3.27.2014

On foster parenting...

Since becoming first-time foster parents in 2012 and during our journey these past 18-months to become our foster son's forever family...I have had several blog readers and friends email with questions about the process of becoming foster parents and what the experience was like for us.

Now that we are no longer foster parents and we are the legal guardians for our son, I decided to finally sit down and try and answer some of those questions for you.  I hope our experience is helpful in some way to anyone out there who may be considering becoming foster parents and/or foster-to-adopt parents.  Please know that every foster parenting experience is different--every foster child is different and comes to you with their own unique, and often times, heartbreaking story.  Also, it's important to remember that each state has their own set of standards, guidelines and laws for caseworkers and foster parents to follow.

I am simply sharing my personal thoughts and opinions in this post based on our experience as foster parents in the state of Texas.  I share this with the hope that it might shed some light on the process and some things you as a first time foster parent might want to consider before committing to such a huge endeavor of fostering a child in your home.

How it all came about:

In the spring of 2012, we decided to pursue an adoption through the state foster care system.  We had experienced three (3) failed adoptions via adoption agencies in the five (5) years that followed our son, Noah's adoption.  And each failed adoption was absolutely devastating.  We felt so deflated and heartbroken and then not to mention the money that we had invested in each of those was lost.  After a great deal of thought and prayer and questioning if it was just time to give up on growing our family-- we decided to consider opening our hearts to the idea of adopting a child through the state.  We had thrown so much money away to various adoption agencies prior to this decision i.e. all the endless agency fees and home studies, etc.--we had reached a point where we felt adopting through the state would be a more affordable and safe way to grow our family.  Also, we truly felt in our hearts that the Lord had been shutting doors in our life with regard to adoption in order to prepare us for this new path He wanted us on.  Now accepting this new path was not an easy one--I'll readily admit.  It was super scary to think about fostering a child.  Both my husband and I had heard a few horror stories from other couples who tried to adopt their foster child and how the state came in and just took the child/ren away for no reason or little explanation and/or how after fostering a child for several years--they placed the child/ren back into the neglectful home they originally came from and then to later find out the child/ren just ended up back in foster care.  So naturally, we were scared and nervous about committing to fostering a child--but we definitely felt in our hearts-- for whatever reason, the Lord was leading us to our child through the journey of being foster parents.

On choosing a licensing agency:

After talking with several folks who had fostered in our local community and some dear friends I met through blogging--we decided against getting our training through Child Protective Services (CPS)--instead, we went with an independent child licensing/placing agency. A friend of my husband's referred us to Circles of Care (COC)--a child placement licensing agency in Texas that works with CPS to place children currently in the state's foster care system.  This friend of ours spoke highly of COC (having fostered herself over 50 children over the years) and encouraged us to work with them to foster-to-adopt child.  And so after contacting COC and explaining our hope of adopting a foster child, they quickly helped us complete the mountains of paperwork, a new home study, get our FBI fingerprinting/background checks completed, TB tests and finally gain our foster-to-adopt license.  If you are reading this and are interested in adopting and/or fostering a child in the state of Texas--I would highly recommend this organization.  The staff and leadership are amazing.  We found them to be extremely helpful, very knowledgeable and dedicated to blessings the lives of children and the foster families they work with.  

On deciding what type of placement you are willing to accept:

After getting our license, the next step was discussing and deciding on what type of placement we wanted. We could request older children, younger children, sibling groups, etc.  We were very clear with our agency that we were only interested in a placement of a child 12-months old and younger. We were open to any race/ethnicity--but we also requested that the placement be a child that was healthy and had not been exposed to an "excessive amount" of drugs and zero sexual abuse.  In our training to become foster parents, we were encouraged to be very open and honest in our dialogue with our caseworker about what we were capable of handling and willing to accept-- especially if our intent was to adopt the child down the road.

I would advise anyone considering adopting a child from the state foster care system to really, really put a lot of thought and prayer into the age and special needs of the child you will foster before accepting a placement.  It's a huge decision for both you, your spouse, your children and the foster child and if you don't feel comfortable with certain things--YOU MUST be vocal about this with your agency and caseworkers.  The last thing anyone wants is a disruption in a placement---it's a horrible experience for the child and the foster family.

On accepting a placement:

After we completed all of our training classes, interviews and home study (which took about 2-3 months to do so)--we then anxiously awaited a call on a child.  Now this is something that was quite different for us than what we experienced by working with private adoption agencies--the wait time for a foster placement is super fast.  Whereas with the adoption agencies--we had to typically wait 12-24 months before being selected by a birth mom.

With foster parenting--once you complete your training and get licensed--you literally start getting calls about placements immediately.  Just a few days after getting our license--in fact, I remember the date--it was August 26, 2012, we received a call about a 9-month old baby boy who had been removed from his family due to neglect and the fact that his mother and grandfather tried to sell him to a stranger for drug money.  He was being cared for at a shelter in Corpus Christi, TX by some nuns.  When our agency called to tell us about him--they explained that despite it being an "at-risk placement" (meaning parental rights had NOT been terminated and they potentially could regain custody)--it was definitely looking like he would become adoptable down the road.

Now let me explain this as well--we learned the hard way with a few other placement calls we had received the day prior on a newborn baby--when you get calls on infants from the state-- you have to give them an answer quick because other foster families jump on accepting these types of placements.  So when they called me about Gavin, I texted Jody immediately after getting the call --I gave him the specifics and almost immediately he texted back "GO FOR IT".  I called our caseworker back quickly and said it was a "YES!!". The lady at our agency who handles the placements called me back the next day and confirmed that our homestudy had been accepted and the CPS caseworker would be bringing Gavin to our home in a few days.

When the state comes to your home to deliver the child:

Within 3 days of accepting the placement, on August 29, 2012 (our son, Noah's birthday by the way) --there was a knock on our front door around 2:00PM.  Jody was at work and couldn't be there and Noah was still at school--so it was just me at the house when CPS caseworkers came with our baby boy.  I remember nervously opening the door (and praying so hard--please--please let me love him instantly) and there in front of me stood two CPS caseworkers looking very stern and one of them was holding the most precious Hispanic baby boy in his arms and my heart melted.  Poor fella-- he looked scared to death as he stared back at me.  I'm sure he didn't know what to think of me--this big-haired, blonde white woman smiling back at him standing in the doorway.

He seemed almost frozen when they walked in our door with him, and I noticed almost immediately how his little bottom lip was trembling.  I could feel how scared he was-- gosh, it broke my heart.  I wanted to scoop him up and hug him so tight--to assure him he didn't have to be scared anymore...but I couldn't.  I had to play it calm, cool and collected with the CPS caseworkers there. What we learned through the training process and speaking with other foster parents is that CPS caseworkers typically do not like to see a lot of emotion from foster families (crazy, I know--but it's the sad truth).  Also, prior to them arriving that day at our house with Gavin--I had been warned by our licensing agency to not mention a word at this meeting about our hopes of adopting him...NOT A WORD-- or they would most likely pull him from our home immediately.  It's a CPS "thing" we have learned-- which is so sad...but as a foster-to-adopt parent--you have to play by their rules for the sake of these babies and your hopes of keeping them.

And so, we all walked to the dining room and sat around our dining table--the two caseworkers (one still holding Gavin), myself and our caseworker from COC.  I had to sign several documents--and the entire time, Gavin just stared at me and didn't make a noise or move. Still looking so confused and scared. 

After I finished signing all the forms, the caseworker very briefly explained what formula he was on--how he was lactose intolerant--and handed me a backpack filled with clothes the state had purchased for him, a box of formula and baby food.  She explained that she would be by next month to check on us--she then handed  me her card--they placed Gavin in my arms and then just like that.... everyone said their good-byes and walked out the door leaving little Gavin and me to start getting to know each other.

I remember standing in my front living room after I closed our front door, holding Gavin and we just stared at each other nervously....and thinking to myself, "Oh my goodness--this is really happening."  It was truly one of the most humbling moments of my life.

Thankfully, not too long after that Jody and Noah excitedly came home.  Noah pulled out all of his toys for Gavin and the two of them started playing together-- which was a great way to get baby boy to feel a littel more comfortable...and well, just like that--our journey as first-time foster parents officially began.

unnamed (8)

August 29, 2012...
the day little Gavin was brought to our home
and we became his foster family


What to expect while fostering a child/ren


While we were Gavin's foster parents for 18-months, each month his CPS caseworker made a required visit to our home to see how he was doing.  She would usually ask the same questions during her visit, i.e. how is he sleeping, how is his appetite, is he adjusting well with his siblings, what kind of activities did we do as a family this month, any concerns, etc.

We also had another visit each month by our caseworker from COC.  She, too, would check in on us and Gavin to see how the placement was going.  She would also have paperwork for us to fill out and/or some training to do with her during the visit.  Most home visits were scheduled in advance but every 3 months both caseworkers would do an "unannounced visit"--those I never cared for  because they inevitably would be first thing in the morning when I was trying to get the kids up and fed breakfast--we were usually all still in our pajamas with ratty hair (ugh--kind of embarrassing).

In addition to the monthly visits by both caseworkers, we also had monthly reports we were required to complete and turn in detailing what (if any) doctor/dental appointments he had, any ECI (early childhood intervention) services with dates/details, any therapy sessions with notes, details about the social activities we did as a family for the month, and then notes on how the child was progressing developmentally, academically and emotionally.  Also, at each doctor/dentist appointment--I had to bring along paperwork for the doctor to complete regarding the visit and what treatment they recommended, and any medicine that was prescribed.  We were very blessed with Gavin--he has been super healthy from day one--so we have not had any therapy sessions or extensive medical visits. Also, because he is not of school-age yet--there is less paperwork to do, i.e., school/teacher reports, ARD meetings with school officials and caseworkers, portfolios of school work etc.

We were also required to keep monthly medication logs detailing any medication that was given to him during the month along with the name/dosage and time it was given with our initials next to each administration of the medication.  We were expected to keep all medication for the child locked up separately from anyone else's medication--and if it was medication that had to be refrigerated--we were required to keep it in a lockbox in the refrigerator.

The state would usually do a walk-thru of our entire home about every 3 months to check the rooms, storage of medicine and cleaning supplies, the refrigerator, etc. to make sure that we were in full compliance with keeping the home neat, clean, storing medication and chemicals properly and other things such as electrical outlets were covered, fire extinguishers tagged properly and dated and that our license was posted in a visible place that could be seen by any state investigators who might show up "unannounced" to check on the child.

As foster parents, we were required to complete at least 30-hours of ongoing training each year to maintain our foster-to-adopt license with the state.  Some of the training had to be completed in person at the COC office or they would do the training during their visits to our home.  Other training hours we would have to complete online by watching videos/power point trainings and then complete tests afterwards and submit to our caseworker.

We also were required to provide up-to-date copies of our CPR/First Aid training, home insurance, car insurance, and car inspection tags to maintain our license.

Any and all required monthly visits to see the child's family--the foster parents are required to drive the child to those visits at the CPS office (thankfully we only had two with Gavin's family).  Typically with a child his age (2 years and younger)--a foster parent has to take them to the CPS office more frequently--usually twice a week for two hour visits with their biological parents.  The foster parents do not sit in on these visits--you are just required to drop them off and pick them up at the appointed time.  The CPS caseworker sits in and supervises the visit in your absence with the family.

If we ever wanted to travel anywhere for a vacation or to see family--or just to get away for a quick weekend trip--we were required to obtain approval from the judge beforehand.  The request has to be submitted in advance to the CPS caseworker (at least 2-weeks notice) and then they forward it on to the court.  If court approval is not granted, the child is placed in temporary care (or respite care) with another agency approved foster family while you are out of town.  We never had any problems getting court approval for our trips.  There were a few occasions where we had to leave town quickly, i.e. a funeral, or last minute trip--and he had to go into respite care--but other than those--we always took him with us when we let town.  When traveling, you are required to provide a copy of your flight itinerary and the hotel name/address where you will be staying.  Additionally, if you are staying at someone else'e home while out of town, i.e. a family member, friend, etc.--all those individuals must have an FBI background check before you can stay with the foster child in their home.  So essentially, most of our extended family members had to have background checks when we became foster parents.

If we had anyone came to our home to stay overnight for a visit, i.e. grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends--if they are 16 years or older-- they had to have a FBI background check completed on them by the agency before staying in our home.  Any babysitter that we used--they had to first be fingerprinted and have a FBI background check done  before they could care for our children and Gavin.  My cleaning lady even had to have a FBI background check...basically any frequent visitors that you have in your home must have a background check.

So as you can see...there's ALOT involved if you want to be a foster parent. ALOT.  It's a very invasive process and you have to be willing to open your home and heart to complete strangers.

Where we are today...

I'm happy to report that after 18-months of being his foster family, and after a very a long, protracted battle with the state to gain custody as his parents--we were finally granted permanent managing conservatorship on March 5, 2014 and are so grateful and happy to be Gavin's legal guardians.  He is no longer a foster child and we are no longer foster parents. It was an unbelievable journey filled with great joy, but also many roller-coaster moments where we almost lost him to a distant relative and/or being placed with another foster family.



I can honestly say that because of the experience we had with CPS as foster parents--we would never consider being foster parents again nor will we seek to adopt another child through the state foster care system.  Don't get me wrong--I am grateful that we had this experience and found our son, Gavin, through the process.  But the journey to get here took a great toll on our family--emotionally, physically and financially.  We spent almost $7,000 hiring an attorney and fighting CPS for custody of our son and now as we move forward to file the necessary legal paperwork and finalize his adoption in a new court with a new judge--our attorney and court fees will most likely reach and probably exceed $10,000.  In the end, what we hoped would be a much more affordable adoption by adopting through the state--has now cost us equally as much (and maybe more before it's all said and done) than the adoptions of our son and daughter through a private adoption agency.

But we can't complain--you can't put a dollar amount on the amount of love we have for our children.  Any and all financial sacrifices we made were worth it and we're so grateful to be their parents.  So very grateful.  It just saddens me that adoption and all the court fees associated with it have to be so expensive for families who want to adopt.

When people ask me about our experience and are exploring adopting through the state, I feel a great need to warn them about the risks that they will most likely face.  There is no question, if we had not hired an attorney at the 12-month mark of us gaining legal standing as Gavin's foster parents--if my husband had not been an attorney and was familiar with the law--we would not have Gavin today.  CPS tried to take him from us and move him to another foster family 3-weeks before we gained legal standing--something that is not uncommon with CPS.  They do this all the time to foster families who want to adopt a child we've since then learned.  All we've been told as to why is that they simply don't like dealing with foster families who want to adopt the children they are caring for.  CPS's main goal is for reunification with the biological family--which I am ALL FOR-- if the biological families can prove themselves worthy.  But in our son's case and so many others--what is in the best interest of the child is to not always to go back and live with the biological family.  As crazy and messed up as that sounds--it is the honest and sad truth.

What we've learned and seen first-hand as foster parents is there is zero incentive for the caseworkers and supervisors to get a child to a permanent, loving home. Which by the way--according to Texas law--CPS is expected to have a foster child within 12-18 months of being in foster care either.... 1.) reunified with their biological family --or-- 2.) should be placed in an adoptive home and allowed to be adopted in a timely manner.  But sadly, this timeline is rarely met.  Instead, all too often the  children languish for years in the foster care system.  And to their credit--most CPS caseworkers and supervisors are overworked, overloaded and underpaid.  As a result, all too often they become jaded by the heartache and sad situations they are faced with daily.

I guess what I feel I need to share in closing is being Gavin's foster family was such a blessing for our family because it was the path that God chose for us to find him and make him our son.  However, looking back I now see and realize that we were very naive to so many things about foster parenting and "the system".  If we had not had a strong marriage....the financial means to fight CPS...a very supportive CPS caseworker who truly believed it was in Gavin's best interest for us to adopt him... and a well-informed and supportive licensing agency--I don't think our story would have turned out as positive as it has.

If you are reading this and are considering being a foster parent (with no intent to adopt)--then by all means--I would encourage you to go for it.  It will change your life for the better--and you will see firsthand how you can change a child's life for the better.

On the other hand, if you are wanting to foster a child with the hopes of adopting them someday--please know and be prepared emotionally that it will most likely come with many challenges and setbacks.  It will take a long time to adopt your foster child--most likely years.  You must keep an open mind and heart throughout the process and move forward with the understanding that there is a great possibility that you will not be allowed to adopt the child/ren in the end.  And that is a really hard thing to accept--especially after loving and caring for them as your own for so long.

But with that said...there are many, many foster families out there who have happy endings like ours.  And that should be encouraging to you.  I'm so happy and relieved that we can now "legally" begin working on making him a permanent member of our family via a private adoption  Gavin's adoption is something that we prayed and fought hard for and it's a beautiful thing to see it now finally come to fruition.  We will forever be grateful to his CPS caseworker who had the courage to stand up to her supervisor and took the stand during the custody trial to courageously say to the court that without hesitation she felt we were the best family for Gavin and should be allowed to adopt him.  We'll forever be thankful to COC and their team...for supporting us through this process--answering the millions of questions we had and for putting my mind at ease about our placement on many occasions.  But more importantly, we'll forever be grateful to all those who prayed and fasted with our family as we fought to keep our son--there is no doubt in my mind that the Lord heard our prayers and answered them on our behalf because of the collective faith of so many friends and family.

P.S.... In case you are wondering, our foster son had a different birth name when he came to us.  For the past 18-months on the blog I could only refer to him as "baby boy" for confidentiality purposes--but since we are now his legal guardians we can use his name.  With all of our adoption paperwork that has been filed with the court--we also filed a name change request --and so we have now officially begun calling him by his new name...Gavin.  He seems to really like it and we're all finally getting used to calling him by his new name.  It is not uncommon when a child is adopted through the state for a name change to occur--and we knew all along if we were able to gain custody of our son that we would change his name. 

....If you're new to this blog and are interested in reading more about our journey as foster parents, here are some additional posts that I shared about this experience...

http://www.cupcakesandmudpuddles.com/search/label/foster%20care

Also, feel free to email me if you have a specific question-- virginiatexans [at] gmail [dot] com.

3 comments:

  1. I'm so happy for you and the rest of your little family! I'll hold off on the happy dance until you post 'Gavin's adoption is now complete' :)
    I just want to hug on him!

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    1. Thanks, V!! What an amazing and special day that will be when we can finalize his adoption! We'll all be doing the happy dance for sure at that event! :-)
      xo,
      jenn

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  2. What an incredible post-a heartbreaking post-the system seems terribly backwards to me and I could cry for all those little children feeling the same as Gavin did when he first came to you-but a beautiful ending for Gavin. Jennifer, I think you and your husband are amazing..I can't imagine the emotional toil this had on your family (besides the financial burden also). Your family picture is beautiful by the way. :)

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