When we went through the training to become foster parents we were given a list of questions to keep near the phone when our Resource Family Consultant (RFC) called us about a placement.
These questions were compiled to help foster parents get as much information as possible about foster children before deciding if a placement sounds like a good fit for their family. We were also given some great advice by our trainer: “When you get the call for a placement, be sure that the more logical/rational spouse asks the questions rather than the more emotional spouse.” I’m definitely the more emotional one in our marriage who is more likely to act on impulse or intuition and use my feelings as my guide. Although my intentions may be good, they are not always as carefully thought out as my extremely pragmatic husband who carefully considers all possibilities before coming to a decision. Fortunately, we balance each other out pretty well.
I’m really glad I have that list from training because having a foster child in your home is a HUGE deal- it’s not just like watching a neighbor’s pet for a couple of days while they’re on vacation. This is another person joining your family- albeit temporarily- and the dynamics of your family and routines of your home suddenly change overnight. It’s best to arm yourself with as much information as possible in order to adjust to the change and deal with the uncertainty that fostering brings.
Have I mentioned that my husband and I much prefer predictability and stability to uncertainty? How ironic that we got involved in foster care in the first place and have built our family through adoption since the only certain thing in both cases is UNCERTAINTY!
Anyway, here is the list of questions we got in training and I thought I’d share them. I’ve bolded the ones which I’ve found particularly important and I’ve shared my thoughts on some of them (in italics).
Questions to ask the Caseworker about the Child . . .
1. The child’s full name, age, and birth date.
Some foster parents aren't picky in their preferences of age, gender, or race, but age of the foster child is definitely one of the biggest factors for my husband and I when deciding if a placement is the right fit for our family. We also have a rule that all decisions regarding foster children must be unanimous; therefore, we've decided that we're willing to take placements as long as they are younger than our daughter. [I know, I know . . . there's so many older foster children out there who need homes and it makes me feel a little guilty, but this is just my family's personal decision.]
2. Why the child is in foster care and what is the legal status of the case?
3. Are kinship options being pursued?
The last part of #2 and #3 go together and are super important to ask regardless of a foster parent's reasons for fostering. For example, some foster parents are interested in fostering but don't necessarily want to adopt; if a child is legally free for adoption and foster parents aren't interested in adopting, it's better for the child's sake to have him placed in a fost-adopt home (one that is willing to adopt foster children if they become legally free for adoption) so that the child doesn't have to get attached to a family only to be moved to another family. On the other hand, if there is a good chance for reunification a foster family that isn't necessarily interested in adopting would be a great fit.
Some foster parents do foster care with the sole purpose of adopting. If that's the case, it's crucial for the foster family to know if a child is legally free for adoption. Even if a child is available for adoption, it's imperative to keep in mind that blood relatives always take precedence over foster parents for placement (that's my LESSON #2).
I know that I've said this before, but foster care is NOT an adoption agency. At least not in my state where legislation is very pro-reunification. The purpose of foster care is to provide temporary homes for children while their families work things out. In other words, it's about fulfilling the needs of children, not getting your own personal desires met. Therefore, if you are fostering only because you want to adopt and each time you get a phone call for a placement you decline because the child is not legally free- well . . . chances are you won't be getting too many calls because it just doesn't work that way.
HOWEVER, if you are interested in adopting a child from the U.S. foster care system who is already legally free for adoption refer to these resources: Bethany Christian Services, The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Heart Galleries By State.
4. The child’s medical history including immunizations, special medical problems, medication, etc. When will a medical card be received?
All foster children are covered by Medicaid.
5. Last school attended and grade the child is in.
6. Does the child have any special needs such as clothing, food, or supervision? Are there any behavioral problems? What type of extent of abuse has occurred?
7. The caseworker’s name and phone number
8. Who should the resource parent call if the caseworker cannot be reached?
Just in case you have a caseworker who doesn't return your calls, (whether intentionally or because they're swamped with a huge caseload) it's always good to have the name of their supervisor handy.
9. What is the name and phone number of the Health Care Team nurse assigned to the case?
10. What is expected regarding visits with the family?
Generally, supervised visits take place once a week for about an hour at the local DCFS Office. If children are younger or their parents are making significant progress, visits will be longer and/or moved to unsupervised visits.
11. Is this a basic or specialized placement? Is there an initial clothing allowance?
12. Does the child present a threat to other children, animals, or self?
I have to admit- this was one of those questions that really freaked me out and when I heard it and I thought, "Do I really want to be a foster parent?"
13. What is the child’s previous placement history?
I think another question just as important is the history of the child's parents: Do they have a criminal history? Is this their first removal (the first time they've had children removed from their home?)
14. Are there any cultural or religious practices of which we need to be aware?
15. Does the child have siblings, relatives, or previous caregivers who may wish to visit the child?
16. Does the child have possessions from home that may be important such as scrapbook, pictures of family members, or favorite toys?
17. Do you know of any special routines that will help the child feel more comfortable?
#16 and #17 are GREAT questions to ask, but not necessarily to the caseworker. The best person to ask those questions are the parents of the foster child at the first visits. (Of course, if the parents are in jail or don't show up for visits then you're out of luck.) If the foster child is coming from another foster home most definitely talk to the previous foster parents to get a feel for what routines or schedule the child is used to.
Even if the parents don't necessarily have any regular or specific meal, bedtime, or nap time routines (which is pretty likely if they are battling an addiction that gets in the way of parenting; hence the reason for their children being removed from the home in the first place) most parents have a blanket, toy, or stuffed animal that they will voluntarily give you so their child can remember home and lessen the trauma and confusion of being removed and placed in a foreign environment. "Transitional object" is the technical term for such objects.
Of course, if foster children have come from a meth house or a house which is dangerously unhygienic, use caution.
18. Is there any other family information that would be helpful?
19. Has the child been involved in counseling or special education? What additional services would this child need?
20. When will the Child and Family Team Meeting take place at which the Child and Family Plan will be established?
21. Are there any other Child and Family Team Meetings scheduled?
#20 and #21 are ideal rather than real- don't count on it unless you have a stellar caseworker; however, in the case that there are Team Meetings scheduled (and the caseworker actually notifies you of it) most definitely go- YOU are a crucial part of your foster child's "team"!