Today marks a monumental day for me. I can now say I’ve had more children than Michelle Duggar.
Well, kind of.
We are caring for our 18th foster child now. Plus we have two kids. So, technically, I can say I have 20 kids and counting… right?
Of course, the most we’ve ever cared for at one time is five, and that was just over night. So really, I suppose I can’t really claim to have anything on a woman who cares for so many children at one time. But still, it’s fun to think that I have something in common with a woman who’s mothering I respect in so many ways. I mean, really, to have 19 kids and never lose your temper or yell? Oh, how I have so much I could learn from her wealth of experience!
Here's a little background on our status as a foster family:
In the past four years we've fostered 18 kids (a few on more than one occasion). They've ranged in age from 3 weeks old to 17 years. Typically we just care for 1-2 extra kiddos at a time. Our shortest placement has been 3 hours and our longest has been just over 6 months. Some placements have been incredibly easy and some of been terribly trying. Most are somewhere in between.
In honor of caring for our 20th child, I have decided to answer some of the most frequently asked questions we receive when people find out we are foster parents.
1.) What made you decide to do foster care?
Honestly? It's a God thing, plain and simple! We had taken the classes to get certified several years ago because we had reason to think my two (very much younger) half siblings might come into care someday. Time went by however, and we decided to pursue adopting a teenage girl through the foster care system when our kids (now 7 and almost 10) were just 2 and 4. That didn't end up materializing, but we did end up being relative foster parents to my siblings who eventually did end up in care. Because of pursuing an adoption and doing relative foster care we were fully certified foster parents, though we weren't actively seeking out other foster care placements. About 8 months after my siblings left our care our adoption Certifier asked if we'd consider fostering a pregnant teenager that had recently come into care, since she knew our home was a good fit for teenage girls. On a bit of a whim we decided to do it, and found out that we enjoyed getting to provide for a kiddo in need in this way. We had room in our home and in our hearts so we decided to keep up on our certification just in case we could fill other occasional needs as well. Over time the calls became more frequent and before we knew it we were an official foster family. So really, for us there never was a day that we "decided" to become foster parents. It just kind of happened.
2.) When it comes time for them to go home (or in some cases, to another family), how do you let them go?
I wrote extensively about this topic a few months back, because it's probably our most frequently asked question when people find out we are a foster family. You can read my heartfelt answer here: Parenting someone else's child: Falling in love and saying goodbye
3.) How do you keep yourself from getting too attached?
You don't. But getting attached is actually a good thing! When kids build healthy attachments to foster parents (or anyone else) it helps them to be able to transfer those attachments later in life. However, when a child doesn't form attachments, it can be quite difficult for them to form healthy attachments throughout their lives, which can lead to a host of problems in their future. The downside is that our family forms attachments with these kids and it often hurts to let them go. However, if doing foster care were about us, our needs and our comfort, we wouldn't do it. The truth is, it's not about us.
3.) How big is your house? Does every kid have to have their own room?
We only have a three bedroom house. In our case our two kids have almost always shared a room and we've had one room available for foster care. Each kid in care needs a bed and a dresser and adequate space and privacy, but not necessarily their own room. Our foster care room currently has one large dresser and one small one, a shelf of toddler aged toys, a pack n’ play, a set of bunk beds, and a toddler mattress stored underneath. That way, we’re set up to take any age of kids on short notice.
4.) How do you keep yourself from getting bitter at the parents/family members of the kids you care for?
This is an interesting question. We are under no obligation to meet the parents of the kids who we care for, but I usually make it a point to meet them for several reasons. One of the reasons is to (hopefully) help them know their child is being cared for by a fairly normal, loving family. I would be beside myself if I had no idea who was taking care of my children! Another significant reason is to gain some perspective. The majority of the kids we've had in care have been neglect cases due to drug abuse and/or mental health issues. When you meet a parent and realize that they're a human being who is struggling with addiction or mental illness, your heart begins to go out to the parent(s) as well. Sometimes they're able to do what it takes to get their child back. Sometimes they are not. Ultimately though, the choice isn't mine to make... and I have to keep that in mind.
5.) How do you deal with kids being returned to parents who you don’t think you should go home?
These kids have caseworkers, supervisors, Court Appointed Special Advocates, therapists, attorneys and judges who work together to decided within the confines of the law whether or not a child should be returned to their parent(s). Ultimately I'm contracted by the state of Oregon to care for a child while their parents cannot. As much as I might want to make decisions on behalf of the child, it simply is not within the parameters of my position as a foster parent. I could choose to become bitter when things don't turn out like I think they ought to, but ultimately it wouldn't change anything. On one hand I have to love these kids as if they were my own. On the other hand I have to hold them with an open hand and keep the perspective that decisions regarding their cases are not mine to make. Sometimes, admittedly, it’s easier said than done however.
6.) Does the amount of money you get actually cover all of a child's expenses?
Different people have different spending habits. This is as true for foster parents as it is for anyone else. The state gives us a specific amount of money per child per day to reimburse us for the typical expenses that are involved in caring for a child. How we choose to spend the money however, is ultimately up to us. If I were to go out and buy a brand new wardrobe and bedroom set for a each kid that came into my care I could easily outspend what we are paid. However, we've found that if we're frugal and resourceful we can easily provide for all of a child's needs within the amount that we're paid, often times with plenty left-over.
This depends on a number of factors, however. If we get a child as a shelter care placement (perhaps in the middle of the night or on a weekend until a Certifier can find a good fit for the child to be placed in long term) and they come with nothing but the clothes on their backs, then we could easily outspend what we are eventually paid. A pair of suitable pajamas, a tooth brush and one set of clothes can easily cost more than we'll receive for just one night.
However, some kids come into care (or come from another foster home) with everything they need which requires very little expense upfront and only a minimal amount of money in providing for basic needs and some wants along the way.
These are our most frequently asked questions about foster care. Hopefully it gives you a small glimpse into the life of a foster family. I'm open to answering more questions about foster care if my readers have any. Do you have a question about foster care that I didn't answer here?