June 24, 2014

Is Foster Care Right for Your Family?

Interview with Delilah
Introduced by Amy

You know how you meet certain people and you can just tell that they got smarts?  Like they just know what's going on.  That's how Delilah is.  She is funny, capable, thoughtful, and welcoming to everyone...she is such a cool momma!

I met Delilah at church when my husband and I moved to our town about 2 years ago.  (Remember the Epic Treehouse Playdate post?  Delilah and her kids came!)  As I got to know her better, I was amazed at her journey to motherhood.  She has four kids; the first three are adopted-- each of them came to their family first through foster care.  Then the miracle baby, Jasper, came unexpectedly when Delilah became pregnant after experiencing years of miscarriages and infertility.

This is Delilah! With baby Jasper at my parent's treehouse.
I was so interested to hear about her experience being a foster parent, especially since she also has the background of a social worker/foster care educator.  My personal interest in foster care started when I met my friend Lawanna, a sassy, hilarious girl from inner-city, Little Rock, Arkansas.  She was living as a nanny with a family in my town.  When the nanny job ended, I invited her to stay with my family until she knew what she wanted to do next.  She stayed for two months...we laughed our heads off every day!  It was fun being roomies, even though she made fun of my white girl dance moves. (ha!)  As we became close, she told me stories about her difficult childhood and I was appalled to hear about some of the foster homes she was in.  Most homes she bounced in and out of, and she often dealt with neglect and abuse.  I remember being so frustrated thinking, "These kids deserve and need sooo much better!"

I've thought about foster care ever since meeting Lawanna.  These children need safe homes, they need love, and they need stability--especially the older ones who people aren't generally clamoring to bring into their homes.  When I was teaching Jr High and High school Art, many times it was the troubled kids who gravitated toward me and confided in me.  It was pretty heartbreaking to hear their struggles. I was so glad I could be a trusted adult in their life, but I felt so limited in the amount of practical good I could do as their public school teacher.  It made me want to do more; even one person's positive influence can change a life!

But foster care is a big choice.  Sometimes you hear the sad stories where there is a foster child brought into a home, and then that child abuses one or more of the other children in the family, because they are just acting out on what they have been victims of themselves.  I have to admit, this scares me.  I would have such a hard time forgiving myself if I had allowed harm to come to one of my own children, even in trying to help another.  I think that is a valid concern and one that takes careful consideration as to the ages of the children you will have placed in your home, their genders etc. in comparison to your own children, as well as the specific struggles in their background.

But, the one question I've wondered, over and over is: Can I (can we--my husband and I) do it?  These children are  coming from hard situations.  Can I be patient, loving, and firm enough to be a good foster mother?  Do I have the emotional resilience myself?  It's been a wake-up call to have my own child...parenthood is not easy.  So am I really a good fit for the extra challenge of foster care?

But then I think, "These children!  They have lived through so much suffering by no fault of their own. No child should grow up without knowing security and peace."

It's a big decision, one that my husband and I are not ready to make right now, having a toddler and a baby on the way.  But it has been so nice to talk to Delilah and get a realistic idea of what it actually entails to be a foster parent, for that time in the future when we are ready to make a decision.

I am SO happy Delilah agreed to share her insights here at SOM; I hope that you find this interview helpful, whether you've ever wondered if foster care would be right for your family or even if you're just curious about the process.  Enjoy!
-Amy

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Ok, Delilah...How did you first get involved in foster care?

Well, I was a social worker and a lot of my friends worked at child protective services. I was working at the domestic violence center and I had a friend who was frustrated looking for a family for a child--we often talked about our jobs and she expressed this need. I was newly married, for about a year, and wanted kids.  I thought, "Ya know, I can be a mom to these kids till my family comes." So we signed up and took the classes and did the background check and we got a baby within two months of finishing the training. It wasn't overwhelming cause I worked in daycare all through college and I am the oldest in my family so it wasn't a big deal to me. It was really fun and we had him for 8 months. He ended up being adopted by one of his relatives. Now, he’s growing up with his cousins.

What is the goal of foster care?

Reunification. That means, you are caring for kids temporarily while the parents have the time they need to get healthy. And foster parents need to know and be ok with that. We want the children to be able to return to their parents. Most kids go back to their families, but that number is dropping everywhere in the nation. There’s a big push nationally for kinship care, so when a child has to be taken from their home, they try to place them with kin (blood relative comes first) or anyone that the family deems as kin (like a neighbor that the kids have grown up with, someone close to the family.) When a kid goes into care, they hold a family meeting and everyone who is connected to that kid can come to have a say. Even their school teacher can be there. They are trying to see what support there is for this child.  It’s usually at that meeting that someone will step forward to say that they can care for this child.  If there isn't someone among the kin who is able and willing to take in the child and be their foster parent, then they will look for another foster family to place the child in.

How does a child get put into care?

There has to be a law broken for a kid to end up in care. A super dirty, unsanitary house is considered endangerment of a child. Law enforcement declares a child in imminent danger, then they press charges, and then the social worker comes in with law enforcement to take the child into custody. A neighbor may call in who is worried, who knows something is up, and a social worker can come in and visit the family. If they see a problem they will contact the law.

How can you know if foster care is a good fit for you and your family?

When you come to the foster care training it lasts 9 meetings and that’s really where you can go through the process of deciding if it fits or not. Sometimes people think "I’ve always wanted to do this," then in the classes they realize it’s not what they thought it was. And’s that’s totally ok. We would rather people go into that class and opt themselves out, then go through the whole process, then we place kids with them, and then they change their minds and we have to move the kids again. We are trying to prevent as much loss and change as possible for these children. We need to keep the kids in a stable place, that is the goal.

Foster care is hard. There’s nothing easy about it. The families that do well are those who want to provide a service for kids in need. Sometimes we have couples who have already raised their kids. But they may have limitations because of their age, so maybe they could have a 10-year-old, but not an infant. They can do well.  They have the skills. They are talented parents. They are calm and let things roll. They understand child development. And they do a great job.

But you don't necessarily have to have already raised your kids. Every couple has to decide during that training what age of children they can take.  They have to look at their own families needs.  And there are guidelines: for example, kids of opposite sex can’t share a bedroom. Any foster child has to be in a room that has an egress window so a firefighter can get in and out. It depends on space and what the family wants. Most families want a baby or a younger kid. But, will we call you if we have a sibling group of 10, 11, 12?  Absolutely. When there’s a need, we call. And, you completely have the right to say no.  You wouldn't end up in any situation you didn't agree to. But, we want people to know, when you sign up for a service, sign up for a service. If they are really narrow in what children they are willing to take, they just sit on the list. We can't utilize them for the need. Most often, we have sibling groups who need to be placed and we want to keep them together. My family has mostly had younger kids, but we also had a girl come at 14, and she stayed till she was 18.

In the training we coach foster parents what questions to ask, so that they don't end up in a situation that they aren't aware of.  Like “Has there been sexual abuse?" or "Are they behind in school?”  Whatever info the caseworker has about the child that would be helpful, then they will give that information. They don't always know about all the problems, but they can tell what they do know. Sometimes a child will start talking more about what was going on in their home once they are in a safe place and feel ok talking. They don't always talk through words though, they talk through behavior. They are little--they don't know how to communicate what they are feeling. I mean, even as adults we have a hard time with communicating!

So what then would you say are the most important characteristics of someone who would make a good foster parent? How can someone know personally if they can hack it?

It takes desire. They need that motivation: they want it to work. If that’s there, it seems to be ok. They figure it out. And really, all parents are figuring it out as they go. Oh, and they need endurance. Cause there’s a honeymoon stage at first, and then it gets real.

What are the hard parts?

Foster care kids have counseling, behavior workers...your appointments double.  They have visits with their birth parents to go to, doctors and dentists, cause usually they are behind and you're catching them up. They may also need tutoring. And court dates. Your schedule is busy.

From my personal experience, a really hard part is the bad behavior. I didn't struggle with the system or rules or the regulations…the things I struggled with personally are when it really got real. And, surprisingly, that didn't happen till after adoption. Tayja finally realized she wasn't going anywhere else. She was so angry at her situation (she was 5 when we adopted her)--it was a living hell. She was so mad, and since I was the closest person to her, she was mad at me. She was mad at this mom idea, and here I was standing in place of the mom that she wanted, and I was the mom that she got. It wasn't her fault. And I was having my own process at the same time. I was tired. I got two infants, one after another. Draden was a year and a half old, and then I got a brand new baby, Chloe, and two weeks later I got Tayja. I was alone, because my husband is a firefighter, and he was away fighting fires. It was sad too, cause Tayja's mother did all the work to get Tayja back, but the night before she was supposed to get her daughter, she ended up in jail. I think she got scared that she couldn't do it, so she sabotaged it for herself. Technically, a child can only be in care 18 out of 22 months consecutively--they file termination of parental rights at that point.  But, because Tayja's Native American, she was in two different systems, and she had been in care off and on till she was 5. They have to try to place native kids in native homes, (they try to keep a child within their culture) and my husband is native, so they called us first.  So after thinking she'd finally be back with her mom, it didn't happen.  She was also losing a sister, cause she had a sister who was placed in another home. Tayja was angry because of loss. She was grieving. It was hard.

So as intense as the problems were, that's how intense the behavior will be.  They are communicating pain. For most of the kids, in the homes they came from, there’s love there, but it’s not a matter of a lack of love. I want foster families to understand that. It’s not that simple. We are people and we are not that simple. It’s harder than what we understand. There's problems and addictions that are so hard to overcome, even if they want to. When a child has to be taken from a home, it is very traumatic for the child and the parents. But, there is usually some small amount of relief on the parent’s part. But, for the kids, it is always just loss. They are grieving. And they often go into shock the first night, like it’s not truly sinking in until the next morning.

I would say though that truly the hardest part was recognizing that I had limits--dealing with the bad behavior brought those limits out. I needed more education and learning. It was very humbling. We both were in different processes at the same time, and it was really emotional. I was angry for Tayja too. I had known and worked with her mother for years. I loved her mother. It was hard to see her not succeed.

What are the parts that make foster parenting worth it? What makes you passionate about foster care?

It’s all worth it if a child isn't sad or hungry for the night. You make a difference in their life daily. You can show them that there’s love and hope and goodness in this life.  They have seen the bad and the ugly, way too much for their age, and they want to believe that good exists, but they are having a hard time believing it, because of the actions of others. They are little people living these big problems. If we can help them have good in their life, then it’s all worth it. You instill that there’s another way to live. You're lifting the weight. It’s totally wrong for kids to be in pain.

I love this family!

How can someone get started as a foster parent?

In Idaho you call 211 (the Idaho careline) and they will help you get an application-- paper or online. When you complete that, it is sent to the coordinator, then phone calls are made, and fingerprints are taken. And then you go to the classes. You can also check out informational meetings, typically held at a local library about every two months. These are a great introduction. You get to talk to foster parents and ask them questions.

Ok, final words!

Not one of my children came easy. God’s hand was with every child through the whole process. That’s what helped me to keep going--God's little testaments to me that said, "This is my plan."  And now, Tayja believes that we will be there for her. She believes that her family is permanent. She believes in God. So there’s a life changed. Foster care is harder than I ever imagined, but more worth it than I ever knew. Sometimes I would think, “I'm failing, I'm not good at this.”  But, my outlook changed when my husband’s friend said to me, “That doesn't matter. Because whatever their life was, they are doing so much better than they would be. You are making a difference.”  And it's true!
--Delilah

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Thank you SO much Delilah for sharing your wisdom and experience!  I know personally that she is making a difference.  Her daughter, Tayja, was one of my art students...she is loving, respectful and kind--an amazing girl who has come so far!

I hope you found this as helpful as I did! :)  I love that Delilah reiterates the fact that this isn't for everyone, and that's ok.  It's an amazing service of love to give to a child in need, but there are many factors that go into a decision like this, and it needs to be the right fit for your family.  Personally, I am grateful for prayer....if the possibility of foster care continues to be in my heart in the future, that is a decision that my husband and I will spend a lot of time praying and thinking about.  I'm sure God will guide us in that choice--and if I can be His hands in reaching out to a child or children in need that we specifically can help, then I would count that as a privilege.  I'd probably be super scared going into it, but, I'd know that The Lord would be by our sides to enable, bless, and guide us in serving one of His precious children.  After all, He said "Even as ye have done it to one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me."

Friends, thank you so much for reading!  Posts like this help me to feel excited and fulfilled in keeping this blog going.  Sometimes I wonder if I really make a difference or if the time I spend writing and managing the blog is worthwhile when there are so many other things to do in life.  But, I SOO appreciate providing a platform for other women to share their stories and knowledge about the things that matter most to them.  Don't get me wrong, I love to hear and tell funny stories--life is awesome, we gotta enjoy it!  And there's all sorts of fun, hobbyish interests that I love gabbing with you about.  But it's hearing your voice--sharing the real, important stuff--that keeps the bloggy fire aburnin' in my heart. :)  So if you'd like to hear more stories from awesome ladies, (Or share your own!) then be sure to click the "Join This Site" or "Like" button, or follow along through BlogLovin.  We'd love to have you!  :)

Friends, please share this post!  I feel like foster care is such an important topic that most (myself included) just aren't very experienced or knowledgeable about.  And there are so many kids in need!  For many of us, the current time and season of our lives isn't right to look into it ourselves.  But, maybe you sharing this post could touch the heart of someone who will decide that the timing is right for their family to look into foster care...ya never know!  :)  Anything we can do to help one of these children, is worth doing. :)

Thanks for caring, thanks for reading, thanks for sharing!  And please leave your comments and thoughts below!

I love you peeps. :)

PS. Read this incredible post by a momma who is currently a foster mom to 4 sisters, as well as caring for her two own kids. (Amazing, huh!?)  I loved it.
PSS. This post is linked to the Be.YOU.Tiful link party...go check it out! :)






10 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing all of this....so good to get the perspective of someone who has been there, done that. Foster care is something I've thought about, maybe one day. This post was informative as well as encouraging.

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    1. I'm so glad you thought so, Elise! :) Thanks for your comment!

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  2. What a wonderful post. I had the privilege of fostering two children of my own for seven years. While it was the hardest thing I have ever done, it changed my life for the better and I still play a role in the lives of the children today. Its not for everyone but can be a very rewarding role x

    Shannon

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    1. WOW, seven years! That is pretty amazing! Thanks for your comment, Shannon. :)

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  3. Foster Care parents are such a miracle - to love a child knowing that they will go away and having to let them walk out the door. That being said I don't think I could ever be a foster parent - I think it's probably one of the hardest types of mothering (parenting i guess). My best friend and her husband just finished fostering to adopt and they just finished all the paper work and are now parents of two highneeds siblings - I don't know how she does it but all of them are so lucky to have found family.

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    1. Yeah, it seems overwhelming to me too! Your friend and her husband must be pretty amazing. I'm sure your friendship, support, and encouragement mean so much to her! :) Thanks for your comment!

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  4. Incredibly interesting post! I have always wondered about the details of foster care and becoming a foster parent. Not sure it would ever be anything I could take on but I admire those who do. Thanks so much for linking up to the Be. YOU. tiful link party. Come back again:)

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  5. Wonderful information. I think there needs to be more willing foster parents who do it for the children, not themselves. I've heard some horror stories. I have several friends who are foster parents and love the children as their own. It's a great thing, when it works. I will share this because I know there are people out there with a lot of questions and don't know who to ask. Great post. Kathleen @ Fearlessly Creative Mammas

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  6. Such an amazing thing to foster a child! I have so much respect for those who do it!

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  7. I shared this on my blog's facebook page. It touched my heart. Thank you for sharing.

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