Friday, July 15, 2011

Foster Parent Friday - Placements

Question: How do kids actually come into your home?

As a side note...I'm answering this question because at this very moment it is much better than answering the question I REALLY want to answer - What is the worst thing about fostering.  I will answer that later at some point, but right this minute I'm denying my flesh.  So instead you get to learn about placements.

As I was writing my last post I realized that I have never actually written a post about "The Call".  Every foster parent is very familiar with The Call and what it does to you when you have open spots in your home.  Not having written my take on it though seems strange, so that's what I'm tackling today.

I will start by saying that the placement process is slightly different depending on a few factors, primarily who you are licensed with and how you intend to serve as a foster/adoptive parent.  As an example, when you're licensed with a private agency you often have someone from your agency (a caseworker) that acts on your behalf as the intermediary between you and the state/county.  Therefore, depending on the circumstances, the placement staff at the state would call your caseworker and your caseworker would call you.  In our situation, we're licensed through the state and therefore we don't have that intermediary person - we would get our call directly from the placement staff.  The other difference is regarding foster care vs. legal-risk foster-to-adopt vs. straight adoption.  With pure foster care (or, foster-to-adopt including emergency placements) you usually will get a call directly from the state placement staff and will often receive the kids immediately, which generally means anywhere from 1-8 hours or so - just as long as it takes for them to finish the paperwork, gather the children's belongings, and arrive at your home.  In the case of legal-risk foster-to-adopt you would typically get the same type of call but you would most likely have pre-placement visits and the process to get them into your home would take longer, anywhere from 1-7 days or so.  Finally, with a straight adoption where the children are legally free, you almost always will be contacted by your caseworker (private) or FAD worker (state) regarding the children.  That is another beast altogether and I'm not going to talk about that now, primarily because we haven't successfully gone that route.

As a foster parent, any time you have a spot open in your home you are waiting for "the Call".  I previously talked about how long it took to get the call here, but generally in our experience it was anywhere from 5 hours to 26 days.  Waiting for the call is a surreal, exciting experience.  Anytime the phone rings your heart races a bit as you look to see if it's a phone number you recognize.  You're in this constant anticipation of "what's next" because literally at any second your life could change from the family you have now to something different - what that is you have no idea.  This may sound like a crazy way to live but to us and many of the foster parents we know, it's one of the most exciting parts of this journey. 

As I mentioned, we're licensed directly through the state. That means we most often get placement calls from "CPU", the central placement unit. The call has usually been a number that I don't know so when we have a placement open I try to answer the phone every time it rings. I caught on quickly though - I have saved several of the placement workers' phone numbers into my cell phone so that when they call I see who it is.  I promise you this doesn't take away any of the thrill of the phone ringing.  In fact, this way I've been able to track placements - specifically I've had 3 placements from the same worker and she and I now remember each other with these calls.  I love that.

So, typically the phone rings and they'll say something like "Hi this is so and so from central placement."  And I'll say something like "What do you have for me today?".  They'll go on to tell me the following pieces of information somewhat automatically:
  • # of kiddos
  • County
  • Ages/birthdates
  • Gender(s)
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Basic reason for removal (neglect, abuse, etc.)
At this point based on that information I'll usually have a good feeling for whether or not we can take the placement, but I still continue to ask the following questions:
  • Are there any family identified?  Do they expect to be moved soon?
  • When are they wanting to place?
  • What can you tell me about their situation?  (I usually get more details about what actually caused removal)
  • Is this their first placement
  • Are you waiting on others to call you back or do I get first choice?
  • Visit information, if they have it
  • Medical history and condition
  • I always specifically ask if there is suspected or history of sexual abuse, especially for males.
  • other questions based on the child's age, etc. - if they are the right age - are they potty trained, etc.
The placement workers are usually very open to answering these questions.  I typically have found that I've received pretty accurate information through this questioning process and that when a placement worker doesn't have the information she will ask (I say she because in my experience they have all been female).

Given the information I then know whether or not we are likely to take them.  I've only said no once and that was because it was for a 7 year old boy and our license is only up to 6 years old - so though I would have happily taken him in, I couldn't (they shouldn't have called in the first place).  I always ask them if they wouldn't mind if I called my husband to check with him first, but tell them we'd probably take them and I'd call back in a minute.  Every time I've been able to call my husband quickly and get his approval then I've called right back to say yes.  My husband and I have an agreement that barring some of our absolutes or license issues we will say yes and let God handle the rest.  And he has.  We have had several cases that we couldn't take because though we said yes, they ended up finding a relative or, because I call my husband to verify, there have been a few instances where they've found someone else in the few minutes it took me to call him. 

It is possible for you to say no to a placement for any reason.  Often times though you've set out absolutes in your home study (let's blind children...only females under the age of 4...only infants 0-6 months) they may call you anyway and ask when they have a placement.  Of course, I think if you start to say no too often they might start asking you why you are on the placement list if you don't want to take a placement, but it really depends on your agency. 

Speaking of the placement list - when you have an opening your caseworker/FAD worker puts you on CPU's list.  Being on the list means you are ready for a call for the types of kids that you many, ages, race/ethnicity, gender, etc.  So, as an example, though our license has been for 3 foster children, 0 to 6, when we first were on the list before our first placement we were only on the list for 2 children (not 3) 0 to 4.  Then when we got 2 children we could have been placed on the list for 1 more since our license was for 3 kiddos - we weren't placed back on the list so we didn't get anymore calls.  Right now our home is full (4 kids, 3 of them fosters), but because of the situation with the baby we just had our license approved for 1 more - a total of 5 kids including our bioboy.  We could be placed back on the list for 1 more (and we just might!), or we could just be left off until something happens with one of our current cases.  It's completely up to us.

I hope this helps a bit in understanding how placements come about.  Maybe one of these times I'll talk through the staright adoption process (what a different animal!).  If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment and ask!

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