By Dr. Robin Dyson
“To the world you may be just one person, but to one child, you may be the world.” This child may be your own, if you have been blessed with one. But there are many ways to build a family–fostering is one.
First, a little history about fostering.
In 1853 the New York Children’s Aid Society, led by Charles Brace, started helping homeless children living in the city. Children were gathered up, put on ‘orphan trains’ and brought to the West and South – given ‘free’ to families who would house them. Occasionally, childless couples would take these children in as their own; however, people often exploited these children to work on their farms, factories or as house helpers.
This was not a loving way for children to find a place of refuge. Often, children were separated from siblings, never to be reunited. But this was the catalyst for our current fostering system. By the late 1800s, government agencies began to get involved in the fostering of children. By the early 1900s, children’s needs were considered in deciding placements. Foster families had inspections and were more regulated.
My husband and I began the fostering process four years ago in June 2015.
We were a childless couple, having married at 40. We had tried to start a family the ‘natural way,’ then the ‘fertility assistance’ way, without success. We’d met with an adoption agency and considered that process. We met with another fertility specialist for a second opinion, and tried IVF. And we were exhausted and heartbroken when that failed. We considered being a childless couple, but we both loved children and felt that God had put in our hearts to have a family of our own. I had taken care of several foster children as a physician, and started finding out more about the process from the foster families that I met. These are some awesome families!
My husband and I discussed the idea of not having a baby. I think everyone wants that little cuddle bug you can love and shape from day one.
To foster, you have be open to an age range of children.
We were older, and in some respects, we felt that taking a child rather than a baby, would be more like a biological age difference, and people would be less likely to mistake us for grandma and grandpa. We contacted our local fostering agency (in Independence) and began the paperwork process—background checks, medical exams, personal information, why you want to foster and your parenting style, home study. Then we got signed up for fostering classes.
I remember the first day of foster training and my shock: THE GOAL OF THE FOSTERING SYSTEM IS REUNIFICATION OF FAMILIES. Um, what???!!!
I thought it was called ‘foster to adopt.’ We thought fostering was a trial period to see if you wanted to adopt the child—nope! The primary goal of fostering is reunification. Fostering is not designed to find homes for children to live forever, but to find safe loving homes for children while assisting biologic parents to rectify the issues in their lives that brought the child into care. In some cases, children have suffered neglect, drug exposure, physical, and even sexual abuse. These are the most vulnerable children in Missouri. The care they require is unique to them.
I was thinking, this poor child that was neglected or abused that came into care, and they want to put that child back in that situation? Can I even do this? Now, you have to remember that I have seen some horrible things being a physician–a baby shaken to the point that brain is irreparable and it dies, a 2-year-old beaten to a pulp, a baby that was thrown out a window and sustained fractures and permanent brain damage. Clearly, not all children in foster care are returned to situations that cannot be rectified, and those are the children that are adopted so they can have permanency.
Foster training complete.
Once our training was complete, with all the paperwork, we were officially a ‘professional foster family’ and placed on a call list. The call to take a child can come at any time, and you are given an option to take or not take a placement.
When you are licensed, you have a number of ‘open beds’ to dictate how many children you can take. When you get a call, you get very minimal information—number of children, age, and sex, and those may be less than perfectly accurate. You are not told exactly what the situation bringing them into care is, and the children come only with the clothes on their backs. I think one thing to keep in mind is that when the children arrive, they have just been yanked from their homes, as dysfunctional those homes may have been, and the children are in some level of shock.
I see these children at work, and they may be jumping all over the place, hard to handle, talking up a storm, or they may be withdrawn or tearful.
Taking a foster placement.
This includes, but is not limited to:
- The fostering parent(s) licensing worker—the one who does your home study, paperwork and got you licensed, this person represents your interest, and usually visits quarterly.
- The foster child/children’s case worker—who represents the child’s interests, who visits monthly.
- The Guardian ad Litem—the legal representative for the child’s best interest, who may come once or many times to your home, but should always be at court.
- The parent liaison—who supervises visits between the child and parent (if the court has authorized visits), and comes at the frequency of visits allowed that parent will attend.
- Other in-home people may include Behavior Specialists, Therapists, licensing worker’s supervisor, and others.
Your life becomes very busy and scheduled.
You will be going to case meetings where the entire team meets (Family Support Team “FST” meetings), and you will be going to court dates. And in many cases, you have absolutely no control over these and the decisions that are made for your foster child. It may become a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows as you go through this process on your way to reunification with the bio family.
You will also be getting the child caught-up on medical check-ups (twice a year), dental checkups (also twice a year), eye examinations, possibly psychological evaluations, and other specialist visits. Most children that come into a foster home, will not be returning in less than 30 days. But a kinship placement could be found, the parent may have other children in care and the child is moved to that family, the parent may meet all the reunification requirements and start doing part-time care on the road to transition back to the home, or in some cases, the child may become adoptable.
The most important thing to keep in mind, is that a foster family is a safe haven for a child in need, and for whatever period of time they are in that home, the foster parent should focus on loving that child as much as they can.
In Fostering Part 2, I will discuss our personal journey to fostering-to-adopt our children.