Friday, March 09, 2012

Foster Parent Friday - Deciding on a Placement

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Q: How do you decide what placements do accept?

Thanks to a blog reader for reaching out and asking mie this question!  I thought I'd share a modified version of the response I sent to her here on the blog so you all can enjoy our though process :)

A: I would say that how you decide really might depend on "what you're doing" in foster care.  If you're doing foster care the process of deciding is much different (to me) than if you're only looking to adopt.  

When we started out we were looking to adopt and were only going to do foster care for a little while and only for legal-risk.  I was open for more but my husband wasn't really open to considering pure foster care.  So, when we went through the home study process and decided what we'd accept it was in light of who we'd be willing to adopt.  In our case, there were a couple factors:
  • Sibling group - not everyone can take in multiple children at a time and we knew we could manage that well.  Plus, if the placement turned into an adoptive placement at some point they'd qualify for adoption benefits.  We're not in this for the money but receiving those benefits would allow us to help even more children than we could if we didn't receive any subsidy.
  • Same age or younger than our son. The general licensing categories here were 0-6, 6-12, and 12-18.  We signed up for 0-6 because we knew that would provide us with a license for at least a few years for kiddos who were at the same age or younger than our son.
  • No male with a known or likely history of sexual abuse.  This was for a purely personal reason. Males who are sexually abused are far more likely to become perpetrators themselves and the shame in male sexual abuse is so much worse even than it is with females that it can often go unnoticed even by the most vigilant parents.  Some parents may not be worried about it but with my personal history and our need to protect our son it was just something that worried me too much.
  • Race - though we are happy to consider any race/ethnicity we wanted the state to be cognizant of the less-than multi-cultural area we live in and whether or not that would be best for the child, particularly a child who is black.  Children in foster care are already "different" and "out-of-place" by nature of being removed from their home and we didn't want them to feel even more outcast by being the only (or one of a small handful) black child in their school or in the neighborhood.  We grew up in LA and are totally accepting of colorful families - we just want the state to make sure our home would be the best available when it came to race before blindly throwing any child in our home. 
Those were the only real restrictions we placed on adoptive placements.  When our homestudy worker went through the list with all of the disorders and conditions and experiences children could come with we said it would really depend on the exact situation.  We didn't want to say no to a sibling group where one child had an ADD diagnosis where the other children had no diagnoses because maybe we could handle one child with ADD.  We didn't want to say no to blindness or deafness or anything else as a blanket rule because maybe we could handle that.  What we said was that if they brought us a sibling group of 5 and one was blind, one was deaf, one had cerebral palsy, one had RAD, and the last one was missing his feet then we might not be able to care for all of that at once and we would be realistic when we were asked about each placement to consider if we could handle it.

After our first placement and with the encouragement of a great circle of friends our criteria changed.  Now, here's the criteria we use:
  • Did CPS call us?
  • Do we have an opening on our license (0-6 years old, up to 5 children, if we have more than 1 under 18 months then we can only have 4 total)?
  • Is there a history (known or expected) of male sexual abuse?
If the answer to these two questions is yes, we will likely say yes.  Here are a few qualifying criteria that may influence our decision:
  • Language - if they can ONLY speak another language we may not accept the placement.  Though I speak fluent Spanish no one else in my house does and that could cause complication with a family of our size. Granted, we could work through it, so it's not an automatic no.
  • Expected case length - It takes 2 weeks to set up daycare.  If they expect to move the child within those two weeks or even within a month or so it causes a large drain on us financially and we may have to be realistic on how many cases we take when we know it will be short-term.  Equally so, if they expect the case to be a long-term foster situation (multiple years) waiting for a prison sentence to finish or something, we'd also have to consider that.  
  • What county do they originate from?  This isn't as much for us as it is the CPS caseworker who would have to transport the kids to visits if they live too far away...
  • Are there known siblings not going to be placed with them at this time.  We'd want to know why they aren't together, if the plan is going to have them be reunified or not, and whether they will have sibling visits.  Not only does this add to the amount of work we have to take on (and though the limit is high there is a limit to how much we can do) we also have to consider the long-term perspective.  We already have one child (Summer) who is permanently with us but who has 2 siblings permanently in two other homes.  Managing those relationships over time will be a challenge and we need to be realistic in how many  more of those types of situations we can manage successfully, and we strongly believe in maintaining family relationships wherever possible.

So basically we say yes to almost anything.

In hindsight after 2 years of doing this it is a great strategy for us.  Absolute worse case scenario if we say yes and a placement doesn't work out  we could have them moved.  Of course, that's not ideal and not what we're heading to but in foster care, especially if you're open to emergency placements, we've learned that we'd rather give it a shot when we can and let God sustain us than have a child go to a shelter or a bad foster home instead of our home.  We've never had to ask for children to be moved.  You also aren't making the commitment to adopt them at that point so it's not a forever decision (though we try to be open to that right away too).

With pre-adoptive placements I do think it's a bit different.  I would still lean toward saying yes, but I'd be a bit more selective, going back to our original list of cautions.  In addition, I now ask specifically where they are developmentally and if they suspect or have symptoms of behavioral disorders, specifically RAD.  As a foster parent I'm just preparing myself by asking.  As a pre-adoptive foster parent I'd reallly consider whether I think I can handle those behaviors with a large family and whether we'd be the best fit long-term.  

I'd also ask for a pre-placement visit, whenever possible so we could get a little sample of their behavior.

The last piece of advice I'd give is to try and keep an open mind.  What they tell you when they call to offer you a placement may not be the whole picture or completely accurate.  The situation could very likely be worse or better than you imagine.  When we had #7 & #8 they said the boy was being moved because the foster mom couldn't handle him anymore - he did things like turn the lights on and off all the time.  I thought - that's just normal 3 year old boy behavior!  Of course when I had him it became apparent that it was WAY worse than I thought it would be - he vomitted on command - whenever he didn't like something or want to do what you asked him to, he screamed, he lied, he stole, oh it was so frustrating.  When we had the call for our current placement they mentioned all sorts of crazy thigns - they ate lotion, they ate toothpaste, they were both obese, they were both significantly delayed developmentally and with speech, etc.  It was the most thorough placement call yet.  I was terrified to say yes.  I hesitated but my husband quickly said yes.  I asked for a pre-placement visit and it would have been difficult to make that work so I said nevermind and yes anyway.  As soon as they came to my home I fell in love with them and haven't had near the trouble with them that I expected based on the description we received.  

Plus, you never know how things will turn out.  When we accepted our 3rd placement it was for our second, singleton baby.  That meant we had two cases at the same time, both with infants (which meant no adoption subsidy potential, etc.).  From the time she arrived both my husband and I said there would be no way we would adopt that placement.  For 4 or 5 months we said that.  It just wasn't an option; she'd only be a foster placement.  Wouldn't you know 15 months later we adopted her - the only one of the 10 placements that we adopted.  My husband and I were talking about it this weekend - what if we didn't say yes to her - we would be devastated if we didn't have our little Summer and that certainly wasn't where we thought the case would go in the beginning.

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