Q&A With the Dropping Anchors Crew

If you aren’t a part of the crazy world of foster care, then it’s likely you have some questions about how it works. We opened our lives up to chaos the moment we decided to become a foster family and there was a lot I didn’t know before we started our journey. The Dropping Anchors ladies are here to answer some of those questions to hopefully help others better understand what the life of a foster family looks like.

Foster Care questions with the crew

 

Krysti B. asks, “Do children return to their biological families or get adopted by foster parents more? I know it depends but I was wondering what happens more.”

We are pre adoptive (which just means we’re already approved to adopt and hope to adopt again at some point) but we accept any foster placements. In our experience, children are returned to biological families most of the time. I think it’s statistically around 20-25% of the time that children placed in foster care end up needing to be adopted. Of course this differs greatly from place to place as each state and county has their own policies and procedures. In most cases, though, I think all foster parents would agree that usually the goal is return to biological parents or another family member, at least at the start of the child’s case.

In our specific experience we’ve had two children return to biological parents (one after working a plan, the other after the case was dismissed by a judge), two children have exited state custody into a grandparent’s custody, one child exited state custody into a pre-adoptive family that the biological mother knew, and one child was adopted by us.

martina

 

Hannah B. asks, “How do you get your current kids to feel included/participate/adjust? Especially if they are young and may not understand it all?”

When we started fostering my kids were 3 and 4, so they were little. Our main thing is making sure we talk a lot about it. We include them in the discussion when we plan on taking another little one. We talk about the reason why we do it. For us that is rooted in obedience. Jesus asked us to do this (whether my husband and I felt equipped was out of the question, we were called). We let them help prepare the rooms. We always let the kids pick a stuffed animal for our new little ones, and it waits in their bed/crib before they arrive. When we are waiting for a call (which isn’t normally long) we pray for them as a family daily, with the kids. We cultivate that desire for them to be safe and feel loved. We also have a private chat policy in our home. Whenever and wherever my kids need to talk to us in private about something they don’t understand, or they are worried about it, we drop everything to tend to that (so far it hasn’t been abused) but we realize they juggle more change than the average little ones and we make sure we are available to answer that. That has been in the middle of social worker visits even. If I don’t know what will happen, I tell them that honestly and we pray about it. We believe our kids were equipped to deal with the calling the Lord had for Nick and me, and we nurture that in them. It was no accident we would be called to foster, and He knew that when He put in the qualities our kids would need. It’s not easy. It requires lots of maintenance and honesty but seriously our kids have been beyond amazing in the last few years.

leslie p

My daughter was 1.5 when we reopened our home to new foster placements. She knew we had prepared a room in our house and we explained that a child might be coming to stay with us for a while, similar to how we had babysat her friend for a few nights while his parents were on a trip. Our next placement came in the middle of the night so there was no way to give her any warning. She woke up to a new child at our home. She’s flexible and easy-going and adapted well. We checked in with her often to see how she was feeling. After three months together she was very sad to say goodbye to her brother-friend and she still very much considers him part of our family over a year after he left.

Our next placement was an infant and I think it was the sudden influx of baby gadgets (friends leant us a swing, bouncer, activity center, toys, etc.) that was a shock to our then 2.5-year-old daughter’s system. She was jealous of all the new things and she responded with regression – wanting to be held and fed, backsliding in her potty training, misbehaving for attention. The behaviors lasted less than a week and we tried to give her as much extra attention as we could afford during that transition period. I wish we could have given her more warning but that’s not how it usually works with foster care.

Now that she’s a bit older we talk to her often about welcoming new children into our home. She’s very articulate about her feelings. We’ve explained to her that sometimes other kids need a safe place to stay while their families work on some adult issues. It may be just for a little while or it may be for a long time, but we’re going to love the children as a part of our family. We always make a point of reminding her that she will always be a part of our family. I’ve been reminded many times that just as God called us to become foster parents and has faithfully equipped us along the way, He also called her to be a foster-sister and He equips her for her unique and important role.

martina

 

Jan A. asks, “How do you deal with special needs especially if a child has been abused and needs counseling? What services are available to you?”

When we received “the call” we were told that the baby’s parents were “disabled.” What did that mean? Well, in foster care you can ask that question until you are blue in the face and either not get an answer or get different answers. So, we went into this knowing that “our baby” might end up having disabilities of some sort, but to what extent or what kind, we had no idea.

Knowing that we should keep our eye open was a great asset to us though. As he wasn’t meeting milestones, we were able to take note and advocate for proper services.

That’s the big word…ADVOCATE! YOU have to be your child’s biggest advocate. Child services may, or may not, tell you anything or get the proper services for your child. We had two evaluations MONTHS apart, before someone, somewhere, found a note in the file that he had ALREADY been assessed and “diagnosed” at 3 months old. By this time he was over a year! What?!?!?! If I’d not pushed, pleaded, pulled, knocked on doors, and made my own phone calls, my sweet baby boy would have been lost in the system and missed out on early intervention!

This holds the same for abuse and counseling. You MUST advocate for your child. Do not just rely on the system to tell you what to do or who to call. Research, research, research, and then push until you feel your child is getting the help he needs.

In most areas there is a “Regional Center.” Call them! They have to help you. It’s the law. Through them you can get behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, counseling, etc. BUT, you must push them as well. If you have a concern make sure it is brought to their attention and that it stays on the forefront until you feel it’s been handled appropriately. As I was recently told, “The screeners don’t care. They screen tons of kids. You have to be the one to tell them what you need.” It doesn’t seem right, but it’s how it is. You can also talk to the pediatrician. They provide referrals for all sorts of services as well. The child’s state insurance will cover it or refer you out.

Just make sure to ADVOCATE. Your babies will thank you for it!

heather

As therapeutic foster parents we have the opportunity to love on many children with various past experiences, including medically fragile children. For my family it has been extremely important to have a strong two parent support system and great bosses, as we both work full-time. It takes a lot of advanced planning on our parts. “Who will take Johnny to this doctor, who will take him to the next doctor?” We plan all our time off work around the schedules needed for these children. Some children in our care have had up to four doctors visits or therapies per week. With one particular case our child was not cleared to attend daycare due to his illness therefore my husbands boss graciously allowed him to work after I came home each day. That was a long 2 months of not seeing each other but that precious baby was worth every minute. Some counties require children to see a specific pediatrician, others allow you to use whatever pediatrician you choose.

There are many services available, from in home and outpatient occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavioral therapy, play therapy, educational tutoring and more. Working closely with the child’s case worker and pediatrician are key to obtaining these services. Sometimes children will come to you with these services in place, others times you will have to advocate. Either way, it is important to focus on constantly reviewing the children’s needs and advocating appropriately and timely.

alisha

 

Chris D. asks, “What is your greatest challenge as a foster parent?”

By far the greatest challenge for me is navigating all the emotions that arise when dealing with children who are hurting, with a system that often seems unfair and with biological parents that you want to see succeed but that often don’t take full responsibility for their actions.

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For me, I would say my greatest challenge as a foster parent is navigating emotions on lots of different levels.
We have the unique experience of having children we don’t know dropped on our doorstep and being responsible for them, usually without knowing more than a few things about them. When they’re older, that means we also have to help them deal with so many emotions. The trauma of being removed from their home and the confusion and fear that causes is paralyzing for some children. We are constantly helping the children in our care work through emotions that are always right under the surface due to past abuse or neglect.
Of course, there are also the emotional highs and lows of our own, as foster parenting comes with a lot of uncertainty. Thoughts like “Can I love them like my own?” are quickly replaced with “How will I ever let this child go?” We constantly struggle with not knowing what their future holds and feeling powerless in the decision-making process.
Of course when a child leaves your home who you’ve loved and cared for over a period of weeks, months or even years, there’s a deep sadness. The void is always there and it is hard to overcome, but we survive and we continue fostering because there are so many more children who need us!

stacie

 

Alicia D. asks, “If you wanted to become a foster family where would you start?” 

I would start by chatting with currently licensed families in your county and asking what was the oddest request a social worker made during the licensing process. Believe it or not, the cleanliness of the home isn’t the top priority. (Don’t get me wrong…it’s important. But I spent entirely too much time worrying about the dust on my baseboards when that wasn’t even on our social worker’s radar.) For me, it was how the pantry items in our garage were stored (FYI: anything liquid needs to be 4′ off the ground).

Home basics:
•Cabinet locks on kitchen/bathroom/laundry room where potentially hazardous materials are stored (magnetic locks are preferred over the latch kind);
•Outdoors-shovels, rakes, tools, contained in one area;
•Working smoke detector [preferably near the childrens’ room(s)], one on each level of the home if a multi-story;
•Each child needs individual drawer space, as well as space in a closet.

Classes, etc:
•Have someone lined up for childcare (if needed) during completion of needed classes;
•CPR/First Aid;
•Develop a system for paperwork (file folders will become your best friend!).

Other stuff:
•Invest in a printer with a copy/fax/scan function. You will want to make duplicates of EVERYTHING;
•Pet vaccinations need to be current and documented.

The licensing process can seem overwhelming. When you’re checking off boxes and jumping through hoops, it’s easy to forget that each rule and regulation is in place for a reason: to ensure the safety and well-being of every child placed in our homes. Once that license is hanging on your wall, all the work you did will soon be forgotten. (At least until it’s time for your annual re-inspection!)

lesliec

Personally for me I don’t believe the process of becoming a foster parent should be started until you’ve taken a serious look at your motives and weighed them against the reality of foster care. And that’s not to say that if you have motives, such as growing your family, that you should not pursue foster care but mostly that children that have experienced so much loss deserve to have people whose only motive is to love them well.

10822250_10101478561657724_1502359792_n

 

Karen M. asks, “How much background on the littles do you get? Do you get a full history? Do you know if reunification is planned from the beginning?”

Honestly, this question differs from case to case. Often times, the social worker only knows the reasons why the child is being pulled and not much information beyond that. The placement coordinator calls with as much information as they have—which often times isn’t much. If the child has been in care for a while, more information is given. If it is a first time placement, the information is very minimal. In our state, when the child is pulled, parents have 30 days to come up with as many placement possibilities (relatives, friends, etc.). If they come up with a few, the SW has to run a background check and a home study. Sometimes these go through and sometimes they do not. After the 30 day period, there is a fact-finding hearing. This hearing states all the evidence as to why the children are in care and the plan to get them reunified. We have had 8 placements…with our first, we knew just about everything about him. With our latest, we knew next to nothing other than his age. All of our placements have come with very little, often just the clothes they are wearing. As far as reunification, it is safe to assume that all children will be reunified, as that is the ultimate goal for the state. However, after a while, the plan for the child (be it adoption or reunification) becomes a little bit more “clear.”

sherry

 

Maggie E. asks, “What information are you allowed (or not) to share with teachers and other school officials educating the foster child?”

Note: I am addressing California codes, as that is all I am familiar with.

Education rights are generally court ordered to a responsible adult if the biological parent(s) are not able to soundly exercise their rights when a child is taken into state care. (California Welfare and Institution Code Section 361).

Speaking from my experience, I have parented a young foster child who had special needs. He was placed in public education to receive education/therapy services at 18 months. At that time, because I held education rights, I was able to share the parts of his history with his educators that I deemed necessary for his care. I didn’t share details because it made for a fun conversation; rather that information was shared so those educating him knew how to best help him.

Foster parents in our area abide by the “prudent parent standard” which is the standard characterized by careful and sensible parental decisions that maintain the child’s health, safety, and best interests. It is in the child’s best interest for his or her parents (foster or otherwise) and educators to be on the same page with regard to the child’s history and the obstacles that child may be facing. Working as a united team would best serve our foster youth.

It is my opinion that sharing information, in a discrete and respectful way, is the best way to deal with a child’s education. As a foster parent, it is my intent to work with my children’s educators to secure the easiest transitions for those kids in my care.

Helpful resources:
Foster Care Education Fact Sheet (California)

Prudent Parent Information: (California)

lesliec

 

We are not allowed to share any information with teachers of the child’s past experiences outside diagnosis that may affect their learning or require a 504 or EC plan (ADHD, Auditory Processing Disorder, etc.). Trauma greatly affects the child’s ability to learn, focus, and retain, however teachers and school officials are not privy to this information.

alisha

 

Anonymous asks, “How do foster parents explain to their other (young) foster or bio kids when a not forever little has to go away after a long-term placement ends? And how long does the grieving period usually last for the ones that stay while the others go?”

We keep pretty open communication throughout each case with our kids. Not that I share with them all the ups and down of the roller coaster that you inevitably ride, but I tell them when we are considering adoption, or if our prayers are focused on mom and dad getting healthy, etc. My kids sense what’s happening. Sitting my children down to tell them a sibling they love is leaving is the hardest thing I have ever done. Especially when they have spent a long time with us. It’s incredibly difficult. As things are happening, I do typically email teachers, etc, and ask them to keep me on speed dial, that I want them aware of behavioral changes in class, etc, and ask for extra communication with me, as we walk through this. There is no denying asking your children to give up a sibling is a trauma for them. We pray so hard that the Lord would protect them, and they will watch us closely to see how we handle it. We cry hard, and we lean big into Jesus. It’s not pretty—don’t be fooled. I love the asker of this question for acknowledging it is, in fact, grief. We are in it thick right now. It’s very much a deep loss. There is no time frame. I will say this, I have lost two babies I had for a year each that I thought I was adopting. It’s been over a year for the first one, and I still miss him and cry tears for him once a week. My kids do, too. He became our family, and I just trust that means we loved big and didn’t hold back. The truth is though, regardless of loss we are teaching our kids beautiful big truths, and the fruit I see in them outweighs anything bad. My children are learning to love everyone like a brother and a sister, to find others more important than self, and that we can always take our heart to Jesus and He does make beauty out of ashes.

leslie p

When we first started, we made it clear to our kids (then ages 4, 6, 8) that we didn’t know how long our placements would stay. We told them it could be forever or it could be a day, but we would love them and take them into our family no matter how long it might be. As time went on and the plan of reunification became more prevalent (after 18 months), we talked to our kids honestly: about our feelings, about the plan, and how we could pray for them. We explained that our job was to love and take care of them while their parents were getting better, and that there might be a time in the future that the child would move to their parent’s home. Our first placement was with us for 23 months. He was a brother to our children. So when we knew it was time to prepare for reunification, we sat down, let the kids know about the move and to think about what they might want to do with him before it was time to go. A couple of days later we came up with a bucket list of things to do before he left. However, they grieved the loss of a sibling, and we knew it was important that they were able to feel and express that. My daughter wrote him a letter, and my boys drew him a picture. There will be many tears for a while, and slowly, they fade. I don’t think there is really an exact amount of time that the grieving lasts, because really, I don’t think it ever really goes away. It does become a little less painful in some ways. After he left, we had another family meeting to ask the kids if they wanted to continue with foster care. Every single one of them said yes without hesitation. Our middle boy (age 8) said, “Mom, if we don’t, then they might not have somewhere to be.” We continue to touch base with the kids on our feelings about foster care and taking in new placements. I want them to always be as much a part of the decision as possible.

sherry

 

Natalie C. asks, “What can I do to help you? Fostering isn’t in my near future, or possibly my future at all, but it takes a village, so what can I do to help make your family transition better/easier/nicer, etc.?”

Our first placement was so hard to transition for us. We went from having one daughter to adding two kiddos; One non-verbal two-year old and a newborn. I was totally overwhelmed and went into survival mode. I didn’t feel okay with asking for help with anything because we were the ones who had decided to open our home, and I felt like no one would want to help. Luckily I have some friends who know me well enough to know that I wouldn’t ask for help. They came over and did my laundry, brought us dinner, and snuggled the baby so that I could take a nap.
The foster care world is very, very messy and emotionally draining. In my opinion, the best way to help a foster family you know is by going over and taking over child care duty so mom or dad can nap, take a shower, or have some time alone. Take them dinner (only if you know there are no allergies!). Go wash their dishes. Put up their laundry. Or just take them some coffee and chat.

casey

 

One of the hardest parts of being a foster parent is often feeling alone so a listening ear is huge and also a willingness to be with people in the pain instead of just offering advice or minimizing it. I also would love for more people to treat the addition of a new child through fostering in the same way as a new baby being born and offer simple help such as meals, spending time with the other children in the home or offering help around the house. Never assume that because they’re not asking for it that they don’t need it.

nicole

There are so many ways to make a foster parent’s life easier! First of all, be there for your friend. So many times, I have felt isolated and unimportant to my non-foster care friends. Ask about the kids. Ask how the family is doing. Let them know you are thinking of them!

Bring a meal. The first few days or even weeks with a new placement are so busy with everyone adjusting, appointments, and an information overload… cooking isn’t high on the list of priorities!

Offer to help with the other kids. Maybe you can help with rides to activities those first few weeks, or babysit while the foster parents take their new family member to all those appointments.

Offer to help and mean it! Instead of saying, “Let me know if you need anything”, tell your foster parent friends you would like to help with {insert cleaning, laundry, baby-holding, etc.}, set up a good day and time, and follow through. Personally, I know I am very reluctant to ask anyone for help. It helps if my friends don’t give me a choice!

Melissa a

 

Wendy M. asks, “Did you always know that you were going to be such a special set of parents?”

Before my husband and I got married I told him that “one day” I wanted to be a foster family. I was 18 when I really knew that we would one day grow our family through foster care and adoption. I always thought it would be when “our” children were grown. Now we realize how silly those plans were and we are so grateful that God’s plans are so much greater than our own. We opened our home up to other littles when we were 22; He knew that “our” kids wouldn’t all come from my belly, but that he would knit our family together through the messy world of foster care and hopefully, eventually, through adoption.

casey

 

Jenny D. asks, “How do you help the children understand you are not just another person who will love them and leave them or be taken from them? So they don’t have abandonment issues?”

I probably have a different take on this question than a lot of my foster mom friends in that we’re a foster family as opposed to foster to adopt. We also take children who are 5 & under so their understanding is limited. When we get children it’s a quick call, usually in the middle of the night, and we don’t get many details for a while, it’s generally a week or two before we hear much from DFCS.

When we first get a scared, confused child, we don’t tell them much other than we don’t know how long they’ll be with us but what we do know is that they’re safe and can stay with us as long as they need to. We just try to re-affirm that the reason they had to leave their home was not in any way their fault and that we will love them forever. We tell them that even if they move away, they’ll always have a family who loves them, thinks about them and prays for them every day. Unfortunately, in the world of foster care you can’t say anything for sure until you have an adoption date set. Things change constantly and it wouldn’t be fair to promise forever to a child without being absolutely certain.

stacie

As we usually say in foster care topics, each case is unique. Some kids come in to care at a very young age, and if they have been cared for consistently they will not usually have an issue with making a transition. Frequent visits with parents help keep that bond going (again this varies with the abilities of the parents and safety issues).

With older children, you try to keep an open line of communication. Help them understand how you are there for them, that your home is a safe place for them while they need it. On some occasions, foster parents are able to keep in contact with kids who have been in their care, which also lets the kids know that you are always interested in their well-being.

And counseling is a wonderful resource that helps kids work through past issues with attachment/abandonment fears. Counseling can be just for the child, or include the parents or caregivers depending on the situation.

stephanie

 

Tiffany S. asks, “What does a typical visit from the case worker consist of?”

Case worker visits are pretty simple for us. They come to our home and visit with the kiddos, play with them, then talk with us about the needs of the children. They make sure they are doing well and we discuss if there are any services needed to help the children in our care thrive. They take notes. Usually it lasts less than a half-hour.

casey

 

Amber F. asks, “How do you balance protecting your adopted and biological children with the risks of bringing an abused/troubled child into your home?”

We get as much information as possible about the child before saying yes to a placement. Issues with sexual abuse or a child with a history of hurting other children would be red flags to consider very seriously. In my personal experience, our children have more often been exposed to drugs as infants or been victims of neglect. They have trauma to deal with—often the biggest trauma is the removal from their biological parents and placement into a stranger’s home—but haven’t been particularly “troubled.” They’re innocent, vulnerable, lovable children just like any others and may need a little extra emotional support to get through their trauma. We’ve recently made the decision not to accept any placements older than our daughter for her protection.

martina

 

Chris S. asks, “What’s the best part about being a foster parent?”

The best part of being a foster parent, hands down, is getting to love on these amazing kids. Watching them grow and learn to trust is the biggest blessing.
steph

 

Easily, the best part is watching these kids thrive! Knowing even the tiniest victories are still victories! Watching the life, that was once lost, ignite in a child’s eyes makes all the hard stuff totally worth it.

casey

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