Friday, January 7, 2011

The Road to Foster Care

I've spoken briefly about some of our experiences with our first few foster children, but I've never really shared what went into becoming licensed.

Becoming a licensed foster parent is almost always a long process. We began our licensing 8-20-08 (one year to the day before our biological daughter, Margaret, was born) and finished 2-23-09, the day before we got our first placement. I hasten to add, for those considering fostering or in the beginning stages of the process, it's quite unusual to get a placement so quickly.

The licensing process varies depending on your location and agency. We use our state's foster agency, Utah Foster Care Foundation (UFCF).

Initial Consultation
The first step was to have an initial consultation in our home. While it's certainly a good idea to tidy up and make a good impression, one needn't go so far as to reorganize the linen closet and scrub out the freezer shelves... not that I know anyone who might have done so. A UFCF representative came and chatted with us for a while and gave us a mound of paperwork to read and fill out. I had a two-page list of questions for her (yes, I was one of the "earnest" ones), and she was kind enough to save her snickering for the car ride home.

Background Check
The next step was to fill out a background report. To do this, we had to submit signed release forms, copies of our driver’s licenses, and copies of our social security cards. We also had to be fingerprinted (Which was kind of cool. They did it with this techie inkless machine.).

Since we had only been residents of Utah for a short time, we also had to have background checks sent to the states we'd previously lived in. This made a relatively short and simple procedure take 4 months. We were told it may have taken up to 6 months, so I guess I shouldn't complain. Also, since Fritz had just gotten home from a 2 year church mission in Brazil, we had to send for official paperwork proving so. Then we got to play phone tag and badger people for months to please (please, please!) send said paperwork.

More Paperwork
We each had to have our doctor sign off, stating we were healthy enough to foster.

We also had to submit 4 references, only 1 of whom could be family. That was a bit of a trick, hermits that we were.

At this point, it was September, and we were informed the next training session in our city wouldn't be starting until the following February. We were heartbroken. It had been a year full of loss for Fritz and myself, as the family I had nannied for for 5 years had severed contact with me, and we suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. Hearing that we'd have to wait another 6 months to proceed with our foster licensing just gutted us.

We were fortunate to catch wind of training taking place up in Northern Utah, 4 hours from our home. It was a set of two weekends of classes. We jumped at the chance.

We were required to have 32 hours of training, and we had only 4 days to squash it all in. After spending 4 hours in the car, we got to sit in a chair for 8 hours, drive 45 minutes to the nearest motel, then wake up early the next morning for 8 more hours of training and a 4 hour car ride home. Then do it all over again the next weekend. We were so happy to be proceeding, we didn't mind, though.

The classes were hours of droning condescension from our trainer interspersed with graphic depictions of children who have suffered cruelty and neglect. It was an emotional roller coaster. After the first night of classes, I sat on our motel bed in a daze, wondering if I'd really have the strength to handle all the challenges that might lay before us once these battered little souls were placed in our care.

I'm happy to say that by the end of training, Fritz and I were united in our commitment to do whatever we could to help these little ones. That was the turning point for us, I think. The point where fostering became less about healing our hearts and more about striving to make an impossibly horrible situation just a little bit easier for a child.

Preparing the Home
October, November, and most of December passed with no word from the foster office. Fritz called weekly to ask if our background checks had yet cleared, and we worked together to prepare our home for the homestudy.

Our house was plenty childproofed, since I had provided in-home daycare for years, but there was still a lot to do to get it up to standards to pass the homestudy.

We had to draft emergency evacuation plans, post lists of emergency contact information, provide a brand new fire extinguisher, and have first aid kits in each of the cars as well as the house. Outlet covers had to be placed on every outlet in the home.

We also had to put every single substance that had a "keep out of reach of children" warning under lock and key (child safety locks wouldn't suffice). This meant everything from cans of paint to household cleaners to nail polish and hairspray. We chose to put a key-locking doorknob on our linen closet and put all forbidden objects in there.

There were requirements on bedroom sizes. A single occupant bedroom had to be at least 80 square feet, and a multiple occupant bedroom had to have 60 square feet per child. This meant we had to prepare 3 bedrooms completely to house the maximum of 3 children we were willing to foster.

We were told that beds, cribs and carseats had to be purchased and assembled prior to the homestudy.

Our background checks cleared on 12-22-08. 9 days later, I found out I was pregnant with Margaret. Our homestudy was scheduled for a week later.

I cleaned like a mad woman. I inspected every inch of our house, yards, and garage with a magnifying lens, trying to insure nothing would trip us up on this (nearly) final step to licensure. Needless to say, we were way overprepared. The inspector took a cursory glance around our home, separated us to ask a few questions to assess our mental health, and was gone within 45 minutes. He never even looked at the emergency plans, fire extinguisher, first aid kits... anything. But, hey, I wasn't about to complain.

We waited 6 weeks (with Fritz, again, badgering the office with a weekly phone call) to hear if we'd passed. Meanwhile, I was bedridden with severe hyperemesis.

Adoption Committee Meeting
On 2-23-09, I dragged my vomit-licious body out of bed for an adoption committee meeting. Since we'd agreed to foster children under the age of 4, we were considered foster/adopt parents, and we had to be assessed as to our fitness to adopt should the situation ever arise.

We sat down at a table with 14 strangers who fired question after question at us, analyzing every word we chose, cross-examining, never cracking a smile.

We left feeling defeated. After all the work and effort we'd put in, the people who were to decide on who to place with us apparently hated our guts.

The next day, a newborn baby was placed in our home.

Huh. So I'm a crappy judge of strangers' perceptions of me. I can live with that.



Amber Lynn said...

Thanks for this post Karissa. I've always wondered about fostering and your experiences with it. This was very interesting/informative.

Anonymous said...

When couples like you and your husband become foster parents it helps a very over populated system. It takes a special type to even consider such a huge commitment! Good job!