I already had to say "no" to a child. Cheerleader, the placing worker at our agency (and also our family's licensing worker), called me yesterday. After hearing the profile, I knew it would be too much for the dynamics already in our family. Saying no is so difficult for me. Well...let me clarify...the actual saying of the "no" isn't too difficult. But my heart was heavy all night long because I did it.
It's really (REALLY) important that you learn as much about trauma and behaviors and diagnoses as you possibly can. That way, when you're deciding what you can or cannot parent, your list will be reasonable. Then...stick to that list. Because once you hear that a child needs you, your heart will be pulled. You may want to take on more than you're capable of handling effectively. And that's not typically a good thing.
A reader asked me: What situations are you NOT suitable for, what would make you decline? I
ask because you have clearly had both age extremes, both genders,
severe disabilities. What would be a non-fit?
Our list is pretty broad. We are licensed for 0-17. Our agency knows that we would consider teens that have opted to stay in Care until 21 as well because they've asked us about a placement for a 19yo once. (Not sure why the official license only goes to 17.) We are licensed for three foster children. We can't take more because in the state of Texas, if you have more than six children total in your home, you have to be licensed as a group home. In our county, group homes have to have full-house sprinkler systems.
As we went through the licensing process, we had to fill out a form that was basically a check-list of behaviors and whether or not we would be willing to parent them. We could mark in one of three columns: Yes, No, or Negotiable. I wish I would have made a copy of this form. I'm running only on memory now. We had a few columns where we marked "yes". It had things like: ADHD, learning disabilities, and minor medical needs. Mostly though, I marked "negotiable" for most of the behaviors on the list. The "no" column for us included things like:
known fire starter
known sexual acting out on others
known cruelty to animals
Because, IMO, if the placing worker is willing to tell you that they already KNOW the child has these dangerous behaviors, it's probably going to be too much for me to be able to keep all of the children in my home safe. I wouldn't immediately disrupt a placement because behaviors like this happened. But if behaviors like this are already documented, you can bet your butt the difficulties will be long and hard. Because again, IMO, "they" only tell you a tiny bit about each child. And if the tiny bit you're being told is already quite challenging, the full picture will blow your mind.
The young man we got called about yesterday has been in Care for a long, long time. These are some of the things we were told about him:
Rights on his mother already terminated
No visits of any kind
Available for adoption
In special ed program at school - in the 8th grade
On four different medications (of which, I had only heard of one)
Several major diagnoses including mood disorder
Never had a stable placement, been bounced through many homes
Reported to be very disrespectful to adults
Currently in a home not with our agency, the family gave their 30-day notice
Cheerleader called me and said that the love we give kids would help this young so much. We're so dedicated that she knew we'd be able to help him.
All that may be true. But I told Cheerleader that this young man needs to be placed in a home that is willing to either consider adoption or at the least, be OK with saying they'll do long-term foster care until he ages out. He's only in 8th grade so that means he needs a family that, from the beginning, is willing to commit to more than four years of Care.
We are not that family.
Just telling me that this young man is 15 years old and has never had a stable placement tells me that he has suffered a level of trauma that is going to bring with it a tremendous amount of behaviors. He has NO reason to trust adults to be there for him. (Thus the reported behavior of being very disrespectful.) And the thing is, my own kids are crazy disrespectful a lot of the time. We're constantly redirecting that behavior. But they have all had the same parents since they were born. Even TT is strongly attached to our family. This young man would have no reason to trust us for anything. So if you tell me he's disrespectful, I can only imagine that the pain, lack of trust and all the behaviors that accompany being treated like trash your whole life run pretty deep.
I'm having to speculate a lot. But I have to assume that the level of care he would need would be more than we could offer. It would probably not be healthy for my younger two kids to get pushed to the side so I could tend to an older brother who isn't used to being part of a family.
I spent a lot of time yesterday running scenarios through my mind. Maybe he wouldn't be so difficult to care for. Maybe he would thrive in a family that treated him like a valued member.
Those maybes aren't a good thing though. It's better that I go with my gut. Because sadly, there will be more children. We'll get called again. And just the fact that we're not willing to commit at the very beginning to a difficult placement that, at minimum, would last four years, is an OK enough reason to say no.