Sunday, July 12, 2009

Another Foster Placement?

This post was originally published in MEM's MEMOS on March 27, 2009.

About a month ago I had a very strong feeling that we should accept another placement from the Foster Care System. I didn’t WANT to pay attention to that prompting, but it would NOT leave my mind so I decided to stop ignoring it and take it seriously. I called my husband at work and told him about it. Over the next couple of days we discussed it some more and we prayed about it. We talked about the pros and cons of having another foster child in our home. I even made a long list on paper, and I’ll be quite honest when I say that the “cons” of taking another placement far outweighed the “pros”.

This idea couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time for reasons I‘ll explain below, but the bottom line is that we feel like it is something we are supposed to do. In fact, the feelings I was having were so strong that I fully expected our Resource Family Consultant (the social worker who is in charge of placing children in your home) to give us a call that day or the next asking if we could take a baby or child.

Yes, we would still like to adopt with LDS Family Services. . . And if we take a child from Foster Care then no birth mother will want to choose us (It was a miracle M’s birthmother did after learning we were caring for a 4 month old through foster care!) Our adoption home study & profile will probably be put on a temporary “hold” if we take a placement. Then again, it could take a couple of years for a birth mom to choose us anyway, so maybe we’re supposed to have a child in our home for a short time before our next child arrives.

Another reason we’re a little wary is because there has been a recent shift in DCFS Policy in terms of placing children. The steps to taking a child into your home for foster care are very similar to adopting a child: Like adoptive couples, foster parents can choose the age, gender, ethnicity, and medical backgrounds of the children they will care for, but obviously foster children are going to have some special needs, namely abuse, neglect, and exposure to drugs and alcohol. In that case, prospective foster parents can choose the severity of neglect, abuse, or drug exposure that the child has had- whatever they personally feel comfortable with.

When the Resource Family Consultant (RFC for short) calls a foster parent about a placement it is their job to tell the foster parents as much information about the child as possible including the reason they are coming into foster care. It’s the foster parent’s job to ask as many questions as needed so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not a placement would work well in their home. If the RFC doesn’t have all of the information about the child (which sometimes happens, because they don’t always know all the details at once) then the foster parent can talk to the Child Protective Services (CPS) Caseworker or the child’s assigned ongoing Caseworker for information. The CPS caseworker is the caseworker who is in charge of actually removing the child from home (with a judge’s approval) and the ongoing caseworker is the caseworker who interacts with the child, the child’s birthparent(s) and the foster parents.

Some people erroneously believe that they have to say “yes” every time that their RFC calls them about a placement. This is not the case.  We have said “no” to placements we haven’t felt right about. I felt a little guilty afterwards and we may have been afraid that we would never get another call again, but we were in fact called again. If a foster parent doesn’t feel right about a placement, then they should not take it- for their family’s sake but most importantly, FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILD! We are dealing with children here, not animals. For example, say somebody sees a cute puppy at the Pet Store. They get all excited and want to buy it and take it home. So they do. But after a couple of months perhaps the puppy grows out of its “cute” stage and starts chewing everything up around the house and the family is sick of cleaning up every time it poops, etc. It’s an option to give the puppy away and find a different home that would be better suited for the dog. But that option does not exist with children because children are not animals.

I can’t even imagine how traumatic it would be for a young child to suddenly be removed from their home, separated from their mommy or daddy, and then sent to live with some strangers in a totally new environment. This is where the recent change in DCFS Policy comes into place. In the past the foster care system actually promoted the idea that foster children should be moved from home to home on a regular basis. This is probably one of the worst ideas if you want a child to have a sense of permanency and stability in their lives- which children desperately need! This is also very damaging to a child’s ability to form healthy attachments and develop a sense of trust.

Basically, the research has shown that the more placements a foster child has, then the more trauma they will experience. Because of these findings, DCFS- in conjunction with the Utah Foster Care Foundation- are trying to reduce the number of placements a child has to go through after removing the child from the home.

According to my understanding, after a child is removed from their home and taken into custody of the State, they usually stay at either The Christmas Box House (which is sort of a non-profit temporary shelter for abused and neglected children) or at a sheltered foster home (a home where people take foster children in at the last minute until a permanent home is found for them).  My husband and I have only had 2 placements since becoming licensed a couple of years ago- our first placement, whom I refer to as Justin, stayed at the Christmas Box House when he was first removed from his home. Then he stayed at another foster home for about six months. Unfortunately, his foster parents decided they were "sick of doing foster care" so they asked that he be moved to a different foster home. Hello, Confusion and Trauma! That's when we got a call asking if we would consider taking a 3 year old boy. We were a bit surprised that our RFC called us because we had requested to have babies only. But after meeting Justin for the first time at his current foster home, I knew that Justin was supposed to be with us.

Our second placement was a baby girl- a four month old, and she stayed at a sheltered foster home for three weeks before she was placed with us. DCFS doesn't generally like to place children under five or babies in the Christmas Box House which is why they usually stay at a sheltered foster placement. But now with this shift in policy, many shelter placements will be done away with because the goal is to move the child from one home environment to another permanent, rather than temporary home environment, as soon as possible instead of "institutionalized-like" care, such as The Christmas Box House.

So how does this effect us as foster parents? Well, it means that when the RFC calls she may have even less information for us about a potential placement. We may be taking an infant or child in our home in the middle of the night, if necessary, and we may not know the extent of abuse or neglect or medical concerns because investigations and health assessments won't even have been completed. This makes us nervous because when we took our previous placements we wanted to know as much as possible about the children. That way we would make an informed decision and be totally committed to the child in our care and prevent any additional trauma to the child through a disrupted placement and another traumatic move.

Although children in foster care are most often reunited with their parents, there is a slight chance that we could be adopting them, too so it's VERY UNPREDICTABLE!

You never know what to expect with foster care and that is perhaps the most frustrating thing about it! But if we're supposed to take another placement, then we will.

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