A few short months ago, our family grew by ten finger and ten toes through foster care. It’s our first placement, and it’s been a whirlwind of emotions from day one. May is National Foster Care month, so I thought I would share a little bit more about the foster care system and how we all can be involved, even if we aren’t all foster parents.
Children in foster care can be newborns through teenagers, who have been removed from their homes by the state due to some level of abuse or neglect, or because the parents are incarcerated or have substance abuse issues. The state takes temporary custody of the child, and places the children in foster homes (families who have been trained and completed a homestudy – a set of interviews and a home inspection). The goal of foster care is reunification–for children to be reunited with their birth parent(s) after the parent(s) have been given a chance to prove themselves fit to take their children back. If that is not possible, the child would be able to be adopted by a family member, family friend, or the foster family.
Therefore, foster families stand in the gap for these children and families, until the parents are able to have their children back, or until they need to be adopted. It’s a tough emotional ride, but well worth it to provide a child with a stable, loving home that they so desperately need, even if only for a little while.
The number one thing people tell us when they hear we are foster parents is: “I couldn’t do that, I would get too attached.”
I get the sentiment, and foster care is not for everyone, but guess what? I get attached! And I want to get “too attached” to that child, because it’s for the child’s good, even if it will cause me great pain when he leaves. Their brains need to learn to attach to a trusted adult in order to stand a chance of developing in a healthy way. Not everyone should be a foster parent, but I am willing to bet that more people can be. The need is great, and if you are worried you will get too attached, well, that’s precisely the point. Don’t let that stop you.
If you are interested at all in becoming a foster parent, here are some first steps:
Here in Colorado, we have so many fabulous resources for training. If you belong to the Christian faith, there is an organization called Project 1.27 that provides completely state approved, faith based training. We used this organization and they were incredible. They provide some of the best training in the state, faith based or not, and are a wonderful support. We loved that part of their training included “support team training,” where friends and family could come to a training session, learn about the foster care system, and how to support us as we moved forward.
You can also do trainings directly with the county you wish to foster children through. Look up your specific county directly for more information.
You can also do trainings through private agencies. Here is a list of private child placement agencies (CPAs).
Once we completed our training through Project 1.27, we had to decide if wanted to get licensed through the county, or through a CPA. We chose a CPA for a few reasons: they give more personal support to the foster family, and they pull from a variety of counties. So, if we lived in Jefferson county, we could choose to take kids from Jefferson county, but also Denver County, Douglas County, etc. If we went directly through a county, we would only be getting calls from that one county. While I can’t speak to every private agency, the one we chose (Mount Saint Vincent) has been incredibly supportive, professional, and all together amazing.
Once we decided on Mount Saint Vincent, we had a case worker come to our home 3 times to ask us questions about our life, family, and backgrounds, to observe us with our biological kids, and to do a home inspection. It is also where you discuss what ages of kids you are open to, as well as the level of medical/social/behavioral needs of the children you are open to, as well. It was very non threatening and not at all as scary or invasive as I pictured in my head!
Once you are trained and certified, you can take calls! This can be a really stressful process, as you often have to make decisions very quickly. You definitely won’t be sitting around waiting for calls. In our case, we had our agency call us with placement information, and they coordinated with the county the child resided in. After placement, we have check-ins with our CPA case manager, as well as a social worker from the county the child is from. There is also visits with the biological family, therapy appointments, and court dates where a judge reviews how the child and parents are doing, and makes a plan for either reunification or adoption (possible, depending on your case).
There is much, much more to it than that, but those are some first steps. It is also important to note that all of this is very low cost. I would say for us to get trained and certified (background checks, training costs, fingerprints, added items like a fire extinguisher and escape ladder for our home, etc.), it cost less than $500, and as a foster parent you receive a stipend from the state to help care for the child’s basic needs. The foster child is also on Medicaid, so there is no extra cost to you to get medical care for the child.
Even if you are not going to be a foster parent, everyone should be involved in some way.
They say “it takes a village to raise a child,” and that is very literally true in foster care, as the children are wards of the state. It should be all of our responsibilities to advocate for these children and families to make our communities better, safer, and healthier. Here are some ideas for how to get involved as a non-foster parent:
- Become a respite caregiver: Did you know that a foster child cannot be left in the care of anyone but a licensed provider for more than 6 hours? So if a couple wants to have a much deserved kid-free weekend getaway and they are foster parents, they must find a babysitter who is fully trained and certified. It is such a gift to have people in our community who are not foster parents, but have been fully trained through the ways described above, in order to give foster parents a break every now and then.
- Provide meals and other help to foster families: I just need to brag on our friends and family for a minute. When we got our placement, we had 6-weeks of meals for our family, friends dropping off coffee and chocolate on our porch, packages were sent with blankets and books, and friends and family were willing to jump in and take our older kids for a bit so we could rest or take our foster child to the many appointments they have. It has been such a gift.
- Become a CASA: A CASA is a Court Appointed Special Advocate who volunteers their time to help advocate for foster kids. They visit them in their foster home to see how things are going, and help speak on their perspective in court for the child’s best interest.
- Get involved in ways that can PREVENT foster care: Ultimately, I don’t want foster care to exist. I want every child to be born into a safe, loving home. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, but we must do what we can to get to the root issues of children needing homes to have less children in the system. This can mean advocating for good health care for all, affordable housing, volunteering at women’s shelters and group homes, or with substance abuse treatment centers.