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Community

Our girls weekend is off to a great start! Monica, Sheba, and I all miss E (especially Sheba), but we are making it work. I’ll have pictures tomorrow to brag about all of the fun we’re having, but for today, I have a topic: community amongst foster parents.

It seems to me (from the outside) that most first time parents (who do it “the regular way”) find themselves a new little community when they are pregnant – they bond with other parents due around the same time. There are birthing classes, mommy ‘n me groups, play dates, and new friendships. When people become parents through foster care, things are a little bit different. We don’t know when we’ll become parents, so we can’t bond with people over our “due date.” We don’t know how old our children will be when they come to us, so we can’t form a play group. So where can we find our parenting community? Some people find that community in their MAPP class. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t find people we could relate to and lean on in our class. E and I are lucky to have neighbors with children who we’ve been able to lean on and look toward for advice and support. But becoming parents through foster care presents a unique set of challenges, and there is something to be said for finding a community of foster parents with whom we share these challenges and triumphs.

Monica and I spent some time this afternoon with friends of friends (soon to be 1st-degree friends I hope) who are pursuing adoption through foster care and their adorable foster (pre-adoptive) twins. Although their path is slightly different than our own, it was so refreshing to be able to talk openly with people who are facing the same issues as us. I will talk more about our visit in tomorrow’s post, but it got me thinking a lot about the importance of community. Many of us have found a community here, online. Unfortunately, “online” isn’t a place and we can’t easily get together, have play dates, and bitch about social workers and court cases. I feel like foster parents need this community, and it isn’t as easy to find as the hundreds of mommy groups forming on any given week. Foster parenting is uniquely challenging – it takes a great deal of patience, courage, and strength to parent other people’s children, to fall in love with them and treat them as your own, and then to see them go (often to a home that you might not perceive as ideal). We need to find our local community – we need to lean on each other, get advice about which social workers to avoid, where to take your kids to the dentist, which doctors are accessible for last minute appointments, where to find cheap clothes in all sizes, where to find free stuff, who to ask for help …

The friends we visited with today (T and Y … and Frick & Frack) were lucky enough to attend a MAPP class out in Big Suburb (rather than here in Big City), where they found an amazing community. They have a listserv where they share stories of their placements and social workers and court cases, where they share in each others triumphs and challenges. Big Suburb isn’t really close enough either though. They can’t set up play dates and go to the same community events. For E and I (and T and Y), we have each other for now. But I hope that we can carve out a little community for ourselves here, where we can find that camaraderie and look to each other for advice. It just seems like something that DCF could do a better job of encouraging. Or maybe it’s a job for an outside organization, or community organizers. Either way, I’m looking for it. Support groups at our area office start back up in the fall, and I hope that there we will find ourselves taking a step in the right direction.

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Foster Factoids

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).

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Acronyms and other things that I’ll probably say and not explain

DCF – Department of Children and Families

EI – Early Intervention

WIC – Women, Infants, and Children (nutritional program for the aforementioned demographic that children in DCF care qualify for – basically, government checks for things like formula, baby cereal, baby food, fresh fruits and veggies, milk, etc)

MSPCC – Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

MAPP – Massachusetts Approach to Partnerships in Parenting – A 30-hour course all foster parents must take to become licensed.

Chipotle Sunday – Our weekly ritual wherein we eat at Chipotle (self explanatory?) … we also happened to get engaged on a Sunday after eating a Chipotle, sparking the widespread belief that we got engaged at Chipotle (not true, we’re slightly more classy than that)

SW – Social Worker

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Call for Questions

So I’m feeling the pressure to keep posting with some serious regularity … As in, I am receiving actual verbal pressure along with some good old fashioned guilt and subliminal messaging. So here I am! (subtext: I actually love this)

What I’m realizing is that many of you – family, friends, and lurkers alike – have lots of questions about all of this and maybe don’t feel comfortable asking or are just waiting for me to post about it. Since I’m not a mind reader, here’s my call for topics! I want to hear from you – leave me a comment (you can be anonymous if you must) with a topic you’d like to hear my thoughts on or a question you have, and I’ll end up with a little list of blog posts yet to be written!

You know what’s going to be super embarrassing? When I don’t get any comments on this post at all …

Also, I seem to have only taken videos of Monica yesterday. So no pictures to post today! I promise that there will be pictures galore of the back of her head/other face-less poses as we embark on our little family vacation this weekend. Just you wait.

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So Far

I thought it might be prudent to post about where we are in this process of becoming foster parents.  We have already registered our interest with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), had a social worker out to our condo to do a physical standards check (make sure we had working smoke detectors and adequate space for a child), submitted to background checks, completed a very thorough application (I think it was 18 pages), submitted personal, professional, and medical references, and finished the required 30 hours of MAPP training.  What we are waiting on now is the home study to be completed and submitted by our family resource social worker.  She is coming out to the house on Monday to interview us and begin the home study process.

It has been interesting and enlightening to observe and work with “the system” so far.  I’m sure I’ll have other words for them in the future, good and bad, but for now I’m sticking with interesting.  Our initial phone calls were not returned back in the fall of 2012.  In fact, it took multiple calls to the family resource supervisor to find out if they received our registration of interest, find out when classes would be, and get our social work to contact us.  She cited difficulty calling us because our cell phone numbers are both long distance, and has subsequently been fairly good with contact via e-mail.  As for the MAPP classes … there are too many “interesting” stories to share here.  A brief recap though:

  • The group of prospective foster parents who turned out for the initial informational meeting was “very large” according to their standards.  I think we had about 35 at that meeting, and we started classes with around 30 people.  The classes are geared toward, and usually taught to, audiences of ~12 people.  Needless to say, our group was pretty large.  They also expected the number of people to drop off significantly, which really didn’t happen.  I think we lost maybe 3 people total?
  • Because of the size of our group, the social workers running the training decided to divide us into 2 groups.  The group that E and I ended up in (English speaking group) was quite homogenous and left us feeling a bit on the outside.  We were the only couple in our group, the only gay people, and the only white people.  None of those things are bad per se, but we had been expecting to find someone in the room with whom we could immediately relate (lez be honest, we were hoping we’d find another gay couple in our class) and we weren’t able to do so.  Everyone in our group was kind and seemed to really care about parenting kids in foster care.  Many of them were related to each other.  A few people in our class had provided care in the past – either as a kinship placement (they took care of a family member) or a typical foster care provider who had let their license expire at some point.
  • The classes covered a variety of topics, all specific to the issues children in foster care face and how we can best care for them.  The topics included:
    • Working with DCF, foster care vs. adoption, importance of permanency
    • Impact of fostering and adopting, understanding loss
    • Behavior, loss, and attachment
    • Family communication, cultural competence, domestic violence
    • Trauma, sexual abuse
    • Substance abuse, behavior management, discipline
    • Helping with transition, adolescent development
    • Mental and physical health
    • Legal aspects
    • We also had a class (certainly the most informative of the training overall) that consisted of a panel of speakers who were open to questions.  The panel included a DCF lawyer, an ongoing social worker (rather than our family resource workers, this social worker’s job is to work with the children and families), a current foster parent, and a former foster child.

Now that MAPP classes are finished, we are just waiting for our home study to happen so that we can be submitted for licensure.  If we get licensed, we’ll have to do 10 hours of training each year to maintain our license.  For now, we are just focused on checking all of the boxes, crossing t’s, dotting i’s, etc.  Oh, and planning our wedding :).