Because lots of you have asked questions about foster care/what I think of being a foster parent/why I decided to be a foster parent, I decided to dedicate a post to your questions.
Keep in mind this post is based on my experiences and opinions ONLY. These are not necessarily the beliefs of DHS or other foster homes.
I am the youngest of three kids and ever since I can remember I have loved babies, so after years of begging my mom to have another baby with no avail, I convinced her to be a foster parent. When I was around 13 or 14, we opened our home to kids. As I watched child after child come through our home (ranging in age from 2 months to 4 years), I fell in love with foster care. From that point on, I always knew I would someday open my home to foster kids.
Fast forward a few years: my mom leaves sperm donor and we move in with my grandma to take care of her. Because she was constantly giving the children whatever they asked for (and we were scared she would drop a pill, that could be swallowed by a small child), we made the decision to close our home. At that point in time, 13 children had been through our home.
When I turned 21, I immediately started the paperwork process. In order to open your home, you have to basically write a novel telling your life story, complete a home study, take parenting classes, and you have to get approved. Six months later (December 2010), my home was opened and I was placed with a baby. I currently have my 7th placement, and am fighting for my 8th.
I did not get in this to adopt, and have no plans to (at least not in the near future). My heart just goes out to these children.
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." -James 1:27
Knowing that these innocent children have experienced more in their short lives than most people experience in their entire lifetimes, breaks my heart. These children have been abused and/or neglected, some have seen things that nobody should ever see. Some of these kids have been in multiple foster homes and even shelters. These kids need stability and love more than anything.
Foster care is, by no means, easy, but it is ALWAYS rewarding. To know that you have provided these kids with the only safe, loving home they may ever see (even if they're too young to remember you) is worth it.
Do you get paid? Technically, no. You get a "reimbursement" each month, but after buying diapers, clothes, shoes, and food, you're not really making a profit. (Which should never be the reason you decide to care for a child in the first place). This reimbursement is based on the age of the child and whether or not special care is involved. Although it doesn't make a whole lot of sense (considering the extra care needed and high cost of baby accessories and diapers), you actually get more money with older kids. So...if you take in a teenage foster child (who's in school all day long), you are provided with more money than a foster home who takes in a newborn baby. Kinda backwards, right? Furthermore, you are "paid" less money to keep the child for 24 hours than a daycare is paid to keep the child for 8 hours. Foster care is, BY NO MEANS a way to make money; however, it is a full-time job.
Do you get WIC? Yes, every ward of the state gets WIC (which includes formula/milk, baby food, milk, bread, eggs, cereal, peanut butter/beans, and cheese). And yes, you do get looks of shame from people when you use the vouchers in the store.
How do you punish the children? You may or may not know this, but foster homes cannot spank the foster children. You have to be creative with your punishments, and at times it proves to be very difficult.
Do you have to deal with the birth parents? Yes! I would say this is one of the biggest misconceptions of people going into foster parenting--you are not merely caring for the children, but you are also "mentoring" the parents. You are essentially showing the bio family how to be good parents. Some caseworkers go so far as to give your phone number to the birth parents while you have their child--I DO NOT recommend this. We once had a bio mom who would call EVERY night and talk for hours about her life, not even bothering to ask about the child. If your caseworker asks if she can give the bio family your phone number, it is okay to say "NO," never do anything you are uncomfortable with. We learned our lesson the hard way.
Do you keep the kids until they get adopted? In some cases, yes. In most cases, no. Out of our 20 foster children, only one of those children is currently in an adoptive home. The goal of DHS is reunification, and in most cases, the children return home or to a kinship placement (a family member or family friend). If you become a foster parent in hopes of adopting, guard your heart (pssh, like that's possible); odds are, you will be placed with many, many children who you will fall madly in love with and will then be returned to their bio family.
How do you give the kids up? Our standard answer to this question is: "you love them while you have them, then you let them go." You have to understand from the minute these children are placed in your home until they leave, that they are only in your home temporarily (but will be in your hearts forever). I GUARANTEE you will get your heart broken when you first foster child leaves your home, but, as with any broken heart, it will eventually heal and you will move on to your next love. Just remember that, in some cases, your love will be the only "true love" this child is ever shown.
How long do you have the kids? Every situation is different. We've had children as short as a week, and we've had children for over a year. Typically (unless a kinship home is approved or a judge sees no reason for removal from the parents), you can expect to have the child a minimum of three months. Parents are issued a parenting plan (a checklist, if you will) that they must follow in order to get their children back. The shortest plan is 3-6 months, so if the parents are able to complete the list or show progress, the kids will be returned home. It seems as though, because the goal is reunification, that bio parents are given endless amounts of extensions and multiple chances. It's so unfair to watch these kids "sit" in foster care as their parents (in many cases) do absolutely nothing to prove themselves worthing of getting the kids back, but refuse to sign their rights over to an adoptive home desperately wanting children. Life isn't fair, and foster children have to (unfortunately) learn that at a very young age.
I think I've covered the basics of foster parenting, if you have any other questions, feel free to ask!
Until next time,
The Intelligent Blonde