While most of the time I feel like my life has proceeded relatively normally (as normally as one might expect when you get past the whole instant parenthood thing), during those times when I feel like a foster parent I get a lot of questions about what that means. Feel free to skip down to the pics if you already know, but if not … read on.
Why / how do kids come into foster care?
In Massachusetts, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the agency in charge of the safety and welfare of children. Children are removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. This can include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Neglect is the failure to provide minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability and growth, etc. Kids come into foster care (or start being followed by DCF) when abuse or neglect is reported by a teacher, neighbor, police officer, etc. If it is determined that there is basis to the allegation and the child is not safe at home, they are removed from the home. The Department then tries to contact family member who may be willing and able to take the child or children. If family cannot be found or is not suitable, the child is placed into a foster home (like ours).
Will you get to adopt her?
No. Monica is in foster care with the goal of reunification. That means that our job as foster parents is to provide a stable and loving home during the time when she is unable to be with her parents, and to provide consistency and love to build a strong base for attachments, emotional well being, and development.
Who can be a foster parent?
Probably you. In Massachusetts, you have to be at least 18 years old, live somewhere with adequate space that meets the safety requirements, and have adequate income to support yourself/your current family. You can be single, married, divorced, partnered, you can rent or own, stay at home or work …
How long are kids usually in foster care?
There isn’t a good answer to this question – the DCF website says the average stay is 3-18 months. Honestly, some kids are in care for a week or two while family is found, some kids are in care for much longer than they should be because their parents are given a lot of second (third, fourth, fifth) chances or they are awaiting adoption.
How do you handle the expenses?
Children in DCF care are eligible for MassHealth (Medicaid) and WIC (if they are under 5). We, the foster parents, receive a daily rate to offset costs of caring for the child (it’s something like $20/day). There is also a quarterly clothing allowance (no idea how much this is – we haven’t received it yet). Though it is not guaranteed, DCF has vouchers for daycare as well (which Monica is benefitting from now). For us, all of these things make it do-able (though not, as some may think, profitable).
How do I become a foster parent?
Contact your local authority (DCF area office in MA) and register your interest. Your home needs to pass a safety and standards check, you have to pass a background check, and participate in a home study (which includes interviews with all members of the household about backgrounds, upbringing, parenting styles, and motivations as well as satisfactory references – personal, work, and health). You also have to take and pass a 30-hour MAPP course.
Do you have control over what child or children are placed with you?
Yes, absolutely. Part of the home study process involves working with your social worker to decide what ages and genders you are prepared to parent, as well as how many children and what level of need (e.g. medical or developmental needs) you are equipped for. For example, on our license, E and I are approved to foster parent up to two children (we’d only take two at a time if they were siblings) under age 4.
I like most (not all, or as strongly maybe) of the points made in this post, What Foster Parents Wish Other People Knew. Recommended reading – definitely check out the end, which reminds us that “You don’t have to be a foster parent to HELP support kids and families in crisis.”
And for your viewing pleasure, Monica’s little fingers feeding carrots to Sheba (both of their favorite activity).