Six weeks ago I introduced you to my friends, Brittany and Andy. We talked about middle school crushes, Batman, and violent four year olds, but more importantly, we talked about their current journey into becoming foster parents. If you didn’t read the intro to my friends, you can catch up here, and I’ll meet you back in five minutes.
Last time we talked, Britt and Andy shared their hearts about becoming foster parents (in pure blog gold). Now that they’ve ventured into getting licensed, they can share about the actual process of becoming foster parents. In the past month, Britt and Andy have had a number of meetings to begin the process:
Britt and Andy attended an initial interest meeting led by a recruiter at their county’s office. Besides hearing basic information about foster care, they heard from a 16 year old girl who was adopted from foster care and were inspired by her story. This is an opportunity for you to talk to a real-life social worker. Listen during the meeting and pull the recruiter aside afterwards with any other questions you have. From this interest meeting, you’ll schedule your first in-home appointment with a social worker.
MEETING WITH A SOCIAL WORKER
It took a combined four phone calls, two e-mails, and a private investigator (I joke, I joke) to get it scheduled, but Britt and Andy’s first meeting eventually happened. They said it took about a month between these first two steps. Keep this in mind when the length of the licensing process is quoted to you…it took us about a month to even just start the process also.
TIP: The squeaky (but kind) wheel gets the…roadside assistance (What is it this squeaky wheel gets? I couldn’t remember for the life of me, nearly googled it, but went for the laugh instead). If you leave accosting, condescending messages for your social worker every day, the chances of this 5-7 month process becoming exactly 7 months to the day are 100%. If you leave the progress of your home study solely in the hands of your (well-intentioned, over-worked) social worker, the chances of this 5-7 month process becoming exactly 7 months to the day are 100%.
When the social worker visited their home, he spent some time questioning them, asking the “why” and “who” of getting into foster care (Why: they see a need in their own community and want to rescue children from the cycles of abuse and neglect…Who: a baby younger than their own baby for now, older siblings eventually) and answered their questions as well. In an effort to help them have realistic expectations, he also spent time reiterating the sacrifice and risk involved and shared a lot of “worst case” scenarios. Britt and Andy said after a while of hearing the negatives, they wanted to say, “We understand the risks and are prepared…but we’ve also seen the opposite happen.”
TIP: When you choose to get involved in foster care, well-intentioned workers, friends, and family will share horror stories with you. You must be prepared for the “worst,” but hopeful and prayerful for the “best.” There is, absolutely, sacrifice involved in foster care and, absolutely, risk involved in foster care. If you’re interested in an easy process of caring for or adopting a perfect little child, you may want to reconsider foster care (also, you may want to reconsider parenting, because spoiler alert: it’s all hard.). For every nightmare story you’ve heard, I have a miracle story to match it. I’ve experienced the “impossible” myself time and time again. My daughter’s bio mom chose to not appeal the judge’s decision to terminate her rights, even though I was told by the lawyer that “every single parent in every single case I’ve had in 20 years has appealed.” I’ve cared for three drug babies who never cried…like, ever. My youngest daughter’s case has followed, without a hitch, the exact timeline and process that was explained to me in foster parent training and should end soon in adoption (not to mention the fact that even though we were open to different races/health issues/ages, she came to us as a healthy, blonde-hair-blue-eyed four-week old, which most workers would tell you will never happen). I’ve had children in my home who, despite all they’ve been through, are sweet and easy and a joy to care for. I watched my best friend get the call for a baby who was “fast-tracked” to adoption the DAY AFTER getting her license. These little stories don’t even address the little heart-miracles for those who experience those “worst” cases. Follow Britt and Andy’s example and be realistic about the risks while also remembering the miracles.
INITIAL WALK-THROUGH THE HOUSE
Don’t worry about posting your fire-safety plan or dusting your baseboards for this walk-through (unless, of course, that’s normal for you, in which case we are not of the same species, and I have no advice for you). This is just a time for the social worker to “eye up” your house to see if there’s anything glaring that needs to be addressed or would immediately disqualify your home. I have one friend who lives in an older home whose windows weren’t up to code and needed to be moved and another whose worker pointed out that the bedroom:child ratio wouldn’t work until one of her adult children moved out.
As for Britt and Andy, their worker let them know that a door needed to be added to one of their rooms and boxes needed to be moved away from the water heater. For fire safety, NJ doesn’t allow anything within five feet of the water heater. When we got licensed, we didn’t just have boxes near it. Directly across from our water heater, within the forbidden five-foot radius, were floor-to-ceiling shelves housing old paint cans and chemicals. It was almost as if we thought, “Hmm, where would be the most combustible place we could store these highly flammable materials?” and placed them there. I’m pretty sure the inspector wanted to fail us on the spot, but resorted to taking a photo to add to the “don’t be like these idiots” section of the training manual.
TIP: Ask your worker for a list of everything the inspector will check for. The state gave us a checklist, and we went through the list until each thing was checked off. This first walk-through is basic, but you want to be prepared for the more intense lint-checking, first-aid-kit-examining, water-temperature-measuring inspector.
Britt and Andy are now on their way to becoming real-life foster parents. So far, it’s pretty painless, right? A few meetings never hurt anyone. Next week we’ll address the (two foot stack of) paperwork the worker left for them at his last visit, in a post I’ve creatively titled (if I can say so myself), “It’s called paperWORK for a reason.” You like that, don’t you?
(NOTE: PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THAT BRITT AND ANDY AND I ALL LIVE IN NJ. WHILE MUCH OF THE PROCESS WILL BE SIMILAR WITH YOUR STATE/PRIVATE AGENCY, THERE MAY BE DIFFERENCES.)