Q: How does that work?
I received this question several times with the newest placement and I don't remember getting it before. Basically, when I told people that we were getting new kids several of them said "how does that work anyway?". It's interesting how certain patterns clearly emerge with people's curiousity with foster care!
At least one person phrased the question like this: "Do they just drop them off at your doorstep or something?"
A: My reply to that was - pretty much.
There are 3 main ways kids arrive after a foster parent accepts a placement and those ways essentially depend on where the kiddos are in their foster care story. Placements are usually "Emergency", Foster Care/Legal Risk, or Legally Free/Straight Adopt. Of our cases, 3 have been Emergency and 3 have been Foster Care/Legal Risk. I haven't had a Legally Free/Straigh Adopt case yet, but I can at least speak to the process for you.
Per the name, emergency placements are just that - care for kids in an emergency. Usually these kiddos have just been removed from their parent(s) by CPS who believes they have cause to remove the children but the case has usually not yet gone to court. Many times they get emergency removal orders from a court granting permission for the removal for 14 days after which a hearing is held to determine whether the removal was justified and if it should continue. Typically with an emergency placement the family has the opportunity to send the children with family members, friends, or neighbors as they are removed by giving CPS appropriate information. If the family has no one to turn to that is qualified or if CPS can't quickly evaluate the home (as with someone who is out-of-state or too far out-of-county) then the child(ren) go to a foster home as an emergency placement. The placement will then last the initial 14 days in most cases then either turn into a regular placement (after the hearing) or the children will be moved to live with approved kin (kinship placement) which could be neighbors or family friends.
Emergency placements have the least information and quickest placement time. Usually by the time the foster parent accepts an emergency placement the caseworker knows the child's very basic information, like age, race, and gender along with the reason for removal, but most other information is just not yet known. That being said they have often spent a good part of the day with the kiddos and may have had experience with the kids prior to removal so they might have a feel for some of their behaviors and challenges. By that point they have also looked into any possible kinship homes and received approval for the removal so they don't have too much left to do before bringing the kids over. Sometimes all it takes is the time to travel between the office and your house.
In an emergency placement you can usually count on 1-2 hours notice. When they arrive the kids are often scared, dirty, tired, and hungry. They often have a bag brought with them from the caseworker with 1 set of clean clothes, a toy, a blanket, and a hygiene kit. They may or may not have things sent by the parents. If they do (and all of ours have) the stuff is often dirty, smells like cigarettes (or worse), and you can imagine includes whatever the parent could quickly throw in that they thought their kids could use. We've ended up with a pair of dad's underwear and a razor blade, no joke. The caseworker usually spends 30-60 minutes with you as they drop off the kids. Most of that time is filling out the normal paperwork and maybe touring the home with the kids to help them feel more comfortable. During this time a good foster parent can get some information about the family, the case, and what the caseworker unofficially thinks of things.
Emergency placements are the craziest, usually with the most unknowns, which to mie makes them the most "exciting".
Foster Care/Legal Risk
Once a child is in foster care, he/she can be moved from their current home for a variety of reasons. Foster parents have the ability to request a child be moved if he/she doesn't fit in the home for whatever reason. Older foster children can ask to be moved as well if for some reason they don't want to stay in the current foster home. Kids can be moved because they are too far from their bio-parents, because a caseworker doesn't like the private agency, or a variety of other reasons. In our home we've had one sibling group moved, not by our request, because when Summer's brother was born we'd be out of compliance with our license and the caseworker didn't want the kids to get attached to us only to be moved to a new foster home in a few months. 3 of our cases arrived as foster/legal risk cases. 2 (#4, #9 & #10) were removed from their previous foster home because the former foster parents had other foster children with severe medical needs and they couldn't handle the extra work our kids brought them. One case (#7 ) came to us because the former foster parent couldn't handle the behaviors of the kiddo and asked for him to be removed.
Foster Care/Legal Risk placements are cool for the foster parent because the case is established and there is a known history with the kiddos. You can ask a lot of questions and can actually have a chance to visit the kids before accepting the placement. You also are more likely to know more about where the case is going and have a better gauge on how long the child will be with you. By the time they're moved you have an idea whether the parents are working their services, how visits are going, more about the child and parents' medical history, etc. The problem with these types of cases are that the children are now being removed from yet another home and they have one more wound to try and heal from. Sometimes the kids are being moved to a dual-licensed home because the first home has said they are not interested in adoption and the case appears to be headed toward adoption - rather than spend more time in a home that will not be permanent they find a home that could be permanent in case it goes that way.
With these types of placements, the foster parent typically has more time between accepting the placement and having the kids arrive in the home. As I mentioned, you may have the chance to meet the kids for a pre-placement visit. (I've never done that). Other than that, the caseworker typically coordinates a time that will work to give both foster parents a chance to prepare for the move. The placement could happen the same day but often will be several days later. This is simultaneously cool and super sucky. As a foster parent you have the chance to adjust to the idea that you'd be getting new kiddos, you have a chance to go through your stuff and get out what you need for the new placement, and rearrange your bedding situation to be just what you'll need. On the other hand, you spend several days knowing your life is going to change pretty significantly but your not really sure how - just like waiting to give birth to a new baby its a bit frustrating to just wait.
Aside from the wait time, the actual placement happens just the same as an Emergency Placement. The caseworker goes through the paperwork and brings in the kids and eventually leaves 30-60 minutes later. The difference in this case is that the kids don't usually come with the bag from CPS but do often come with something that was at least washed by the last foster parents. Other than that an Emergency Placement and Legal Risk placement are pretty much the same.
Legally Free/Straight Adopt
A legally free placement is technically a foster placement but with the express intent of adoption. When a foster/adopt parent accepts this type of placement they do so with agreement to adopt the children. The children have already gone through the process of TPR (termination of parental rights) and it has been decided that they need to be adopted by someone other than kin. The adoption can't take place until after the probabtionary period, usually 6 months, but for all involved once the placement occurs it is expected to be permanent.
This means that both the children and the parents believe they will be a forever family from the time they move in. To give everyone a fair shot to see if its a good fit "sight unseen", there are steps involved in this type of placement that help the kids and parents get to know each other before the kids actually move in. Usually, the foster/adopt parents are allowed to read the child's case file. If they and the caseworker agree to move forward, the parents might get to talk to the current foster parents on the phone. Then they might get to talk to the children on the phone for some period of time before getting to meet the children for a short visit (couple hours). Next comes a full day visit. Next comes an overnight and then possibly a weekend visit all before the final move "home". By this time it's expected both the children and parents agree to move forward with the intention of adoption. I've listed various options for contact but of course each placement happens a bit differently based on the needs of the state, the kids, and the parents. It can happen quickly (a matter of weeks) or over a longer period of time (months). Once the kiddos do arrive they come with all of their personal belongings.
Hopefully this helps to clear up "how it works" when kids arrive as a placement. They aren't just dropped off at the front door, but they usually don't make it too far past the kitchen before the caseworker leaves!