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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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Kicking Ass and Taking Names

E was a baller stay-at-home foster mama today. She was everywhere – kickin’ ass and takin’ names. Seriously. On my first day solo-parenting (I just tried to link to a post from that day and there isn’t one … which perfectly illustrates my point) I was just surviving – I spent all of my energy making sure Monica ate and slept and didn’t get hurt. Well E struggled through that for a couple of hours (taking a short break to call me and inform me that she does not want to be a stay-at-home mom), and then she decided to get shit done.

Things E did today:

  • Woke up and walked Sheba with Monica in tow
  • Kept Monica alive and nourished all day long
  • Grocery shopped
  • Went down to the organization that coordinates day care to fill out a mountain of paperwork and get it sorted out so that she can go to a new day care tomorrow (yes!)
  • Went to the WIC office to apply, which apparently took 2 hours (but worked out – we’re set for 3 months to get formula/milk, fruits and veggies, and cereal for Monica, and the grocery store on the corner accepts WIC)
  • Came home and prepared food to host our awesome friends M and M for the home run derby.

Kickin’ ass and takin’ names right?! She is fabulous. What a gal.

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This picture was from yesterday – Monica helping E and me register at Crate & Barrel. I wasn’t there to take pics today but I imagine it was even cuter than this.

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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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Licensed? Ready?

We got another letter from DCF today that appears to be our license? It was certainly a contract of sorts – an agreement between the Department and foster parents outlining our respective responsibilities. I guess it isn’t abundantly clear that this constitutes our license, but it also feels like an official and concrete sign that this is happening (as if those first two calls were flukes …). So are we officially licensed? I’m not quite sure. But definitely maybe.

We’ve been trying to get “ready” for our first placement – whomever and whenever that may be. Here’s my comment: it is SUPER HARD to be prepared for something so vague. Given that E and I don’t have any children of our own yet, we are starting from scratch. If we were awaiting the birth of a child, we would not only have nine months to prepare, we would also be reasonably certain of just what we were preparing for – a newborn. In our case, although we’ve been mentally preparing for about 8 months (okay so that’s not so different), we weren’t sure enough about licensure, ages, timing, etc. to be able to physically prepare during that time. So now here we are, waiting for a call any day now for one or two children maybe (hopefully) under 4 but also maybe not. The age range alone makes me pull my hair out trying to think about what we will need! For any future foster parents out there, here’s the run down on what we’ve done so far (however misguided it may be):

E and I set a budget for any out-of-pocket preparations (furniture, bedding, decorations, necessities). Our 3-bedroom condo used to consist of a master, guest room, and an office. We’ve transitioned the guest room into a child’s room and made the office into a guest room (don’t worry – our comfy guest bed is in there). Here’s what we’ve acquired thus far (I hope this is helpful for any prospective foster parents out there):

  • Crib/mattress/bedding – new
  • Glider w/ ottoman – used
  • Dresser (doubles as changing table) – used
  • Twin bed frame – used
  • Twin mattress – used (from next door neighbor)
  • Mattress protectors (crib and twin), twin sheets, pillow – new
  • Stroller (baby jogger w/ infant seat attachment) – used
  • Fabric box/drawer things (for the bookcase) – new
  • Changing pad and cover – new

I think that all adds up to about $700. We’ll use the rest of the budget to try to make this room of mismatched furniture cohesive! A rug should do the trick. And the actual set-up of the room is flexible based on the placement. For example, if there is just one child under 3, we’ll stick the twin bed in the attic and just use the crib (slash toddler bed). If we end up with two kiddos and need both the twin and the crib, we may have to nix the glider. You get the point. Here’s the result so far (seriously, no 2 pieces of furniture match. yikes). Please excuse the disarray – the fabric boxes and mattress have not yet arrived in our home.

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So what do you think – are we ready? What else do we need?

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Money

When we started this process, E and I talked about how silly it seemed that there is a perception that people “do it for the money.” From my calculations it just seems impossible that anyone could walk away with more money in their pockets rather than less. The stipend that DCF provides to foster parents is on a per child, per day basis, and is really only enough to offset the costs of housing and caring for a child. While we wouldn’t be able to do this at this point in our lives without the stipend, we also know that we will be spending more out of pocket than the stipend covers. That said, we were surprised to find that the stereotypes held true with some folks in our MAPP class. Many of the questions people posed just seemed in poor taste – “if there are 2 caregivers, do both get paid?” … uhhh, you get an amount per child, not per parent … “if I am approved to take a child, can I get an extra bedroom for free?” … sorry what now?

I think you get the point. Anyway I’m sure that, down the road, I’ll be posting about how it all shakes out: what we get help with, what we don’t, and how do-able this all is for two young professionals who work for non-profits. Today, I’m just posting to record the shock I felt at the reminder that there is money involved in this. We discovered a piece of mail from DCF upon our return from my cousin’s wedding. My first thought was that it was our license (finally). When I opened it, I instead discovered a W-9 and a direct deposit form. It’s completely reasonable, of course, that we need to fill out forms and the Department needs a way to deliver the subsidy money for any children in our care. Still, it was surprising to me that I’m filling out forms that I would normally associate with a job. Just another one of the many strange pieces of “the system”

I feel like blog posts are more fun to read when there is a picture, so here’s one of Sheba.
As you can tell, she is entirely uninterested in anything to do with money. As it should be.

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