Last week our family consisted of our own children- ages 7, 2 ½ and 1 ½ years old- PLUS a 2 year old girl we watched as we provided respite care for her foster family who went on vacation out of state for eight days. Needless to say, it was a busy week.
This was the first placement we have taken since Jack and Jill were adopted and, therefore, it was also the first placement where we’ve had more than one child of our own to take into consideration when trying to decide if the placement would be a good fit for our family.*
I expected- simply because of the factor of ages alone- that having three children under 3 years of age would be a bit challenging- regardless of if our 2 year old placement, whom I will refer to as “Emily”, were the best-behaved child in the world. Age is probably the biggest factor in predicting how this particular placement would affect my children but I think that the personality types and the genders of my children also played a big part (I know, I know- I analyze things too much). Each of my children acted a little bit differently to Emily coming into our home and I’ll elaborate on that later.
After getting the call from our Resource Family Consultant [the caseworker who works with us as foster parents and calls about potential placements which might be a good fit for our family] I asked my 7 year old daughter, M. how she felt about the idea of us watching a 2 year old girl for a week. She seemed pretty excited and my husband was on board as well (largely due to the fact that it would only be for a week). I was curious as to how Jack and Jill would respond to having a child so close to their own ages in our home but with their young ages I obviously couldn’t put the issue to a family vote, so I simply explained to them that we would be having a “friend” come stay with us for a week.
I was able to talk with Emily’s foster mom on the phone a few days before Emily came to our home which was very helpful. As she was sharing information with me, Emily’s foster mom explained that this was actually the second time that Emily had come into their care. She was with them for several months as a baby, was reunited with her father, and then just a few weeks ago she came back into their care again.
I remembered how hard it was for me to leave Jack and Jill with another foster family last year when our family went out of the country on a family trip that had been a long time in the planning and it obviously wouldn’t have been possible to take them with us. Even though (at that point) my foster children weren’t technically “my” children I wanted to make sure that they were going to a good home while we were gone. Because let’s face it, foster families are like all families- there are some good ones out there and some not-so-good ones. Fortunately, with the help of our RFC, Jack and Jill were placed with a wonderful foster family while we were gone. It was a huge relief and blessing for me.
On a side note: Another good reason foster families should get to know other foster families in their area (besides being a source of support for each other) is to learn which families you can trust if you ever need to use respite.
I also remembered feeling guilty when we had to use respite for a few other family vacations over the years- including an anniversary trip to Hawaii. But foster families shouldn’t have to put their lives on hold just because they have a placement. Because of this, I wanted to reassure Emily’s foster mom that she should just try to relax and have fun with her family because we would take good care of Emily. The morning she dropped Emily off to our house she confided, “I know that she’ll be alright while we’re gone- it’s ME I’m worried about.” Totally understood.
In our short phone conversation with each other, Emily’s foster mom also mentioned that their family had adopted Emily’s half-brother which is why she was placed with them in the first place. She also mentioned that because Emily was returned to the care of her father she actually preferred male caregivers to female caregivers and she was curious to see if she would prefer my husband over me as she preferred her foster father over her foster mother. She was also curious to see if Emily would refer to us as “mom” and “dad” which is what she calls her foster parents.
*I think it was much easier to open our home to foster placements when my husband and I had no children because it was just a matter of US adjusting to having the child in our home and adapting to their personality and needs. Plus, we could shower a ton of attention on any foster children without having to worry about dividing up our time and efforts with any other children in the home.
It was a little more difficult after our daughter was adopted because then we had to examine how any placements would affect her as well. [And, of course, being first-time “official” parents who were totally overly protective of her we would often imagine the worst case scenario which has a lot to do with why up till now we have only taken foster placements younger than she is]. Similarly, now that we have three children we have to assess how any future placements or adoptions might affect each of our children -taking into account their different personalities, stages in life, and particular needs.
In retrospect, I think that a childless couple would be a great candidate for fostering or adopting a sibling group. We were too hesitant to take more than one child at a time until after we had been fostering for five or six years. Ironically, now that I feel more open to fostering or adopting [another] sibling group I get disappointed when I am drawn to a profile of a sibling group or older child only to discover that they “must be the youngest or only child” in the family. Families with no children in their home would be a perfect fit for these kids!