LICENSED: FOLLOWING ONE FAMILY INTO FOSTER CARE - POST #3 - It's called paperWORK for a reason
You guys, warning. This post is going to be dry. The reason for this is that I am a blogger and not a magician, and there ain’t a blogger in the world who can make a pile of paperwork interesting. I just want to fill this post up with fun anecdotes and make you smile, but alas, I vowed to inform and educate you on this licensing process and parts of it are just plain boring (the greatest of all the insults I can bestow). I understand if you want to click the back arrow and give up, just promise to give me a chance some other time…or, you know, just keep reading…please.
If you are considering getting licensed, this may be interesting and helpful for you. For you 11 people, I do my duty and write away.
Remember that the last “Licensed” post reviewed Britt and Andy’s visit from their social worker. He left a stack of paperwork for them to fill out and within this stack of paperwork were approximately 99 forms, including:
- Background checks: FBI, state, child abuse...and some other one with a bunch of letters I can't recall. Remember, you’re being vetted to care for children. If you (or anyone in your home over the age of 18) has a criminal record, this will most likely disqualify you. If you’ve ever hurt a child, you can just take your application and place it in the trash.
- Medical form. If you’re anything like me, this is the point where you realize you haven’t been to the doctor in five years and quickly make an appointment so the doctor can say she has, in fact, met you before and fill out said form.
- Reference forms. You’ll need to provide names and addresses for a few references, like your boss, a family member, and a neighbor. This may be the official push-shove situation to get you to finally go and introduce yourself to your neighbors. It may also be time to start shutting your windows before you yell at your kids (I joke).
- Questionnaire about the type of children you’re open to bringing into your home. This is pretty extensive and can be overwhelming. On one hand, thinking, praying, and talking over this list is a great first step in figuring out which children you’ll be able and willing to care for. When you actually get a call about a child, you have very limited time to make a decision. Having already had the hard conversations before the call will help the decision process go more smoothly. On the other hand, this list will not really be referenced by anyone, ever before calling you about a placement, so the answers you give aren’t overly important. You’re only able to take a healthy five year old? “Uh, yeah, we have a 15 year old with serious health issues and his little sister who’s weaning off drugs in the NICU, are you able to take them?” This lady was not looking at your answers as she called. In filling out these forms, you’re neither committing yourself to anything nor closing the door on anything. As we’ve taken placements, we’ve said “no” to things we checked yes for (certain ages) and “yes” to things we checked no for (health issues).
- Discipline agreement. You cannot spank your foster child. Period.
- Financial statement. You’ll fill out all of your monthly expenses and income. Basically, the state wants to see that the one number doesn’t exceed the other, so that you A) can pay your mortgage and B) aren’t in it for the money. Get ready to pull out some past bills and check stubs to confirm your numbers. If you asked me the amount of our electric bill each month, I couldn’t even guess a number. Maybe it’s $40, maybe it’s $400. I wouldn’t know. Let’s just say my husband did this portion of the paperwork.
- Alternate caregiver form. Who do you plan on leaving your foster children with? Different states handle this differently, but in NJ, you can let anyone you would trust your own bio children with babysit your foster kids. Because believe me, you will need a babysitter.
- Copies of documents. You’ll need to get copies of your driver's license, birth certificate, etc. My husband is American, but he’s also a citizen of England, and he was born in Hong Kong. You may be picturing an exotic, Asian man with a British accent. You’re picturing wrong. The influence of my husband’s foreign cultural background is non-existent. Its effects are that he exists on hamburgers and pizza, obsesses over (American) football, watches cheesy action movies, and, apparently, complicates foster care licensing paperwork. We were, in the end, able to successfully collect all the needed American/English/Chinese documents.
- Questionnaire about every.intimate.detail.of.your.life. Seriously. Get ready to answer questions about your past (What was your relationship with your parents like? How were you disciplined? How many people did you date in high school?), your present (How’s your sex life? How willing are your friends and family to help you with your foster children? What’s your relationship with your siblings like?), and your future (What are your career aspirations? How many children do you want? How do you plan on disciplining your foster children?). Time to throw away your modesty, because this is where you lay out your life on paper.
This concludes the paperwork portion of our program. Once you’ve gotten through this, you’ve lost any former sense of modesty, become more enlightened on your finances/health/marriage/childhood, and accomplished the majority of your portion of the work. Congratulations/My Sympathies, you did it.
Maybe you’re an open book and happy to talk about anything in your life (I would fall under this category, in case you haven’t figured that out yet). Maybe you’re a private person who doesn’t typically choose to open up about any of the above topics. Either way, this process can be uncomfortable. And as much as any future foster parent may wish this process away to just get on with the actual foster caring, maybe it’s the perfect intro course into foster care.
Maybe the discomfort prepares you for the trials of traumatized children and difficult social workers. Maybe the delays build the patience needed to wait for placements and court dates. Maybe the surrender of control prepares you for the challenges of parental visits and unanticipated changes. And maybe the sacrifice is meant to remind us of why we got into foster care in the first place. Maybe it’s an opportunity to remember what great lengths God went to rescue his own children and seek to follow His example, even in this.