Foster Parenting Myths DEBUNKED

Have you considered becoming a foster parent but are unsure if fostering is a good fit for the season of life you’re in? Do you feel called to foster but encumbered by obstacles (genuine or perceived) that are delaying your obedience in this area? We want to challenge you to investigate some of the most common misconceptions that hinder families from opening their homes to care for kids. Additionally, spend some time in prayer about your motivations for becoming a foster parent and keep an open mind & heart about how you can impact the lives of neglected, abused and abandoned children.

I live in an apartment.

Foster parents live in all kinds of homes. Apartments, houses, mobile homes, townhouses, little country cottages and mansions on the hill may all welcome foster children. All dwellings must be health, safety and fire inspected, as well as meet minimum requirements about the amount of square footage appropriate per person. Child placing agencies provide foster parents with a guide and checklist they can use to walk through their home and make sure it will meet the qualifications for licensing. Sometimes small modifications (such as adding a door to a room that doesn’t have one) can be made to bring a home up to standards. In general, children may share rooms with other children of the same gender and infants may sleep in a caregiver’s room in a crib.

I’m single.

Single individuals may be licensed as foster parents with most child placing agencies. Like any other household, you’ll need to be financially stable, independent, and have space in your home for children. If you have a roommate, parent living with you, or someone who stays over regularly, be upfront with your agency. Other adults living in the home are part of the agency’s considerations when it comes to foster parent licensing and need to be part of the training and homestudy process.

I’m divorced.

See above information about single individuals. Divorced individuals must provide proof of divorce. Your child placing agency may require you to wait 2 or more years after a divorce to become licensed (as is the case with almost any major life change or loss).

I’m too old. 

As long as your health is stable and you’re able to care for children, age does not preclude you from becoming a licensed foster parent. Seasoned parents often bring a lifetime of parenting experience to the table, but no parenting experience is required. It is important to recognize that, due to the trauma, loss and abuse foster children have endured, foster children require unique discipline and parenting approaches. Your child placing agency should supply you with ample training opportunities and resources on this topic. “Empty nesters” often find their adult children are excited and willing to help with the nurturing and care of their younger foster siblings.

I enjoy traveling.

So do foster kids! Typically, foster children are permitted to travel with their foster parents within the United States. Permission can (in some situations) also be granted for international travel. A child’s visitation schedule with their parents or siblings, school attendance, and health are factors taken into consideration by their caseworker before a trip can be approved. A caseworker or judge may need a detailed travel itinerary well in advance of your trip, so plan ahead. A family vacation or road trip can be a fun, bonding experience for any child and caregiver. As a foster parent, you have the incredible opportunity to give a child a new, exciting experience. For emergencies (or trips that are not appropriate for children in your care) you may be able to arrange respite care (another foster family who can babysit while you’re out of town) for children in your home.

My spouse is not on board.

Do NOT begin the foster care or adoption journey if your spouse is not on board. It’s okay if one of you is more enthusiastic than the other, but a united effort is imperative. Investigate, share what you find, and pray that God will give you both clarity about his plans for your family.

I’m want to foster, or even adopt, but I’m on a tight budget.

Foster parents come in all shapes and sizes… as do their homes and incomes. As long as you are financially stable and able to provide for everyone in your home, a modest income should not preclude you from becoming a foster parent. Individuals who are already accustomed to careful budgeting are often the most resourceful parents and advocates for their foster children. Foster parents receive a small, daily reimbursement for each foster child in their home. These funds help offset the cost of meeting the child’s needs. When a child arrives in care, they may not have sufficient clothing or hygiene items. Providing an entire wardrobe, car seat, baby equipment, diapers and more can make the first few months of a new “placement” pretty slim, but it’s a great opportunity to look into what help and resources are available in your community. From foster parent supply closets to free school supplies, there are many individuals and nonprofits eager to help children in need. Foster children automatically qualify for free school lunches, WIC and Medicaid. Sports and camp scholarships based on household income can be applied for based on the child’s “household income” (daily reimbursement). Additionally, should you have the opportunity to adopt a child from foster care, this process is very low cost. Adoptions from foster care are generally less than $2,000. Some children with special needs adopted from foster care are eligible for a small, monthly stipend to help offset the cost of their care longterm.

I’m too young.

The minimum age requirement for becoming a foster parent is just 21 years of age. For young, married couples both spouses must be over the age of 21. Child placing agencies may suggest that younger couples care for younger children, so there is an appropriate age-gap between caregiver and child. Some young adults living at home with their parents become licensed together as a household/team.

have children of my own.

Most foster parents in Texas are currently, or have already, parented children of their own. The interaction between your biological, foster and adopted children can be a healthy, beneficial experience for all. Foster parents may choose to foster children younger than their own children, older, or even the same age. You can select the age range of children you’re open to caring for. There cannot be more than 6 children [total] in the home at any time. Children over the age of 18, but still living at home, may become licensed caregivers and would not be counted as part of the 6. In some cases, agencies may license “group homes”. These can be typical, two-parent households that go through additional training and meet a different set of minimum standards to allow for more than 6 children in the home. If you already have 6 children in your home, you will want to check with your child placing agency in advance to make sure they offer group home licensing and that you meet the requirements for this certification.

But my kids are really little…

What a perfect time to begin teaching your children generosity, hospitality and love for their neighbors! 1 Peter 4 says that we should put aside our desires and focus on the will of God, and to “8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” If you’re waiting for the perfect time to start fostering, you may find that the day never arrives. A teenage foster child may flourish with the opportunity and honor of being a big sister. Likewise, having younger children in the home provides an appropriate setting for children who may have missed early childhood play and experiences to go back and help a little sister dress a baby doll or learn to braid hair. While some foster children may do better as the youngest or only child in the home, most foster children enter homes where other children already reside.

I haven’t parented before.

Well, there’s a first time for everything! Many individuals without parenting experience become foster parents. Experience caring for children in the age-range of children you wish to foster is always beneficial, but not required to become a foster parent. Your agency should provide you some basic parenting, discipline and safety training for a variety of ages. If you are new to foster parenting AND parenting, it may be helpful to provide respite care (babysitting for a few hours or days) for other foster parents to get some experience. Make sure you have a network of experienced moms and dads who can help coach you through the challenges you will face and answer questions you may have.

I work full time.

Because foster parents are expected to be financially stable and independent, it’s common for one or both parents to work full time. Foster children who are school-age must attend public school, but can also attend before and after school care programs. Infants and preschool age children may attend daycare facilities or stay with in-home babysitters or nannies. In some cases, caregivers who work full time may qualify for financial aid for specific daycare programs. Finding care for a child who arrives in your home with little notice can be challenging, so it’s helpful to talk with your employer about taking leave or days off when children are placed in your home. A flexible work schedule is ideal, but not imperative.

I have a disability.

Many individuals with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses serve as foster parents. As with any foster parent, you should prayerfully consider the age of children you feel able and equipped to care for, and the types of special needs you feel you can accommodate. Discuss your concerns and strengths with your child placing agency. You know you

rself and your abilities best. The stability of the family as a whole is key for foster parenting success. Your agency may require you to take a break if your health,

or that of others in the household, becomes unstable or is negatively affected by the strenuous work of foster parenting.

 

I couldn’t love a child then let them go.

Foster care is a journey filled with challenges, adrenaline, trauma, joy, growth, heartbreak and loss. And it’s not easy for the foster parents either. To love a

child fully, even if only for a time, is an incredible investment in that child’s life and well-being. Knowing that your relationship with a child is likely to come to an end is a sad justification to avoid loving them in the first place. For some children, their time in foster care is the healthiest and most stable experience of their lives. Foster parenting can give your family front row seats to beautiful reunifications that take place when a child is returned to parents who have created a safe home for them. Beyond the children in your care, you can encourage and love a child’s parents, siblings and extended family. There are, of course, times when family restoration is not possible, or a child is returning to a situation that seems bleak or very tenuous. While these situations are hard to endure, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 reminds us that our God is the Father of compassion and comfort. He shows us comfort so we can comfort others. We reflect our Creator when we do hard things.

I don’t like children.

Okay. You’re probably off the hook. Not everyone can or should be a foster parent. But you can and should have a positive impact on the lives of neglected and abused children in our community. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities that don’t require interaction with children or families. Embrace volunteers host donation drives to provide household items for teens “aging-out” of foster care, then organize, inventory and deliver these “First Apartment Kits”. Volunteers set up the “Portraits of Hope” photographic gallery of children waiting for adoption, and move it to new locations each month. Volunteers plan and assemble crafts for respite night events, prepare and deliver meals, sew blankets for foster children and much more. Embrace can help you find a place to use your time and talents to help kids.

For more about becoming a foster parent in Texas, visit: https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Adoption_and_Foster_Care/Get_Started/steps.asp

Please note: The information provided above is not the word-for-word policy of any agency or the Department of Family and Protective Services. We hope to debunk many common misconceptions about foster parenting, but you will certainly find that minimum standards for becoming foster parents vary from agency to agency and state to state.

Keys to foster parent recruitment & retention in Texas

The following is a transcript of an invited testimony given by Denise Kendrick, Executive Director of Embrace Texas, to the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services on March 22, 2018. Kendrick was given 7 minutes to address obstacles prevent prospective foster families from completing the licensing process and how to improve retention of existing foster parents.

“Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to speak.

I am Denise Kendrick, Executive Director for Embrace Texas, a non-profit organization supporting foster, adoptive and kinship families in North Texas. To be clear, we are not a child placing agency. My work includes facilitating foster parent support groups and administering programs that provide me the opportunity to interact with hundreds of foster and adoptive families each year. In addition to my professional experience, I served as a foster parent for over a decade and in Texas and cared for 25 children in that time… including adopting two teenagers and a sibling group of 3 from foster care.

Our nonprofit works closely with Child Protective Services in our region, as well as CASA. Embrace also facilitates the Child Placing Recruitment Collaborative In Region 3 and regularly review statistics related to the foster parent shortages in each county. On an almost daily basis, we get calls and emails from CASAs and caseworkers asking if we know of any families in our network who can foster a specific child or sibling group. We are keenly aware of the need for more quality foster parents and see the ramifications of these shortages in our community.

I want to share with you today what we feel are some of the leading obstacles that prevent interested candidates from completing the licensing process and issues that cause burn-out of newly licensed foster parents.

It’s no secret the foster care has a PR problem. When foster care is in the news, it’s almost always bad news. A child death. An abusive foster parent. Children spending the night in CPS offices. For those who look past this negative stigma related to foster parenting and decide to investigate or pursue licensing, the confusing recruitment process can curb the enthusiasm of even the most eager perspective family. While this is an area that can and should be addressed, I believe the real solution to the state’s foster parent recruitment issue lies in the retention of active foster parents.

Current and former foster parents are the single most effective recruitment tool the state has. I come in contact with dozens of foster parents every week, and a huge majority of these report that their initial interest in becoming a foster parent was not a compelling brochure or PSA commercial, but a friend, family member, or acquaintance who is a foster parent. Having court-side seats to the beauty, healing and hardship that comes with opening your heart and home to care for abused and neglected children… it sells itself.

If this journey is intrinsically motivating, where is the disconnect? 

Why aren’t more of these prospective parents becoming licensed?

The disconnect is in our care for those who are already fostering. Care of our current foster parents is doubly beneficial. Increased retention equals increased recruitment. With improved morale and satisfaction, foster parents become the recruitment effort. They tell the stories of the hard and beautiful job of caring for other peoples’ children. And they stick with it for the long-haul, and gain the skills necessary to care for children with more challenging needs. This means more placement stability for children and an increased return on the investment it takes to train and license foster parent.

How do we better care for the families caring for our most vulnerable children?

Back to that PR problem, the State, along with child placing agencies, must take steps to weed out bad foster parents who give fostering a bad name. Agencies should be charged with closing homes that “give notice” on children when the going gets tough or when things aren’t going as they had hoped. We can make the title of “foster parent” something parents can take pride in.

We also need to clarify messaging surrounding the “job” of foster parents. Foster parents are service providers. As a foster parent, you need to meet the need for care that exists in your community. The openings in licensed homes should reflect the age, ethnicity and level of care of children entering the system in their community. It’s supply and demand, but it’s not presented that way. When many homes are licensed for the same, small population of children, on paper, it appears the need has been met. But in reality, we know that a majority of children are placed outside their home county, and a good number out of region. Then  licensed foster homes sit open and empty, and families assume there’s not really a need. This mismatch further dissuades new parents from jumping through the hoops necessary to become licensed.

Another point of confusion and frustration is use of the phrase “foster to adopt”. When I “Drive to the store”, there is no mistake. Driving is the means to the end… the store. When we talk about fostering to adopt, we’re communicating that fostering is means to the end: adoption. We understand that many families foster with the hopes of adopting, but the way we’re framing this communicates that adoption, not reunification, is the ultimate goal.

Words matter.

From the moment prospective families start their licensing and training journey they are labeled “foster to adopt” or “straight foster”. This puts the focus on the goals of the foster family, not the needs of the children.

The true implementation of HR 4980, the prudent parenting standards for foster parents, is another way we can improve retention of foster parents. We need to allow parents to care for foster children in a fashion more similar to their biological children, or typical peers. This increases the normalcy of a child’s time in foster care and reduce strain on caregivers.

Several years ago, when my husband and I were foster parents caring for a sibling group, we had an out of state trip planned for work. We were to depart on New Years Day, and had arranged respite care for our foster children with a fellow foster family who knew and interacted with our children regularly. At 5 pm on New Years Eve we received a call that the respite family had an emergency, and was no longer available to keep our children for the week. Although my parents were willing and capable of caring for the children while we were out of town, they were only certified as “occasional caregivers” with our agency, and not permitted to watch our foster children for more than a day or two. We had not orpiment but to call random foster parents from a roster provided by our agency, in hopes of finding somewhere for the boys to go. I am ashamed to say that, the next morning, I dropped my foster children off at the home of a complete stranger. While she was a licensed foster parent and a safe care provider, I can honestly say it’s something I would never do to my “own” children, but I was left with no other option. Foster parents find themselves in similar situations on a regular basis. These instances are a burden to the parents and promote abnormal parenting decisions. The parents cannot choose what is best, they must choose what follows policy. Foster parents bear the burden of the day-to-day responsibility and risk for caring for the children in their home, but little of the freedom to balance it out. That’s a recipe for burnout.

This unbalance is also reflected in the lack of representation foster parents experience. While I do not believe foster parents should be a party to a child’s legal case, I do believe more consistent communication about the goals and progress in a case would make foster parents feel more valued and go a long way toward improving their overall morale. These parents on the front lines deserve a platform to share their thoughts and observations, and to feel like part of a team working towards a common goal. Foster parents should be consistently invited to attend court and to interact directly with the parents of foster children in their care, when possible. Training can and should be developed specifically to guide foster parents in these interactions.

In summary, improved care and support of foster parents is:

– better for current foster parents

– better for future foster parents

– better for the bottom line

– and, most importantly, will improve outcomes for children at the heart of what we do.

Thank you for your time and consideration.”