Wednesday, May 13, 2015

what we knew we could handle

I got asked this question on my FB page.
I'm new to fostering and I wondered if when you started you had a certain idea of how much/many you could handle/help and if that evolved or changed as you went on. And also for your husband were you guys on the same page? I'm thinking it was probably case by case, call by call... But wanted to check with you. We have had our first placement, a newborn I was blessed to pick up from the hospital in January, it's going great and I cant wait for our next call! My husband is more on the fence its all going so well he's nervous to "rock the boat" in the end I feel if it's meant to be it will happen, but I wanted your thoughts on your experience. Thanks!
It has been case by case and call by call for the most part.
I'll give you our story and try to answer your questions.

We got the "call" to foster over a dozen years ago. Honestly, I can't exactly remember when it was that we finally decided it was something Mr. Amazing and I were supposed to commit to. We lived in Iowa. We had talked about it. Not to add to our family permanently per se. No. We wanted to foster. To help keep families together.

My Genius Sister was a social worker at that point in time. My Genius Mother taught preschool. My Genius Brother was going to med school. Hearing their stories from the front lines didn't scare me. In fact, we heard the things they had to say and it strengthened our resolve.

I don't remember when it all finally came together though. Mr. Amazing and I had been thinking about fostering. Praying about it. And everywhere we went it seemed there were messages about the need for foster parents. On billboards. On the radio. In church.

We signed up for the classes and took our required 12 hours. (Licensing has changed since then!) And yes, from the beginning, Mr. Amazing and I have been on the same page. I do know that's made this journey easier. We continually talk about our roles in this crazy. For example, he really steps up with taking care of TT and Bart in the evenings after work because he knows I've been busy handling a lot with all the kids all day long.

After taking the classes, things got a little messy in my family. My cousin, TreeTree, was making a lot of poor choices. Her parents talked with Mr. Amazing and I and we decided that maybe it would be helpful for my cousin to come move in with us for awhile. In a way, we became foster parents.

In the meantime, the State of Iowa lost our paperwork. The actual licensing process came to a halt. We were busy with TreeTree though and I didn't even think about chasing anyone down.

TreeTree moved on. I got a new job. Mr. Amazing graduated (as a non-trad student) from junior college. We sold our house and moved a couple hours north.

Once settled in our new home, I called the State and asked where we were at in the licensing process. They admitted to losing our paperwork and grandfathered us in on the training we had already done. They completed our home study and then we finally had to decide what kinds of kids would be best in our family.

I know we were more "cautious" back then (for lack of a better term). We were more concerned with birth order and things like that. Also, because I worked outside of the home, I knew we couldn't easily take on a huge sibling group at once. I honestly don't remember what we told anyone though. I think our license was for several children with the top age being around seven (the age Herman was at the time).

While in Iowa we only got called three times and we answered yes to two of those calls. We adopted TT at birth (our first call). And Jordan stayed with us for six months (our second call). Jordan was around 18 months old when he came. We knew his mother was pregnant as well. It was our intention to most likely care for Jordan's sister if/when she came in to Care as well.

Two weeks after Jordan came to our home, I found out I was pregnant with Bart. I did the math. There was NO way I'd be able to handle FOUR children ages two and under AND work full time outside the home AND freelance on the side. Everyone was saying that Jordan and his sister were going to be reunited prior to Bart's birth. But I didn't want to take any chances. We hadn't been fostering long but I knew better than that. DHS didn't have a problem with that and placed Jordan's sister in a different home. Both children were reunited in November. (Bart was born the day after Christmas that same year.)

About six months later Mr. Amazing and I started our adventures moving our family several times across the country. (Mr. Amazing went to North Dakota. We sold our house in Iowa. The kids and I went to Missouri. Mr. Amazing came to Missouri for about two months and then went to South Carolina. Then we all went to Utah together. Then to central Texas. Then back to Utah. And finally...all the way down here on the border of Mexico.)

When we decided to foster in Texas Mr. Amazing and I were on the same page again. I think he was possibly a little more adoption motivated that I was. But for the most part, we had our list of what we could handle and what we couldn't. We were open to three kids (the legal limit in Texas without being a group home). We knew we didn't want to foster any children that had known dangerous behaviors (fire starting, sexual acting out, animal cruelty, etc.). We didn't want to foster teen girls. (We are parenting a teen boy and we aren't stupid.) And we didn't want any children with extensive medical needs.

Almost every single placement has turned out to be something different that what we "agreed" to though. So as much as I had it in my mind of what we could handle, we've been pushed to handle so much more.

When we got the call for MissArguePants and TurtleTurtle we were told the girls had never been in foster care. We knew they had been seriously abused, but we had NO IDEA the incredible extent of abuse. And almost immediately we discovered that not only had they been abused in ways that made my skin crawl, but they had been in foster care almost their entire lives. Their behaviors were more than we could safely handle and we had to disrupt that placement. (Disruption sucks. But sometimes it's necessary.)

When we agreed to the placement of Pumpkin I was told that she had "some developmental delay and a limp". She was five and a half years old. But basically they dropped a 42 pound infant off at my home that day who couldn't talk, could barely walk, wasn't potty trained, and had untreated severe epilepsy.

I thought I had my questions down when we agreed to Dude and Dolly. I asked everything. I grilled them and my agency answered as many questions as possible. I was assured that they knew English. As I held two crying little children that night, I sent a text message to my agency director. "They lied!" was all I had to say. These kids did not speak English. They didn't even really speak Spanish!

Things were pretty up front about Daisy. But, she was being moved from one foster home to ours. That changes the information pathway some as our agency workers knew everything already and weren't relying on CPS to divulge all the information.

Quite a bit was held back when it came to Ricky's past. We lucked out though. He had honestly left that life behind and was super easy to take care of. 

With each placement we've taken, we've realized that we are capable of caring for kids with situations we probably never would have considered years ago. I mean...really...we weren't going to care for kids with special needs and we've had three with severe needs.

Basically, I guess what I've blabbered on about for too long is...
Make your list of questions. Talk about what behaviors/situations you think you can parent well and do try to stay within those parameters. But know that foster care IS going to push you. You WILL have to ride in that "rocked boat". But it's still all worth it.

I never would have wanted to agree to all that Pumpkin taught me. And damn...that girl HATED me. She was so challenging to care for. It was a very, very hard 21 months and I was so relieved when she finally got placed with her aunt and uncle.

But Pumpkin taught me about special needs. And because of that, I got to know Daisy. And even though I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep for 10 months, I'm glad I got to know Daisy! And because of Daisy, I was comfortable saying "yes" to Russell. And oh my heavens...he is a dream child to care for. I kind of feel like your husband right now. I don't want to say "yes" to anyone else because I don't want to rock the boat!!


Foster Mom - R said...

That's a great summary. We also ended up saying yes to needs that were on our "not interested" list. Mainly sexual abuse. Our limit was 2 kids- we were licensed for 3 and now we are licensed for 5.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for normalizing that it is ok to say some situations are too much to handle in some circumstances and other situations that sound overwhelming might not be. So much depends on the specific child and specific family. Also thank you for telling the truth that what one is told about a child may, of is, not all.
This needs so much to be said out loud so foster families do not feel like failures or all alone.
As always... thank you for educating.

VJ said...

I have always thought we could handle anything, but my wife was very committed to only taking kids who were more than 18 years younger than us (which was fair). That left us with the 8 years old and under crowd, but one day I got an e-mail from my wife about a 15-year-old she wanted to inquire about adopting...say what? Now our license is open to all ages and all but the most severe medical needs (she doesn't have the medical background that I do and doesn't want to be stuck changing GI tubes while I'm not home, and I can respect that). You never know what kids will touch your heart!