Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Foster Parent Nesting


The urge to create a warm, safe and (in humans, particularly) aesthetically pleasing space in which to welcome a child.

Typically, this occurs later in pregnancy, spurred on by an influx of hormones. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Expecting parents will clean, organize and decorate their homes and nurseries in anticipation of the life that’s about to arrive.

But even without a surge of hormones, I have found myself overwhelmed by a desire to “nest” lately. I want to make my house as welcoming and lovely as possible for any future foster children.

However, I have discovered a key difference between a biological parent and myself:

I know absolutely nothing about the kid(s) who might live in my home.

Biological parents can go HAM picking out colors, clothes, and toys. If they prefer to keep the gender a surprise, they can choose some really trendy neutral items.
According to Google, this is a "gender neutral toy."

Regardless, they’ll know to get a crib, diapers, some onesies, and whatever else babies need these days.

But what do you do if you’re completely in the dark about not just the gender, but the age and even number of your future child(ren) as well?

What do you do if you know nothing about the child (or children??) you’re preparing for?

Even Oprah is unsure.

This is the dilemma I’m facing.

Sure, I can create a gender-neutral space like many parents do, but what furniture should I supply? A crib, or a bed? Do I need a highchair, booster seat, or neither? What kind of toys should I have available? Should I stock the bookshelf with picture books, squishy books that can be chewed and drooled on, or pop-up books? (That’s for you, Ben.) Will the child(ren) in my home even like books??

Although I want to create a space like this...

Thank, Pinterest, for continually inspiring to set unattainable interior design goals!

...the uncertainty of just about everything makes the task a little overwhelming.

Still, every once in a while, I am hit with waves of sheer determination.
That’s what happened last Sunday morning.

I woke up early, had a few hours before I wanted to head to church, and was feeling super ambitious as I thought about setting up my home, so I decided to start moving into my new room. (Logistically, with the set-up of the house, my old room and the guest room are the best fit for kids’ rooms. Plus my new room has a bigger closet, so there’s that.)

After drinking a cup of coffee and singing some Chaka Khan at the top of my lungs, I disassembled my bed, moved each piece to its new location, and started putting it back together. After reassembling the bedframe, I began moving the box spring mattress into place (by myself, in case you forgot)- confident my efforts would fill Geri Halliwell herself with pride.

That’s when- in some fluid motion I still don’t entirely understand- I tripped and fell backward. Caught on the previously mentioned reassembled bedframe, I was unable to fall out of the way as the very large and heavy box spring came crashing onto me.
Or my leg.

Although I cannot find one to do the moment justice, I am certain if someone caught my fall on tape it would become a gif sensation. It had to look ridiculous.

After lying on the floor for a bit- saying some words I would never use in front of future foster children- I gathered my pride, walked off my injury, and kept trucking through my to-do list.
Then, halfway through folding a load of laundry, I noticed I had an extra kneecap sticking out of my shin.
And that it was very painful.
And pretty disgusting.

In case you missed it last week.

Suffice it to say, I was confined to the couch for the majority of the day. (Except for when I took a break to hang curtains, because- seriously- who can sit on a couch all day?)

Since then, I managed to injure my other shin and receive multiple bruises by tripping over- or running into- miscellaneous pieces of furniture.

Obviously I am the picture of effortless grace.

This lady has nothing on me.

In spite of my injuries, I was finally able to finish organizing (mostly) on Thursday. My living room looked lovely, I used some magazine basket things (technical term) to organize my closet, my dishes were finally where they belonged- things were looking up!

Then I traveled home for the weekend, loaded a U-Haul with tons of toys, blankets, baby clothes and a few pieces of furniture (which were very generously donated by my mom- thanks, mom!), and drove back north. (Special shout out to my mom, grandparents, and friends- who were incredibly kind and helped me load and unload the truck in less-than-ideal Texas heat, and my friend who was unbelievably generous and drove me 3.5 hours south so I could make a one-way trip with the truck!)

This is the 14' truck I drove like a champ. Obviously while singing Chaka Khan again.
Also, I don't have many picture of myself, so that one will be on repeat for while.

Since unloading that truck, my once mostly-organized house looks like the aftermath of a tornado running through the North Pole.

These photos don’t quite do it justice, but here’s a glimpse:

Just days ago I could sit on that couch...

There’s a lot of stuff, guys. We’re talking about six kids’ worth of childhood toys/blankets/etc.

And the thought of sorting through it all and finding space for it has made me a feel a little bit anxious.
And by a little bit anxious, I mean I’ve had a few tearful breakdowns.

But bit by bit, my gimp leg and I are going through boxes of baby/toddler things from  the 1984-1998 years, trying to decide what might be useful for the unknown child(ren) who could be living in my house in one moth.

My goal is to have everything accessible in clearly labeled containers so they can be pulled out in a pinch if and when they’re needed.

I will always aspire to the perfection of Pinterest.
And, honestly, I feel very fortunate to be overwhelmed by everything I have available for future foster kids. I mean, there certainly are worse scenarios I could be facing.

I’m feeling more calm about it as I keep plugging away with the organizing, and in spite of its current disaster status, I’m confident my house will once again be an organized (and hopefully somewhat attractive) home- ready for any child welcomed into it, whenever that may happen.

In the meantime, I still have a lot to learn about how to prepare this place.
This is what my Amazon cart has looked like for a week:

Which of these things do I actually need??

If you’ve ever welcomed a child or children into your home (biological, adoptive, foster, babysitting- whatever), how did you prepare? What items were necessary (or extremely helpful) for you? What did you think would be necessary, but turned out to be pretty pointless?

Help me, people. I could use all the advice I can get.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Foster Parenting FAQs

Well, team- I'm pushing forward (at a pretty rapid pace) in the licensing process.

Here are some things I’ve checked off my licensure to-do list:

  • A handful of online trainings focused on medical consent, medications, and trauma-informed care (which made for a thrilling Friday night, by the way)
  • Two online courses on car seat safety. (Are all parents required to take this? Because they should be. It's so intimidating! Dear everyone who transports children- if you don't take a class about car seat safety, at least read the car seat’s manual.)
  • Trainings on policies and procedures
  • More paperwork!

My former roommate also moved out over the weekend, which makes everything intensely real. Sitting alone in my living room over the past few days, I have- on multiple occasions- been suddenly struck by the life-changing nature of my decision.

In a few weeks, I could have kids in my house.

And I’m going to be responsible for them.

Note to self- clean up language before children arrive.

A lot could change in just a few short weeks.

One thing I suspect will not change is people's curiosity. I still get a lot of great questions, and, as I mentioned last time, I want to take time to answer a few of them here. Some are more focused on the general process, and others are more specific to my experience.

Here are the questions that made the cut for this post:

1. How old will the child be?/Will it be a boy or a girl?
I don't understand these things. They just seems like an invitation for public disappointment.

            My answer to this one is simple- I have no idea. And I won’t until I get a call saying, “Hey, we have a child in need of a placement. It is a fill in a gender here who is fill in a number here years old. Are you willing to take him/her in?”
         That might be a slightly abbreviated version of the phone call, but it really will be that basic. And, depending on the type of placement, it could happen a few hours before a child arrives at my home.  
         In the agency I work with, there are two main types of placements- mandated and voluntary. Mandated placements happen when CPS requires a child to be removed from a home. The nature of this situation means there’s not typically a lot of advanced planning- a child is taken into DFPS custody, and they have to find a placement immediately. Voluntary placements occur when a guardian chooses to sign a child into foster care temporarily- while they try to find housing, search for a job, or do whatever they feel is necessary to provide a more supportive environment for their child. Sometimes this allows for a bit of advanced notice, but it’s never a guarantee.
         So basically, if you ask me that question the day a child is placed in my home, I might have an answer for you.

2. Are you requesting a specific age/gender?
         While I won’t know specifics in advance, I can request a general age range. I could even say my house will/will not be open to a specific gender, race, religion, etc. That might sound harsh, but if a foster parent is a strict atheist, s/he may not feel comfortable providing spiritual support for a child who comes from a strict Southern Baptist family. And vice versa. These children are going through a significant- and traumatic- change, so the hope is they'll be able to experience some level of stability and consistency in the midst of it. If a foster parent is uncomfortable providing a specific cultural or spiritual or whatever environment, it might not be the best fit for the child.

(I'm reminded of this movie clip- event though it's a completely different context:)
(I had to get my Tina Fey reference in somewhere...)

         So, basically, in the process of becoming a foster parent, you determine what environment and experiences you’re comfortable providing, and they use that to create a profile for you that is stored in a database of available foster homes. So “Foster Home A” may be willing to take up to 3 children under the age of 13 of any ethnicity but only a Methodist background. Then, when DFPS has a 3-year old boy who comes from a Wiccan family (I'm just using this example because of the video clip), they will know “Foster Home A” might not be the best placement for him. Essentially, it helps DFPS match the needs of the kids with the homes able to provide them.
         That being said, the only specifics I requested were focused on age. I question my ability to effectively parent a child who could break into a wine cabinet or steal my car, so I’ve requested ages 6 and under- with a little bit of flexibility.  (Note the use of the word could. I don’t think this would actually happen; it’s just a fear I have of raising teenagers. I will probably be terrified when I have teenagers of my own one day. It’s a scary age range- they have a lot going on.)

Yeah, me either.

3. How many kids will you have?
         As you may have gathered in the previous response, this is another thing a foster parent has to consider in the licensing process. You get to decide what your range is- usually it’s “up to ___” kids.
         There is a maximum capacity, which is dependent on the number of caregivers, how much space is available, how many other people are in the home, and the type of licensing the home receives.
         I stated I would prefer one child, but I am flexible if a sibling group needs a placement- with three being my maximum.

4. When will you get a placement?
         See the answer to 1. Technically, I have no clue. I hope to be licensed by September, so it could be any time after that! I’ll keep you posted.

5. Will you quit your job?
         Because I still have to make money- and because I enjoy what I do- my potential foster children will go to day care or school during the day, and I will continue working.

This will pretty much be me.
         I think there’s an idea floating around that people make money foster parenting; I’m sure there’s been a horror story about it on 20/20 or 60 Minutes.  But let me clarify- that is not true.
         Foster parents do get a small stipend to help cover things like food, clothes and day care for the child, but it’s far from a personal income. When it’s used correctly, there shouldn’t really be anything left over. Because day care is expensive, guys. 

6. How long will the child live with you?
         This is another one where the real answer is “I don’t know.” It depends on a lot of different factors. The goal of foster care is to provide a temporary home until a permanent option is available- whether that means family reunification, kinship care, or an adoptive placement. The hope is this would take less than a year, but a family could need more time to regain custody, or an adoptive placement might not be available right away. There’s no way to guarantee a time frame. It could be 2 months, or it could be 2 years. This is one of the reasons it’s important for someone to feel confident and committed before becoming a foster parent.
         However, there are shorter-term options available for people who want to do this, but don’t feel ready to take on anything long-term. Respite care providers are essentially temporary foster homes. They’re licensed, but they provide care to children who are in foster homes for anywhere between 2 and 14 days. (If a foster parent needs a break, has to go on a business trip, etc.)

These are a few of the questions I’ve received, but if you have more, please feel free to leave a comment or send me a message!

Next week, I’ll be talking about the difficulty- and the danger- of “nesting.”

Here’s a sneak peek of what’s to come:

That is real, folks. 
And I'll tell you all about it soon!

(Side note- if you want to continue following my foster parenting journey, I think there's a way to sign up to be notified when a new post happens. I'm not super tech savvy, but I think it exists somewhere to the right of this. Maybe?)

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