Foster Fun!

(or, our first taste of “The System”)

We are 1/3 of the way through the Foster process. Or, just at the beginning, depending on how you look at it. We’ve done our first home visit with our “home visit worker” (later, after we are approved, we will be assigned our ongoing social worker). We’ve got the  list of things that need done around our home to  make it foster-compliant and we’ve gone through three of 9 classes. We’ve also gotten our first, very light, “taste” of the social services system.

For anyone who hasn’t been exposed to social services, this is probably one of the hardest things to adjust to (besides getting and adjusting to life with the children who are placed): it’s a bevy of checklists, paperwork, procedures and policies – and those policies are thrown in front of you to read (quickly), agree to and sign. It’s mandatory and so, if you really do want to foster, there’s really no other option. But it’s also an adjustment.

The Home Visit

We knew we’d have to make some adjustments to the house. It’s one of the reasons we waited an entire year between attending the informational session to learn the intricacies more and actually signing up for it. Well, that and we (ok, I) wanted to be married a full year before embarking on the “other people to be responsible for” route. Social services also recommends this in the paperwork they send you home with – to not embark on the foster journey if you’ve had any recent life changes.

We live in a 1945-built, 1200 square foot, three bedroom home. We have lead paint, old windows, old doors, smaller rooms, and not everything is up to code, at least not any changes from the past 15 years when I moved in. We knew there would be needed changes.

But we clearly hadn’t thought about the OTHER things you need to do when you have kids who are not your own. I hadn’t thought of it this way, but our home visit worker put it very succinctly: “These aren’t YOUR kids: you don’t know what they have learned, been through, or done, and you can’t assume anything. You can’t just assume they will know not to drink any of the things they find under the sink – even older kids. And those older kids: they’re in emotional pain, and maybe they’ve learned [from their home life] that pills make you FEEL better, so they could get into the Tylenol and take those to feel better.” I’m paraphrasing here, of course but the gist is this: make no assumptions that the children will know what other kids might learn at age 3 or 4 about what’s under the sink, or the lawn and garden chemicals in the basement, or the stuff in the medicine cabinet.

And so. You have to store those things – medicine, toxic materials, cleaning materials — not just out of reach but in a locked location.

This shifted my worldview. It hadn’t occurred to me we would have locked areas of our house that only adults could access, with a key. This seems so unfamily like, and I’d been looking at this as just an extended family thing.

And so it’s not just the shuffling of furniture we’re now undertaking, but the determining of which rooms will be locked and off limits unless there’s an adult with you. Selfishly, I’m also now trying to adjust my head to the fact that every time the kid needs some cough medicine or Pepto-Bismal I’ll have to go UPSTAIRS to the (still to be installed) locked cabinet. Or that anytime I need to clean a window, I’ll have to climb up on the counter to get to it in an upper cabinet. Huh. This is what they mean when they say, “It’s not easy,” I suppose. ONE of the things.

In the past few days, I’ve found myself realizing that the easiest thing to do is just to think of our house as in-between a loving, caring home and a state-supported residential home (I worked in one of these once, for people with AIDS, and so all this is familiar to me in that way). In many ways, we ARE a state-supported residential home, anyhow: foster children get a monthly stipend for their care (but I have no idea how much that is… I suppose it doesn’t really matter to us).

The paperwork, the two home visits and the individual visits with us both, as well as the final home inspection, are still in the offing.

The Classes

A few caveats here: We are taking our classes in Baltimore City. Anne Arundel didn’t offer any until September and we wanted to start sooner than that. So it’s a bit different than what we might find in the county, and any processes and city-specific regulations/ processes don’t apply to us.

That said…… Once J and I stopped complaining about the training — it was easy to do — we figured out the whole POINT of the training, at least to date: to rule out anyone who isn’t really prepared to take on fostering, either because they can’t adhere to some of the rules (NO corporal punishment – like none, zero, no hands on kids) or thought it would be a walk through the roses. So far we’ve learned that anytime you have a problem, question, encounter a behavior or school issue, etc., you are to CALL YOUR TEAM. Fostering is a TEAM EFFORT. You CANNOT do it alone. And we’ve learned that foster kids will inherently come with attachment issues — the inability to relate healthily to others — from not having basic needs met (and yes, this is by and large true).  We will not, it turns out, necessarily learn what we should DO to counter those things and build in healthy behaviors, other than that the kids need, “stability and support.”

We’ve also learned that their PARENTS will be involved in the process with you, too, in some way shape or form – that you are indeed fostering the entire family that way.

At first it made me frustrated: I want the SOLUTIONS, the things a foster family can DO to make it all better. But of course, they don’t give those answers because, well, it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. And also because you should CALL YOUR TEAM.

So that’s that for now. Signing off: We have fingerprints to get taken, lock boxes to buy, non-slip mats to put in the bathtubs, a first-aid-kit to re-outfit, a handrail to install, and much moving of furniture to tackle, and 18 hours left of classes to attend this month. Still excited, still happy we are doing this, still looking forward to the future, processes and systems be damned. For someone who used to BALK at paperwork, formats and functions, I’d say that’s a mighty step indeed. And so maybe I really WILL get as much out of this as the children get. Maybe this process IS how I finally grow up and be all responsible. As long as there’s still playtime, I’m OK with that.

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