So, what’s the deal with Foster Care?

This post is a part of our Orphan Awareness Month series in November 2014 to advocate, educate, and spark discussion about topics relating to adoption and orphan care.  To check out the other posts in the OAM series, click here.

 

Although it is not exclusively related to “orphan” care, we think the topic of foster care is a hugely important one in this overall conversation about adoption & orphan care.  It is also one that comes up a lot in our conversations with others.  We have often be asked why we did not pursue adopting through foster care, or if it is a feasible option for adoption, how does it work, etc.  The truth is that we have ZERO experience and very little knowledge about the foster care system, foster parenting, and the so-called “foster-to-adopt”.  What we have learned is that there is an enormous amount of misinformation floating around about these topics, and it is causing a lot of people to be confused about this hugely important issue, which results in many disregarding it altogether.

So, we called in our friend, Megan, to tackle these things head on and help to clear up confusion and misunderstand, and advocate for this amazing need and opportunity to make a difference in the lives of kids.  We’ll let her introduce herself, but first, we’d like to ask that whether foster parenting has ever entered your mind or not, that you sit aside the assumptions you may have about it and learn from her first-hand knowledge and experience. We’re excited for her to share her insights and hope you find it as interesting as we did!

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Hi folks! So I want to start out with the fact that I am in no way an expert in foster care or DHS adoption. Really I can only talk about this because we went through the process so recently. My husband and I were licensed as foster parents January 1, 2014. A little more than half way through our training, we found out I was pregnant with our first child, Lily, so we haven’t even taken any of our own placements; we have only done respite (babysitting foster kids). With that in mind, here are some answers to the more common questions we get about foster care and adoption through DHS.

What is foster care? Is it just another way to adopt?

Foster care provides a safe and temporary home for children with the intent of reuniting them with their birth families as soon as a judge deems it safe to do so.  While it is possible that placements may end up being available for adoption, the goal is always to reunite them with their birth parent(s) or other biological family. There is no such thing as “fostering to adopt” – you foster to help bring birth families back together. This means working with children and their families to make their living situations safe. We are dual licensed (approved to foster and adopt) so that if one of our placements is not able to go home and has parental rights terminated; we could decide if we wanted to be considered as their forever family if they come up for adoption. Even in this case, biological family trumps foster family in the order of priority for adoption.  According to IowaKidsNet.com, approximately 70% of children in foster care are reunited with birth parents or adopted by relatives.

However, you CAN go through DHS solely to adopt. At least in Iowa, DHS controls and subsidizes what are considered “special needs” adoptions – kids that are unlikely to be adopted through an agency. These former foster kids are either a minority race, older, have physical, emotional or behavioral needs or have siblings that need to stay together. The licensing process is the same whether you choose to foster or only adopt.

What kids are in foster care?

Nationwide, there are over HALF A MILLION children in the foster care system, with over 100,000 waiting to be adopted. In Iowa, there are 6,000+ children in the system, including 1,000+ waiting to be adopted. However, there are only about 2,100 foster parents across the state – there is a huge need for foster and adoptive families!

Children in foster care are as varied as kids can be and usually are there by no fault of their own. They range in age from newborn to 18, from all racial, cultural and economic backgrounds. The vast majority have experienced some kind of abuse or neglect, which can lead to potentially negative behaviors or attachment problems. All of them have had to deal with the loss of everything they know, and deserve more stability, safety and loving time than they have had in the past.

Do I qualify to be a foster/adoptive parent?

Are you 21? Do you have a room with a bed, 2 exits and 40 square feet of space per child? Can you patiently love on both a child AND their birth family? Are you willing to get attached to a child while desiring that their birth family to be safely reunited? Then you meet the qualifications.

Do you speak another language? Are you African-American or Latino? Are you willing to take in teens or LGBT kids?  Will you take sibling groups? You’re the people the foster system needs most. Are you a bilingual African-American who wants to take in multiple teenage siblings? The people at DHS may jump up and down for you. Are you (like us) a young, white, English speaking household looking to take in MAYBE two pre-school aged siblings at a time? There is still a huge need for you.

 What did you have to do to be licensed?

The Iowa licensing process takes between 6-9 months to be completed. You can see the outline and get started here. The process (at least in central Iowa) starts with attending an information session put on by Iowa Kids Net. If you are still interested after the information session, you are fingerprinted, background checked and apply to take the 10-week licensing class called PS-MAPP. During the 10 weeks of PS-MAPP you: attend 30 hours of in class time learning about shared parenting, fill out a mountain of paperwork and a licensing worker performs a home study which includes visiting your home for safety inspections, collecting references, and asking lots of personal questions about anything and everything you could ever think of. After PS-MAPP, it takes about a month or so for DHS to approve or deny your license. At that point, they mail you your approved license application. Licenses are good for one year. Each year you have to each do 6 hours of continuing education trainings and go through a renewal process to keep our license.

So how do kids actually end up with you?

Part of the licensing process is discussing with your worker what kinds of kids are a good fit for your family. Those decisions all go into their matching system and then when kids come into the system that are at least close to matching our criteria, you get a phone call. They tell you what they can about the kids (age, genders, family visits/ therapy, known behaviors, etc.) and you decide then if they are a good fit for your family at that time. However, just about everything about these kids is strictly confidential and often unknown at the time of the first placement, so you have to be discerning and prayerful. Their reason for being in foster care, history, medical/emotional/behavioral needs, etc. is their business and theirs alone.

For families looking to adopt without fostering, there will be much more time between phone calls and the family must be more proactive in being paired with a child. There are events put on specifically for potential families to meet DHS adoption workers, so that if a new child is available for adoption, your family comes to mind. There are also child profiles available on the IFAPA website of children already waiting for their forever families.

 

Great Articles and Other Resources

  • Iowa Kids Net – Recruiting, training, licensing and support for foster and adopt families
  • IFAPA – Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association

Foster families who know more than me, please add to this or correct me in the comments! Everyone else, please feel free to contact me with more questions at mktraxel@gmail.com and I will get the answer for you. Thank you for your interest in taking care of all these children, whether through foster care, domestic, international or DHS adoption! God bless!  -Megan

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