Rookie Mistake

By Eleanor Delewski

We had just completed our foster parent training classes.  The home inspection was done and we were licensed and waiting for ‘the call’.

It came on a Friday afternoon.  “There is a baby, he is seven months old.  He needs a home today, he is at day care and we would need you to get him from there.  We expect this to be a long term placement, probably months, could be longer, his Mom already lost some kids to the system so there is potential this could go toward adoption, would you take him?”

I said yes and fifteen minutes later the social worker called me back and confirmed that I was to drive to the day care and pick the baby up, they would meet me there.   I hurriedly packed a bag and, hands shaking, began the long drive toward the day care.  My head was swirling with all kids of thoughts.  

I’m not proud of any of them.

My thoughts were all about what we were gaining that night.  A child to love.  A family. We had been waiting to become parents and at last this was the day that I would come home with a baby in my arms.  I was already imagining what books I would read him, what songs I would sing when I rocked him to sleep.  I had zoomed months ahead and envisioned Christmas with a child to dote on.

What I had missed in all my excited considering was that there was a baby sitting in a day care waiting for his mother to come back.  She may not have always been an appropriate mother – CYS doesn’t take custody without good cause. But she was his mother, his world. She was what he knew.  He would not be going home to the bed he knew.  The next bottle he had offered to him would not be the way he was used to it.  Things would smell different.  He was a tiny child about to face an enormous, traumatic loss.  He would not be happy to see me when I arrived.  I was a stranger and while I might be delighted to meet him he was certainly not going to be delighted to meet me.

I had made a rookie mistake. I was brand new to the world of foster care.  I was longing to be a parent and had forgotten what foster care was all about.  Foster care is never about ‘getting’ a baby or a child for hopeful parents.  It is always about finding the best home for a child.

Twenty minutes into my drive the social worker called me back.  “I’m so sorry, a Grandma showed up and offered to take the baby.  Better luck next time”

I cried.  I got mad at the unfairness of it all.  I wanted to be a mother SO badly and this was meant to be the day that happened.  As I drove my empty car home I was overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and disappointment.  I did not celebrate that this child’s Grandmother, someone he knew, someone who was already a part of his world had stepped up.  I wanted him, and in my wanting I had forgotten what the child wanted – someone familiar to show up and offer him a chance to loose a little less of his world. The best thing would have been if his mother had been able to parent him.  But since the best thing could not happen the second best thing did, a relative arrived and offered him a home.  I should have celebrated for that small victory for him but I am ashamed to admit I did not.  

I judge my young eager self a little from where I am now.  A decade of foster and adoptive parenting has schooled me in what fostering is and should be about.  If I was making that same drive today my thoughts would be very different and if I got a call saying “Grandma arrived” I would be thrilled that a family member stepped in.

I also wonder at the social workers who called me that night.  I remember the social worker telling me “I was really disappointed when Grandma showed up, I really hoped this would be your night, I was so looking forward to getting a child home with you”.  He validated all my hurt and disappointed feelings when he should have been gently reminding me that foster care was about doing the best thing for the child and the best thing for that child had happened. 

Foster care agencies have the hard job of recruiting foster parents, and in their efforts to recruit some tell hopeful prospective parents what they want to hear.   I have been to information nights where agencies offer statistics in a way that frames the foster care cases that go to adoption as their successes, “Over 50% of our cases end in adoption, you have a good chance of keeping the first child you foster”.  This is not okay. 

The goal in foster care is (almost) always reunification until all efforts there have failed. Adoption is not the success story.  Don’t get me wrong – I am pro adoption, especially adoption from foster care.  I am an adoptive Momma of two kids but when we are talking about a child who is entering foster care adoption is NOT the first goal. It is a goal that develops after other goals fail. 

Agencies need to tell hopeful prospective parents this right off the bat – that foster care is about providing a safe and loving home for a child and doing EVERYTHING in your power to support reunification with the birth family.  That you need to get ready to love a child with the full knowledge that you may well have to say goodbye to them.  They need to remind hopeful families from day one that foster care is about finding families for kids, not finding kids for families.

There are some wonderful agencies out there who set the tone for the conversation early but as foster parents I believe we need to set the same tone in our conversations with each other.   I see the comments in online groups.  I cringe a little when I see someone post “We got a baby for Christmas, I am so excited!”  I am happy for these parents, who may have waited years for parenthood but my heart goes out to the birth family who has to face the holiday without a child that they love and too often in the excitement for a family that gained a child we do not talk about the family that lost one.

I know there are many hopeful people out there eagerly waiting to fulfil their dreams of becoming a Mom or Dad. But even in our hopeful dreaming we have to remember what we signed up for here and speak about fostering in a way that honors that and keeps us all accountable to the goal of supporting reunification with everything we have, while also loving these children with our whole hearts.

Adoption Day

There are options for hopeful parents who do not wish to risk their heart on a child that they may have to say good bye to.  After parenting, loving and saying goodbye to six foster children my husband and I decided our hearts had taken enough of a beating and we decided to only accept placements of children legally free for adoption.  Three months later we were matched to our sons and finalized their adoption the year after. I think that it is important to be honest with ourselves about what we can do – not everyone is in a place where they are emotionally ready to parent a child without the certainty that they will raise them till adult hood. And that is okay.   I have been there.  I am a huge advocate of foster parenting and foster adoption but there is a season for everything and there was a time when traditional fostering was just not something we were emotionally ready for and admitting that to ourselves was an important step in building our family.

If you are interested in learning about fostering you can start here.  There are over 100, 000 children in the US who are legally free and waiting for adoptive families.  You can learn about them here.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Threads Of Change. Threads Of Change is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.

The Road To Kinship Foster Care

By Chelsea Morgan

Have you ever heard of kinship fostering? It is not as common as one would think – but it’s where our fostering story begins.

We know the birth parents of June, and chose to become foster parents when she was born. We had no prior experience or time with an agency.
Because the case is still active, I can’t go into much detail about who or why, but I can talk about my perspective.

We knew that June, our foster daughter, was due to arrive in the world any day – and her parents were not that stable. Captain Morgan and I already agreed to be her caretakers until they were stable enough to be her parents, but they did not want the county to be involved.

When June did make her grand entrance into the world, the doctors had no choice but to call CYS – thus starting our path to foster parenting. June was to be in the hospital for two days, and we had to race around getting everything ready. Outlets plugged, baby girl clothes bought (Boogie was just shy of HIS first birthday), and figuring out who would stay home with her before she could attend daycare! Little did we know how much harder this was all going to get – I did not know it yet, but I was pregnant and we hadn’t even been assigned an agency yet!

Once we were assigned an agency, we had 30-60 days to write out our life history three times (not really exaggerating, they ask you the same question many different ways) There were classes to attend: two weekends for eight hours a day. Our house needed to be up to their standards with a fire
extinguisher, escape plans, and so much more. On top of it all we were dealing with a new born! When you decide to become a foster parent WITHOUT being kinship – the process should take 4-6 months. We jam packed it all in by day 45.

You can’t forget the court hearings either. In York County, and trust me – every county is different – the child, the parents, and the guardians are all asked to be in attendance. We had court 5 days after she was born, 2.5 weeks after that, then at 3 months. There was a lot of waiting just to hear the same things. But that’s what you do when a child’s case is so new.

The worst part, in my opinion, is dealing with your emotions over being a kinship provider. Of course – no one wants to see a child be abused, neglected, etc but when the parents are someone of close relation, you don’t know how to convey your feelings anymore. Yes, I want June’s mother and father to get better, but I have loved this little girl from the moment she was
born. She is safe with my husband and I, and well provided for. I know that they can’t offer her what we can – but they’re still her parents and deserve thus deserve a chance to parent her. It is very hard to separate your thoughts and emotions from the official view of how things should be, to an extent they understand that.

Kinship isn’t for the faint of heart, that’s for sure, but it is so rewarding as well. You are able to know the child is well taken care of, in a familiar setting, and continues to see biological family on a regular basis. Maybe you’ve never considered kinship fostering because you never had a
reason to, but if the opportunity arises, I pray you take it. It’s a rewarding experience.

If you want to hear more about our journey – please feel free to follow me at Monday with the Morgan’s.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Threads Of Change. Threads Of Change is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.

Dear New Foster Parent,

By Jodie Whitcombe

Thank you for what you are doing! I don’t know you… but I do. You want to make a difference in the world. You love children. You have big hearts, and those hearts are full of bravery. You have spent months, maybe even years considering the idea of opening your home to kids who need one. And now it’s about to happen! You have prayed. You have waited. You completed piles of paperwork. Then you waited again some more. You have a room prepped for children you don’t know. Right now the room feels empty, which in itself feels strange. Almost like you are missing someone you haven’t met yet. You have a stash of toys and clothes even though you don’t know what the kid will like or what size they will wear.

Actually there are a lot of things you don’t know, and you are trying to be okay with that. You hope they will like your home and their room, and you hope they will like you! You have imagined what your home will feel like when it’s filled with these children. What will their voices sound like? Will it seem strange to be called Mr. or Mrs.? Will they call you mom or dad someday? When they cry because they miss their families, will they let you hold them? When you hear their laughter for the first time will it make all the waiting worth it? (It will, I promise.) What will they look like? What songs do they like to sing? You are afraid and excited all wrapped up in one big ball of emotions. You can’t wait to meet them!

I don’t know you… but I do, because I’ve been there. I’ve done and felt and thought all those things. These complicated thoughts and emotions have all swirled around in my brain, and they still do sometimes. Becoming a foster parent is a big deal. It’s inside this complicated and flawed system that you will be given the opportunity to parent these kids. It’ll be hard, but worth it. It’ll be heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. Beauty will be found in the brokenness; healing in the turmoil.

My husband and I have been involved in this crazy rollercoaster of fostering on and off for the last four years. It still feels like I have a lot to learn! But if I think back on our journey sometimes I wish I could go back in time and know what I know now. Unfortunately, I have not yet invented a time machine. So let me go back vicariously through you! New foster parent, let me share with you some of these things I wish I had grasped more fully in the beginning.

Your job is not just to love these kids, but their families as well. To fulfill the role of a foster parent you are not only committing to loving, caring for, and parenting a child on a full time basis. That would be hard enough as is. But no! That’s not the end of your role. The best foster parents are also committing to loving on, communicating with, and even partnering
with the child’s biological parent(s).

Some people want to view foster care as a way to “get a child for their family,” but that is not what foster care is really about. Instead, you are providing a hopefully temporary home for a child. Yes, I said hopefully. I said hopefully because every child deserves the very best effort to be put into helping their biological family heal so that it can be safe for them to return. No matter how amazing your family it is, it will always be traumatic for a child to be separated from their first family. The amazingness of your family will never erase that, even if the case ends in adoption. That is why no matter how much it hurt you to hear about why the child was removed; no matter how hard it is to think about loving parents who did XYZ to a child; no matter how inconvenient it is for you… You do it anyway.

The thing is that these parents will always be important to this child. That is why you are called to show kindness and respect to them, even if they may not treat you same way. They might judge every little thing you do because it’s the only sense of control they have in the situation. They might be hard to be around. These parents mean the world to this child, this child who will soon feel like they are yours. These parents are likely unsupported. These parents are likely coming from generations of dysfunctional families. These parents likely really need a person in their corner. Maybe that person can be you. Make the most out of every interaction, every visit, every court date. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy, because it’s not. And I’m not saying you are going to be best friends with the parents. I’m just saying it really does matter, so do the best you can.

  It’ll get harder before it gets easier. You have probably heard the phrase, “the honeymoon period.” When referring to kids in care this phrase simply means that they might behave better in the start and when they become more comfortable in your home things might get harder.

In the beginning you might think to yourself, well, this is already really, really hard so I guess we skipped the honeymoon period… Then BAM all of the sudden you have no idea what happened to your life and they are throwing you challenging behavior after challenging behavior. You have thoughts that you feel remorse for thinking. These thoughts entertain the idea of calling and asking the caseworker to please come take them back. When this happens to you, take a deep breath and be kind to yourself. You are new at this. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Any sane person would feel overwhelmed in your shoes. It’s okay to think things you wouldn’t say out loud. My advice here is to try and put these behaviors into perspective.
There are many reasons why the behaviors are occurring. It is probably partially due to the trauma the child has experienced. It is possibly partially due to questionable parenting techniques that the child may be accustomed to. It’s complicated and probably due to lots of things (and yes, please advocate to get this child into therapy!) Look at yourself in the mirror and give yourself this little pep talk: They are behaving this way because they feel safe in my home. Safe to share their feelings. Safe to show me all the stuff they have to hide from others. Safe to be angry. Safe to test limits. They are behaving this way because they trust me. Trust that I will respond with patience. Trust that I will love them despite their baggage. Trust that I am the grown up and can handle it. Trust that I will set boundaries and routines to help them. Trust that I will not give up on them.

Don’t worry what other people think. These kids may have these challenging behaviors, but you’ve got this! You are extending patience and grace. You are using all the positive parenting techniques you learned in training. Maybe it is going okay at home, but whenever you try and take the kids somewhere you feel judged. Lets pretend at the grocery store line there is a meltdown. The full-blown screaming at you that they hate you because you wouldn’t buy them gum kind of meltdown. It feels like every eye in in the store is on you. You do the only thing that has worked for this child- you hold them.

You just scoop up the angry, screaming child and hold them. You hum a song that you have began to sing at bedtime each night. “I know you are angry about the gum. It’s okay to be angry. Try humming with me instead of screaming,” you whisper gently. The lady behind you says, “If that was my child they would be getting more than a hug!” Your face turns red and you hold back tears. You want to turn around and explain to this lady that this child was severely neglected so your main job right now is to make sure he feels heard. You want to explain you are just a new foster parent doing the best you can.

Don’t let it get to you. You owe her no explanations. Maybe everyone is thinking your “new age” parenting is spoiling this child. Maybe even your family is questioning how you are raising this child. Then they see the behaviors and are confirming in their own minds that because you have had the child for three whole months and they are still acting up this way it must be your fault. Yes, you had them three months. Three months to undo a lifetime of trauma and dysfunction. You need to trust your instincts and not worry what other people think of you. Being all you need to be for this child must trump impressing the lady in the line behind you, or your brother-in-law, or your neighbor. Turn on some Taylor Swift in the car on the way home and shake it off. Then refer to the below tip and go vent to someone who gets it.

  Find your village. This fostering thing is hard! I cannot understate the importance of having a support system. Join Facebook groups to find other families who are doing this. Having someone to talk to who “gets” it can be like a life line on this journey. Your village doesn’t have to be all foster families; it can be anyone. Your neighbor. Your sister. Your church. Your friends. There are so many people who say they wish they could foster but it’s not in the cards for their life stage. Find those people who have a heart for fostering and let them help you. In our culture accepting help does not come naturally to us. Our high expectations of ourselves and our pride
can get in the way.

Accepting help first means admitting to ourselves we need it. It means being okay with another person seeing our mess and our not-put-togetherness. Accepting help is allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Maybe being vulnerable isn’t your thing. Maybe you are the type of person who has a clean house, healthy crock pot meals stacked in your freezer, and
finishes your Christmas shopping in October. Maybe you are the type of person who does everything yourself. I’d give it a few months before your life begins to feel a little less in-control and a little less manageable. You are taking an unknown child(ren) from a hard situation into your home. Add in driving this child to visits and doctors and therapists. Then you have
caseworkers coming in and out frequently. The cherry on top is the emotional roller coaster that comes along with loving a child who feels so very yours, but isn’t.

Yep, becoming a foster parent is a fabulous way to learn vulnerability. Let go of what you want others to think of you. Let go of wanting to be in control. Let go of the high expectations. Maybe you are the help giver. You like helping, it allows you to be a part of something bigger and use your gifts for the good of others. It’s your turn now- let others help you. Let others be a part of this. This is something bigger, and this really big something that you are now doing… it takes a village. When others say they want to help, when they say they don’t mind, we have to trust them that they mean it. This part is so hard for me at times. It makes me feel “less than” to need help. This is one of the biggest lies. Don’t buy into it. Needing help is okay. Vulnerability is a beautiful part of being human. You just
gotta embrace it.

So new foster parent, take what you like from the four things above and take it one day at a time. The world needs more people like you. People who are willing to do the all the “little” things that actually are so big they will never be measured. Things like holding this child, singing to them, kissing their boo boos; things like making a mother’s day gift for the bio-mom, sending a thank you e-mail to an overwhelmed case worker, driving the child all over the place. Yes, the world needs more people like you. People who are willing to do the hard things. I’m betting some of these things you are about to do will be on your list of most treasured memories. At the end of our days I have a feeling it’s going to be these kinds of things that were the most worth while.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Threads Of Change. Threads Of Change is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.

Welcome Karen

We are delighted to welcome Karen Broadhurst to the team. Karen brings experience from her own childhood as a birth child in a foster family and as a foster parent herself. We are excited to hear more from her!

Hello everyone! I am Karen and I’ve had a passion for foster and adoption ever since I was a little girl.  It was instilled in me by my parents who began opening their home and family to this wonderful world when I was only eight years old. I just knew that it would be something I’d be called to do one day!

My husband Preston and I began our journey into foster adopt just six months after our wedding and by our first-year anniversary we had a sibling group. It seemed as though we were in a whirlwind as we were venturing with both of us in fulltime employment, fulltime college students, ministry, and foster adoption.  Life surely was and is an adventure. We were a family of six just a year and a half into our marriage. And oh what a blast we’ve had over the last 20 years. Our family has grown in ways I could never have imagined. Lots and lots of tears, anxiety, frustration, joy, happiness, and lots of perfectly perfect chaos! We’ve been in the depths of the valleys and the tips of the mountain tops throughout our experience. If you are just thinking about expanding your family through the foster adoption network, have been on board for a short time, or are a certified veteran of it; I can’t wait for you to get to know me, my crazy wild crew, and some of our life’s treasured moments as a family.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Threads Of Change. Threads Of Change is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.