had Foster Parents!

Monday, October 22, 2012

{31 Days} Welcoming a foster child

The first day can be difficult for both child and foster parent. Here are some ideas that can help your new addition feel welcome.

Welcome Book - I just came across this idea when doing some research for one of my recent blog posts. I'm SO excited! A welcome book was originally designed for a new adoptive child to introduce him or her to their new family. It was such a wonderful suggestion to adapt this to welcome a foster child! While the Welcome book described in this link is more personalized, I am going to make mine a more general introduction to our family. We'll be able to make this available to every child as they come into our home so that they can learn about our family at their own pace. I remember my 13 yr old being so nervous when I came to pick her up from school the first few times, she had been in so many homes she couldn't remember what our car looked like. This could really help with situations like that. 

Welcome Basket - Children often come to their foster home with little or nothing. A welcome basket is an opportunity to give them something of their very own while welcoming them to the family. There are many options as to what you can include, we choose to have a beanie baby, coloring book or journal (depending on age), crayons, a cool pen or pencil, a bible, and a homemade welcome card signed by the family.

House tour- Give your new foster child a friendly house tour when they first arrive. If you have other children this can be their job. Many will be comforted to meet the animals. Make sure they know where the bathroom is and end the tour with their bedroom, offering them some space if they'd like to be alone.

Offer a simple snack If a meal isn't scheduled shortly after their arrival. Some children that have suffered neglect struggle with not knowing when/where their next meal will come from. To offer them a snack, apples, crackers, something simple will help to reassure them that food will not be an issue in your home. At this time you can also tell them about what time to expect the next meal.

Do something simple for dinner- their first night is not the time to introduce some crazy entree that they may have never seen before. Do something simple and likely familiar to them. Hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, etc. A favorite in our home is personal mini pizzas where the kids get to choose from a small variety of toppings to include on theirs.

Be Honest When Answering Questions- Be open and honest when answering questions. The kids may likely want to know when they will get to see or talk to their parents next. It is better to say that you don't know (social workers usually work to set up a visit as soon as possible) than to make assumptions or promises you can't keep.

Rules - Have the rules of your home written simply and posted somewhere. Go over them, using a gentle, positive voice within the first 24 hrs of the child's arrival.

What are some other ways that you could make a child feel welcome that first night?

~Tristen :)

Tomorrow: Choosing to Adopt

Saturday, October 20, 2012

{31 Days} Raising a Foster Child With Biological/Adopted Chidlren

When raising foster children with your biological and/or adopted children, there are several tips to take into consideration.

Be consistent (rules, discipline, chores, privileges) in how you treat all children in your home whether they are biological or foster, if they are new or if they've been there a while.

Create an open and safe environment that fosters communication and trust. Let all children in your home know they can talk to you if they feel uncomfortable with anything.

Be sensitive and confidential when introducing your foster child to others. I’ve heard a few lines for this like, "these are the newest additions to our family," or "these are my kids" in reference to all your children if they're all with you. I prefer to just say their names and go from there or let them introduce themselves if they choose to. Whatever you do, please do not introduce them as foster children, this can be uncomfortable, embarrassing and immediately makes them feel separated from your family. I wouldn't introduce them as son/daughter without checking with them first either. 

Help your foster children feel more comfortable by having a simple conversation with them. Provide suggestions on what they can call you and ask how they would prefer you to introduce them to others. Honestly, I've struggled with this conversation sometimes, it feels awkward, but the kids always feel so much better and more respected afterward. Often, they say that it's just fine that I say that they are my son/daughter - my kids. It feels so great to tell them I would be honored. :)

Prepare your children for the heartache that comes when a child that they have bonded with moves out. Take some special time to talk with them about how they are feeling. Let them know it is okay to be sad and miss the child but to also be happy that they are able to be back with their mommy and daddy. Try to continue relationships via pictures, cards, visits whenever given the opportunity.  Some foster parents choose to be a receiving home for this reason: their kids will know that the child's presence is very temporary and they won't have to share their toys with them "forever," and to save them the heartache of severing a tight bond.

Birth Order
Many say to only foster or adopt children that are younger than your youngest. There are a couple main reasons behind this:
Image Courtesy of: imagerymagestic
1. People feel this will help to ensure that your children will not be abused by the foster children that come into your home.
2. It preserves the birth order which many feel to be important.
Let me chat about both of these for a moment – as far as abuse, age difference may provide ease of mind, but don’t ever allow yourself to be falsely secure. Abused kids of all ages can act out their trauma in any number of ways, and simply because another child is older does not protect them from that. It is more important to be aware of any possibility and keep a watchful eye on all of your children while also making sure each child in your home knows what is appropriate and inappropriate and that they can talk to you about anything. This extends to every parent, whether you choose to foster or not. Abuse can happen at school, on play dates, at sleepovers… your truest defense is establishing trust and communication with your children.

There is an excellent article in Adoptive Families Magazine, When Parents Adopt Out of Birth Order.  This article contends that in today's world, within many families, the ages of parents and children don't fall into conventional alignment. This can be due to a number of factors, couples choosing to wait to have children, adoption, blended families coming together etc.  The article has some strong thoughts and suggestions on how to help adopting (or fostering) out of birth order be successful. I'll list a few, but you have to read the article because it's just that good. :) 1. Treat your children as individuals with privileges and responsibilities based on ability not age, this honors the strengths and abilities of each child. 2. Avoid comparisons. 3. Be aware that any child, not just the oldest can feel displaced by a new addition, example a youngest child by the addition of a younger child, totally natural but displaced just the same.

My beautiful girls at the park, one of my
13 yr old's favorite places to take Evie. 
We went against the general consensus and chose to foster outside of birth order. We did this because, well, we wanted to foster right away and we were blessed with biological kids at the same time. I am personally not a strong believer in birth order being negative in a family that loves and celebrates each child for their own abilities and interests. There are so many factors that change affects of birth order, I feel like foster care is one of those factors. Admittedly, my challenges with my 13 yr old were certainly in large part due to her being so much older than my toddler, but I'll tell you I wouldn't take any of that back. We are so blessed to continue to have a relationship with her (doesn't always happen) even though she is no longer in our home, Evie loves her and is excited to see her whenever we get a chance, kind of like an older sibling that has gone off to college. On that note, moving forward, we still plan to take children that are older but have asked our agency to keep it to kids under 10. The exception that we have made for this is a sibling group because it is my passion to keep siblings together and that also completely changes the dynamics from the beginning.

Checking out the animals at the Zoo. :) Memories I wouldn't trade for anything.
I have more commonly heard foster families come across issues with kids being right around the same age, they might suggest that you try to foster children that are at least one year older/younger than your own. I don't see this being as much of an issue with age 3 and under but I could see this becoming something to consider with ages four and above. Still, every child is unique, I think the best way to help all of your children mesh together no matter what their age is to give each of them the attention that they crave and celebrate their individuality.

A slight tangent, but another thing to consider is often times in foster care you will have a child that is chronologically older but mentally and emotionally much younger. You will find yourself needing to address both stages of development. Again, treat all of the children in your house according to their ability, not their age. This will get a little complex if/when you have a strong willed teenager whose cognitive reasoning skills and understanding of cause and effect is closer to that of an older toddler… At this point, my only advice is to love them where they’re at and tailor to their strengths. If any of you wonderful readers have some resources that specifically talk about how to deal with this disparity in a positive way, I would be forever grateful! J

~Tristen :)

Tomorrow: Welcoming a Foster Child into Your Home

Friday, October 19, 2012

{31 Days} Choosing to Foster- Preparing Your Children for the Experience

When a couple finds out that they are pregnant, they spend months preparing the other children in the home for the new sibling's arrival. This often includes big brother/big sister books, picking out new clothes, showing the children where the new baby is going to sleep, answering any questions that may arise.

Just as pregnant parents prepare their children for a new baby, it is important to prepare your children for foster siblings. This of course will look a little different depending on the age of your children and the age of the foster children you will be welcoming into your home. Still, the over all message that you will want to get across is that these kids are going to live with you (not forever), which will mean sharing time, space and toys, but that your kids are your kids for always.

First, decide what type of foster home you want to be and prepare your children accordingly. Fore example, in a receiving home, "these kids need a safe loving place to stay for a few weeks."

We have a traditional foster home. For my children (ages 3 and 1) I say that some kids (before I knew age, gender or names I said “someday some kids,” when I know the other details I try to be as specific as I can) are going to come stay with us for a while because their mommy and daddy can't take care of them. This can be a lot of fun for us but sometimes sad and scary for the kids that are coming just because they miss their mommy and daddy and their things so much. They get to stay with us until their mommy and daddy can be ready for them to come back home. Until then, they will need to share mommy and daddy and the family's toys with the kids. Then I show my girls the kids' room and talk about that being their space and that sometimes everyone needs a little space and that they can take space too. I have a welcome basket for each of my foster kids which I'll go into a little more later in this series, but one thing we do in preparation for a new child is make a card from the whole family to welcome them. Again, I reassure my kids that their place in my home is permanent, that I love them and that they will always be mine and they can talk to me about anything.
Take the time to reassure your children of
their permanent place in your family, that you
love them and that they can always talk to you.

With older kids you can open up a little more about what foster care is: a temporary, safe and loving home while biological parents work out their stuff. Discuss some of the things that you learn at your foster parent training. It's also important to tell your kids that the fact that their new foster siblings are in foster care is personal and it is not their job to talk about it. Teach them that they will need to be willing to share some of their things - not necessarily all of them, I think it’s important for every child to have a couple items that are just their own. Of course the items that they do not wish to share need to be established ahead of time and this would need to extend to your foster children as well; make sure they have some things that are just their own. Also, prepare your children to be sensitive when the other children want space.

As far as abuse or trauma it's easiest to generalize, but don't ignore completely, your child will need to know that sometimes their new foster sibling may act in a certain way because they are scared or because they were hurt in the past. Show them that it is our job to be loving and patient and show their new foster sibling to share, use their words, etc. In this conversation, let them know that it’s never okay to hit or hurt someone, talk about safe vs. inappropriate touch and that they can tell you anything. Again, reassure them of their place in your family and that you love them immensely.

This was a very brief overview of how to prepare your children for foster care because the following sites already have it written out so nicely. Please check out Preparing Kids in Your Home for Fostering from Adoption Resources of Wisconsin  and What to Teach Your Child to Prepare Them for a Foster or Adopted Sibling from About.com, you will find them to be an invaluable resource!

Tomorrow: Choosing to Foster - Raising a Foster Child with Biological/Adopted Children

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

{31 Days} Choosing to Foster - What's Your Line?

Once you have a foster child, know your boundaries for you and your family.  I struggled with this immensely with my 13 yr old (you can read more of the progress of this in our foster journey, That's My Girl, Who will Stand? and I'm Back!). I have deep respect for other foster families that have pledged to their foster children, that their home would be their last stop. I SO desperately wanted to be that for her. Perhaps, if it were ten years down the road when my husband and I have had more experience and didn’t have two young children, it would have been different story… But in this situation, with a broken heart, I discovered “our line.”

What is your line? 

You could end up having children come through your home with a variety of issues. When considering your line you need to consider you and your spouse’s needs as well as that of the other children living in your home, biological or current foster children.  Think about all these people when you make this tough decision.

How much is too much? What if your kid runs away? Spews every word in the book at you? Throws your favorite piece of china that you inherited from your grandma, smashing it into a million pieces on the floor? Hurts another child in your home? I am certainly not painting everyday reality here, rather, I am trying to help you imagine the worst case scenario. If any of these things happened, would that be too much? There is no wrong answer here. Just be real. If it is too much, what is your plan of action? If that is not your line, what steps will your family take to get through that situation?

Look around your home and imagine worst case scenarios. This is difficult but important, so that: 
1. You can take necessary steps to safeguard against that from ever taking place  Example: In any home with kids it is probably not a good idea to have that original Tiffany Lamp sitting on a dainty table next to your couch. :) Take the necessary steps to protect important items that are breakable. 
2. If anything were to happen you already have a plan of action to follow instead of responding out of shock, fear and raw emotion.  

Have a heart to heart conversation with your spouse (or whoever your #1 support person is) to determine what exactly your line is, and from there, what your game plan would be. What do you do in that moment that “the line” is crossed? What do you do from that point forward? As a foster family, you will always have access to an emergency on call social worker who can walk you through tough situations. You also do have the right to put in a seven days notice, and in severe cases the agency can pull the child immediately and put them in respite until they find another suitable home.  Please don’t take such a decision lightly. It is always hard on the child (and on you) to have to move again, yet sometimes there is no other choice. Whatever your plan of action is, run it through in your mind a million times so that if the crazy happens you can respond in a calm and loving way.

I hope today's post didn't scare you away. As I said before, foster kids are just kids that need someone to love them, believe in them, walk with them. If these scenarios even occur, most are the result of a lifetime of adults breaking their trust. After having that as your foundation, it is terrifying to bond and you will see them do what they can to test you, to push you away, to safeguard themselves so they won't get hurt again. If you can walk that line and see them through to the other side you will be the blessed witness of the most beautiful of transformations. 

Whatever your line is, please move forward, informed (which I hope I was able to do some of here), prepared and supported.

~Tristen :)

Tomorrow: Choosing to Foster - Preparing Your Children for the Experience

{31 Days} Choosing HOW You Foster

First, you must decide how long you would like children in your home.

There are a few different types of foster homes. 
1. Receiving Homes
One of your first choices in foster care will be whether you want to be a receiving home or a long term traditional home. Receiving homes are on the front lines in the sense that they get the emergency calls from the hospital or the police officer with very little notice, any time of day or night. A receiving home will typically only take a child for up to 30 days while the county finds a suitable home that meets that child's physical, emotional and educational needs. A receiving home will often know little to nothing about the child as they come into their home and become a source of information to social workers during this beginning stage of the investigation.

2. Traditional Foster Homes (This includes therapuetic & high level homes - working with children with challenging emotional or voilence issues)
Traditional Foster Homes are asked to care for the child while the court offers services and works to reunify the child with their biological parents. These cases are usually reviewed every 6 months.

3. Fost/Adopt or Concurrent Homes
A Traditional Foster Home becomes Fost/Adopt if the foster parents are willing to take the steps to adopt a child within their care.

Second, there are different levels of need in foster care.

There are as many different needs as there are children in the system. Foster kids are really just kids, resilient kids at that; so many have come through their experiences without any diagnosis, still, there are others that bear the physical and/or emotional scars of their past.

It drives me crazy when people, ignorant people, say things like "you are going to let those kids live in your house? What about all their issues? What about your children?" Last I checked, no one was perfect. We all have issues, you, me, even my own “angelic” kids, ha ha!  Children are in care because their parents have issues. It is through no fault of their own and to label them as such only further impedes their ability to succeed. The children in care simply need a stable, loving adult to walk with them through their "issues."

As a foster parent, you have the right to set limitations on who and how many come into your home, including their age, gender, medical and emotional needs. You can be as broad or as specific as you want. I have even heard of fost/adopt parents that are waiting for a blonde haired, blue eyed girl that is under the age of three. Yes, you have the right to be that specific, but really, the likelihood of finding a child that meets that criteria will take much longer than if you have broader specifications. 

So, think about it.

When I say think about it, I mean with a realistic understanding of your abilities and the current make-up of your home and family, not just with your bleeding heart. (I speak of this lovingly from experience!) Assuming you were given the proper training and had a community of support, could you take in a child that is medically fragile? How about a child that has been the victim of sexual abuse? Could you accommodate a child in a wheel chair? Drug exposed? Developmentally delayed? How about the acronyms – ADHD, RAD, PTSD, there are many… Could you handle a child/teen that struggles with addiction or has difficulties controlling their anger? What age range, gender and level of care do you feel your family can adequately care for?

Many children with emotional issues, example, PTSD, RAD, bed wetting, inability to control/express anger have these issues as a result of their abuse.  I strongly believe that given a stable, loving environment and a lot of patience they will be able to work through these challenges and develop into strong, loving adults. Still, this is no easy road, so I ask again, if you had the proper training and support, is this a journey you would be willing to take?

It is amazing that you have chosen to foster. Now, you just need to choose who you can foster. Again, it is completely okay if you decide that you are not able to take certain children. It is far worse to accept them with great uncertainty and then not be able to serve them properly.  No one can or should make you take a kid. EVER.

~Tristen :)

Tomorrow: Choosing to Foster - What's Your Line?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

{31 Days} Choosing a Foster Agency

Foster care services are financed with state and federal funding but are usually run by the counties. When I first started looking into foster care I was surprised to discover that there were more options than just my county agency. Doing a Google search for agencies in my small city of 90,000 immediately resulted in the County Social Services plus 10 private agencies, and still there are others that serve this area that didn’t show up on that list.  All this to say that there are lots of choices.  

Some states will require you to get licensed through a private agency, but most have a county social services that you can go through instead of a private agency.  To my knowledge, in the counties that offer child protective services, each foster child will be assigned a county social worker whether you are working with a private agency or not. These workers are supposed to visit the child once a month and are ultimately responsible for any “major” parenting decisions. However, county workers often have a heavy caseload which may impede their ability to quickly respond to your questions and needs.  Really, though, just like with any type of interpersonal communication, this is going to vary with the individual worker, there are some amazing social workers that are available often and are prompt in their response, where there are others that are simply impossible to get a hold of in the most frustrating of ways.
It is ultimately up to you to decide what type of agency, county or private is going to work best for you and your family.  Each will have their own set of rules and provide different types and levels of training. Private agencies will operate according to a specific mission statement, some will specialize in working with high risk kids, medically fragile, some are faith based, etc. Private agencies may also:
  •          Offer (and require) increased opportunities for training
  •          Have different rules on how you keep your house
  •          Have different rules on the certifications that you have (First Aid, CPR, Water Safety)
  •          Higher Reimbursement
  •          A social worker that visits 1x a week

We personally went with a specific FFA when we chose to foster because we were excited about the extra support (social worker and promised support groups), programs that they had in place for the kids (had a goal to provide a car and insurance for every foster kid that graduates from high school) and we really made a connection with some of the people that worked there.  Some would interpret that “support” which includes once a week visit from our FFA social worker to be more of a headache and would prefer to go with County and have less “interference” with their day to day life.  These are part of the factors that you will need to consider when deciding between county and private and if private, which private agency you go with.

As I continued to foster through my FFA and met others that foster through other FFAs and through the county and I learned a few things. My fingerprints, CPR, and First Aid training were covered by my agency where my county friends had to pay for theirs. I have more opportunities for training where babysitting is provided (including bowling or roller skating for the older kids). I receive a higher reimbursement than county. My agency does a few fun things during the year, including a Christmas party and a summer camping trip. I receive a $10 Walmart gift card for each family member (including my husband, me, and our bio kids) at Christmas and for each child (foster and bio) for their birthdays. It’s so nice that they don’t distinguish between foster and bio! I also, however, receive less calls for placements. The way it seems to work is that the county ends up having to pay more for the private agencies than they do for their own homes, so they work hard to fill their own homes first then they call the private agencies. There also seem to be some favorite private agencies that the placement CPS workers call first (but we have so many in my area), as a result I have not received nearly as many calls for placement as my county friends or even some of my other friends that seem to be with a “preferred” FFA. 

So, the final ruling?  
County = less contact and more placements.  
Private = More perks, more rules, more contact, slightly fewer placements. **Of course this is all based on my experience and it could be completely different in your area!

My suggestion would be to contact friends that you know foster and put the word out on Facebook. Ask around, see if anyone is part of or knows someone that is part of an agency that they love and would recommend. The recommendation needs to be from someone that fosters with that agency not simply someone that has used them for a homestudy for adoption as these are two entirely different experiences. You really need to LOVE your agency, it will make this experience sooooo much smoother!

How to Choose an Agency, by the California Kids Connection is a helpful resource that will walk you through some things to think about when deciding upon an agency that works for you. It includes some questions to ask and what to look for at an orientation. Though, it is put out by a California organization it will be very helpful in any state. However you go about it, I STRONGLY recommend that you do your homework on this one.

Those that are fostering, what has been your experience? Is there anything that you would add for the readers here?

~Tristen :)

Tomorrow: Different Levels of Needs in Care - Choosing HOW You Want to Foster

Sunday, October 14, 2012

{31 Days} Choosing to Foster – Dive in Together, or not at all

One of the most important factors in choosing to foster is to making sure your family is on board.  As a foster family you will need to establish a support system through extended family, friends, your church, etc. This will empower you to serve these kids without getting burnt out. But first, and foremost you NEED to know that your spouse is on board. If you have a strong desire to foster and your spouse is not ready for it, then, as much as I want to see more and more foster families and as much as it pains me to say it, fostering simply cannot work for your family at this time. Give your spouse information and have a positive conversation about it. Give them an opportunity to discuss concerns and reservations, hopefully information in this series will prove helpful to you. But do not pressure them, fostering isn’t just some one time decision, it is a commitment that you will be bringing into your home and your marriage.

It is no picnic, the various stresses of fostering will test your marriage, and bring to light any weak spot; you need to know that this was a choice that you agreed upon together, not a lopsided decision where one reluctantly gave in. As I’ve said before, not everyone can be a foster parent, but everyone do something to serve these kids. So don’t lose heart! If your spouse isn’t ready or willing to dive into such an endeavor check out my other posts about how you can be involved in foster care... with all of us coming together in our various ways, we will surely make the world of difference! :) 

Okay, so you and your spouse have discussed foster care and together you have decided to jump in. Wahoo! Welcome aboard this crazy roller coaster ride -- you will laugh, you will cry, sometimes you may want to scream into your pillow at night, and you will be forever changed. Now have a serious discussion with each other on how you can support each other through this. What do you need when you are stressed? How can your spouse provide that for you? And vice versa. Write it down and make a commitment to each other that you will love each other in this way. Trust me, you will thank me later! :D

Finally, discuss your parenting styles. These kids need consistency; they need to see you on the same page. Consider reading and discussing some parenting material together. In this series, I will also be providing some resources for general parenting and specific resources for parenting the abused child for your reference.

~Tristen :)