Q: What sort of things do you need to have in your house before accepting a placement? Beds, clothes, toys, carseats, strollers? Or can you get some of those things after they arrive?
A: What a great question and it's timely for us to answer now seeing as how we will be spending the weekend preparing for a new placement.
As usual, this question leads to a few different answers.
1) You really don't have to have anything in your house in particular before accepting a placement. When the CPU (Central Placement Unit) worker calls to ask if you'd take a particular child there is absolutely no discussion about whether or not you as the foster parent are prepared to take this child. I think it is somewhat implied, part of the decision to accept a placement should be to consider whether or not you are ready to handle X child with the details of their case (including age, weight, behaviors, etc.). That being said there isn't anything that requires a foster parent to be prepared, other than proper licensing, prior to accepting a placement.
2) This leads us to the licensing process - that is really where your preparedness is evaluated. It's at this time where the licensing agency reviews your home, your family, your interests, your skills, etc., to determine if you are indeed "prepared" for the life of foster parenting. This is a broad preparedness though and not tied to any specific child. Typically during the process you restrict your license to your preferences. For example, our license was originally for 4 children ages 0-6. It can be restricted in lots of ways including # of children, age, gender, race or ethnicity, behaviors etc. Some of these restrictions are tied to your license (ours said 4 - now 5- children, 0-6) and some are tied to the homestudy itself and are more preferences. Preferences are usually the behaviors, gender, ethnicity, etc. As an example, for us we said we do not want to accept a placement for a male child who has been sexually abused. We didn’t feel we were capable of accepting that type of placement and properly protecting our other children. Our license doesn’t say “No male sexual abuse” – but it is written in our homestudy report. As a side note – apparently it also says we prefer Caucasian children, which wasn’t at all what we said. We didn’t find that out until we got Summer’s adoption paperwork which contained a copy of our original homestudy report. Crazy.
In order to be licensed, you have to meet the agency’s minimum standards. This might include things like plug covers, locked medicine containers, pool must be fenced, etc. Depending on your agency and what you are asking for on your license, they might also review how prepared you are for the children you are requesting. If you are asking for 4 children, they will definitely make sure your home has the proper space as dictated by minimum standards. In our case they asked us to provide a map of our home, indicating where different children would sleep. Our rules require 40 sq. ft per child in a room, 2 drawers that are solely theirs (not shared), and genders need to be separated after age 6. So, asking for 4 children ages 0-6 we had to show we had proper bedrooms for that. All of this still doesn’t really verify whether or not you are ready to accept a particular placement.
This is where it got tricky for us and where I’ve found discrepancies in how different people do things, even within the same county in the same state. We had a dilemma – we wanted 4 children ages 0-6 but that is a very wide range! We had 3 possible choices for bedrooms, aside from ours, at the time. One of those rooms had our son in it but had room for more kids too. How should you set up those rooms to prepare for any combination of kids ages 0-6? In my opinion you don’t, and we didn’t. You might need a crib and a toddler bed in one room, a bunk bed in another room, or a toddler bed in one room and a bunk bed and crib in another room. It just depends on the actual kids that come. So, what we did during licensing was leave our home the way it was, which included our son’s room with his twin bed but room for another of any type, a room setup as a playroom that could be converted to a bedroom as needed, and a guest room with a queen bed. When the homestudy social worker came out to visit our home, we showed her what we had and then also told her we had a crib in the attic at my sister’s house (a mile away) and a toddler bed in the garage and we were prepared to set them up in any room as needed based on the kids we accepted. We also said we had some money set aside so that we could go out and buy anything else we needed depending on what type of call we received. This apparently worked as we were licensed. When our first placement came in we had my sister bring over the crib and help me put it together, her husband helped put the toddler bed together in another room, and my husband who was at work when the call came in stopped by Walmart to pick-up another mattress and girly bedsheets for the toddler bed on his way home. We were able to do all of that before the children came.
My sister is going through the licensing process now with the same agency. It is a different worker than we had for our homestudy, but they had the same supervisor who is required to sign-off on the license so you’d expect that the process and rules would be the same. Not so much. Sure, 2 years have gone by since we started the process, but you’d still think they’d operate the same. Nope. Her homestudy worker would not accept bare bedrooms with the caveat that they had stuff in their attic ready to setup as kids came. Instead, they had to actually setup some beds for the license they were asking for which in my opinion was even dumber in their situation because they had an expanded age range than we asked for, even further complicating the various options for room setup. Between the two of us, we plan on having a shared resource of different beds, etc. that we can pull from depending on who has what kids – it doesn’t make sense for each of us to have a full set of all types of beds when we know at least half of those beds will be in storage at all times.
So, although you don’t HAVE to have things before you accept a particular placement, you do have to have some things before you get licensed. It mainly has to do with a safe home, sufficient space, and maybe a few beds that meet the needs of your kiddos.
(Interested in more stories on licensing? Check out Foster2Forever’s list of foster care blogs about the licensing process.
3) In terms of everything else, you don’t have to have anything prior to accepting a placement. Things like carseats, toys, high chairs, etc are not required per se during the homestudy and pretty much all of that you can get either while you’re waiting for the placement to come after you’ve accepted or after the kids arrive. Thinking back, of our 5 placements we’ve only NOT purchased a bed with 2 of them, which means we’ve purchased at least 3 beds in 5 cases. Now with our newest case we’ll have to purchase another bed. Again. What I’d recommend with this is that if you are planning to have a combination of toddlers, infants, and preschoolers in your home that you consider purchasing convertible cribs. This will help you have whatever you need when a child comes. We’ve had to purchase several car seats, again based on the age and size of various combinations of kiddos. We’ve purchased an extra high-chair, a stroller or two, and a couple other baby gear type things we got rid of after Logan was too big for them. We have a ton of bottles and sippy cups, pacifiers, and clothes that we’ve built up over time.
The point in all this is that while you don’t HAVE to have everything for a particular child before you accept a placement, it’s probably wise to stock up on some things that are reusable for different ages, genders, etc., over time rather than waiting until you get a call, but I wouldn’t go overboard. Inevitably you will have to go buy something for the child that comes into your home, whether it be clothes, diapers, hair ties, toothbrushes, etc. and you should always plan on spending time and money in the beginning getting the child setup in your home.
I wouldn’t say no to a child because I don’t have something already, like a high-chair or even a bed – we just figure that stuff out after the call. I also wouldn’t go out and buy everything you’d THINK you’d need for a child before accepting a placement because the likelihood is you’ll spend money on stuff you don’t need and you will have to go out and buy more. I would think about looking for big things like dressers, beds, playpens, strollers, high-chairs, etc., at yard sales, second-hand shops, from friends who are giving them away, or anywhere else you can get a good deal on something little-by-little over time, because it does help. And finding other foster parents or parents of kiddos in your target age range that you can swap/share stuff with isn’t a bad idea either.
I would also check out this post and this post, and this post. I saw these recently and thought they were pretty good at describing how to best prepare for kiddos.
I'm going to do a blog hop on Preparing for Foster Care & Placements. Is anyone willing to co-host with mie?