Licensed & Waiting: Tips For Getting Foster Care Placements
A couple of months of thinking about it myself, a couple of months of praying/talking/maybe-just-a-little-bit-of-begging with my husband, a couple of months to get our feet in the door with the division to get started, and six painstakingly long months for the home study and licensing process. By the time I was licensed to be a foster parent, I was chomping. at. the. bit. to get started on the actual foster caring.
Looking back now I realize it was only three months that I waited for my first placement, but at the time it felt like an eternity. Take the overall lack of phone ringing I had expected, add in a few potential placements falling through, and I was in full will-it-ever-happen-distress mode. Every story of a child languishing without a family was like a dagger in my heart. “I”m here. I’m waiting. Give me a child to love!”
Apparently many of you are my kindreds. I get messages every day from readers who are licensed and waiting and just plain desperate to get started. I feel you. I was you. Over the past few years I’ve learned about the process involved in placing children and how to best navigate it. So may I offer myself as a guide to you and share some tips I’ve learned along the way:
Disclaimer: First, as always, keep in mind that I’m in NJ and some of this info may be specific to how things are done round these parts. Second, the point of this post is to help people who are passionate about caring for children be connected to children in need. I hope that the tone of this post stays true to that purpose and doesn’t come across as though we’re talking about trading commodities or giving ploys to “get you a kid.” I want great foster families to be connected to great foster kids, plain and simple.
Be easy going and respectful. This one would seem to fall under the “common sense” category, but it’s where I’ve seen foster parents get into the most trouble with their caseworkers. Too often foster parents are demanding and difficult and disrespectful, then are surprised when they’re met with the same attitudes. The agency or office you’re dealing with is just like your own workplace. If you have a bad experience with a client, chances are your co-workers are going to hear about it. If you have a great experience with a client, chances are they’re going to hear that, too. You will gain a reputation within your agency/office, and you get to choose what kind of reputation it is. Work to build the reputation of someone who is a delight to work with.
Get to know other foster parents. Many of the placements I now get are through other foster parents reaching out to me about children they’re unable to take in. Ask your agency about activities for foster parents, join a support group, find a Facebook support page, exchange numbers with the parents in your training. Do whatever it takes to get to know other foster parents in your area. Chances are they will get calls for children that they’re unable to care for and can pass along your information to the worker. I’ve had a number of children come into my home through connections from a local Facebook group and moms I’ve met at events for foster families. It may be a little uncomfortable, but it’s worth the discomfort.
Tell every worker who calls you about the age, gender, etc. of children you are able to care for. If you get a call for a baby when you’re only able to take a teenager (or vice versa), don’t hang up without saying, “I’m sorry I can’t take that child, but just so you know, I’m able to take…” Sometimes the worker will have another case sitting on their desk that fits your family perfectly, or sometimes they’ll get one the next day or the next week. Every worker you come in contact with should know which placements you’re able to take.
Call the supervisor of the department in charge of placing children in your office. Introduce yourself and tell them which children will fill in your home and family. The worker you’re dealing with may only be aware of the cases that come across his or her desk, but the supervisor should know about all the children in the entire office. You want to put yourself on their radar for when a child who’s a fit for your family is in need.
Take vacation/emergency/respite placements. This is a variation on getting to know more workers and foster parents. For each short term placement you take, it’s another connection made with a worker (or two) and a foster parent. Communicate to everyone you meet that you’re eager to bring a child into your home and the specifics of the children you’re willing and able to care for. I’ve known foster parents who have later become foster/adoptive parents of children they first had as a vacation or emergency placement. I did a vacation placement once for a foster mom who later passed on information to me about a four week old little girl who needed a home. That little girl became my forever, adopted daughter a month ago. Excuse me while I weep and THANK GOD for putting this woman in my life. (Added bonus: if you’re a new foster parent and you’re chomping at the bit to care for a foster child, taking a vacation placement could “hold you over” as you wait. A friend of mine describes respite placements as a “mini mission trip in your home.”)
If there’s anything unique about the “kind” of child you’re able to take, make sure your worker knows. For example, because I’m a stay at home mom, I’m able to take babies who are being released from the NICU and are too young or fragile to be in day care. I’m known as the “stay at home mom,” and I get a lot of calls about newborns. At one point last year, we were only taking short-term vacation/respite placements. I called a worker that I had a relationship with and told her to let me know if she had any kids who needed a respite placement. She called me about a few respite placements, and then when another office called her about a respite placement, she gave them my name. Within a couple of weeks I was getting calls from all over the state about kids who needed short term placements.
Keep your criteria for the age/gender/race of the children you’re willing to take as broad as possible. If you’re only looking to take a healthy, white four year old girl, you’ll have to wait for that exact child to be in need. If you’re willing to accept boy or girl, a range of ages, siblings, all races, and children with medical/special needs, chances are you won’t wait for long at all. (Of course, this “tip” should never trump the more important foundation, which is to only say “yes” to children you believe you’ll actually be able to care for. You’re not doing anyone any favors by taking a child you’re not sure will work, only to have them moved. Another broken bond, another “failed placement” can be detrimental to a child in foster care.)
If you’re an adoptive family, check out www.adoptuskids.org or ask your agency about “matching parties.” There are over 107,000 foster children who are “legally free” and waiting to meet and be adopted by their forever families. You can learn about or even get to know these “waiting children” by looking through your state’s web site or attending a matching event. These methods may give you a bad taste in your mouth. Believe me, I understand. It may feel like you’re shopping through a catalog for a child or speed dating orphans, but these methods are simply harnessing the power of compassion. Putting a name and face and story to these children can be the first step to them entering your heart and maybe even your family.
- Embrace the wait. You are going to learn to be patient in waiting. Or you’re not. Waiting for a placement is the first step of waiting for information and waiting for court dates and waiting for parents and waiting and waiting. The more you work to fight for patience and trust in God’s perfect plan now, the more your heart will be inclined towards patience and trust later. It’s a difficult battle, but it’s a battle you’ll face over and over again. It’s a battle worth fighting for right now.