So we have the bare minimum of space and furniture, and passed the initial not-crazy assessment. And now it was time for training on how to be a foster parent. A friend of mine who is recently divorced told me that there are required classes for divorced people on being a parent. And adoptive parents have to take classes. You’d think this kind of thing would exist for people creating their kids from scratch, too. But nope, apparently there’s an expectation that carrying the kid for nine months, or watching your partner do so, is all the training you need. This is clearly bonkers, because hunching over the toilet every few days (if you’re lucky, or it might be more often) in no way compares to changing diapers.
The assumptions I have heard about foster kids and foster parenting are many and varied, and usually not terribly related to the truth. I won’t say there is no relation, because there are some people who give rise to such stereotypes, but not much. Note that some of the stereotypes contradict others.
- Foster kids are blank slates. Like puppies, you can raise them however you want and they will reflect what you teach them.
- Foster kids come from terrible homes and birth families, and are grateful to be in your lovely and warm home, and will behave beautifully because they don’t want to go back to their birth families.
- Foster kids are taken away from their terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad parents and are placed in care until they are adopted or age out of the system.
- Foster kids are irreparably damaged, and taking them on will destroy your family.
- You should never foster kids that are older than any biological children in the house, because the foster kids will bully them (or worse).
- Foster parents are saints, who put up with demons disguised as foster children.
- Foster parents can’t have their own children, and adoption is too hard or expensive, so fostering is the best choice they have to get children.
- Corollary: if foster parents manage to conceive a biological child, they instantly stop fostering and raise their *real* kid, and have no further use for foster kids.
- Foster parents are greedy bastards out to collect as much cash from the state as they can, and treat their foster kids terribly. (This one never gets repeated to my face, but I have come across it in more anonymous spaces.)
- Foster parents only wants kids that are like them: race, language, religion, etc.
- Foster parents are rich, in order to be able to afford to take on children not their own.
- Foster parents must be married (two parents of opposite genders, only, please), own their own home, own a car, and have one parent who can stay at home with the foster children full time.
- Interestingly, the stay-at home parent does apply depending on which agency people go through, at least as far as not working more than a set number of hours a week outside of the home. However, Massachusetts Department of Children and Families doesn’t require or expect it.
Let me back up here and add a bit of context. My understanding of how foster parents works right now in Massachusetts is as follows. I make no claims for other states, and the process does change over time. But here and now.
- Child is taken from their home. This means someone has reported abuse or neglect or something else, and the person sent to investigate agrees that the child (children) is in immediate danger.
- Child is placed in a foster home, hopefully one that can keep the child for a long time if needed.
- No more than 72 hours from removing the child from their home, a judge must rule on the situation. The child is then either returned to their home, or placed in the care of the state for the foreseeable future.
- Assuming the child is placed in care, a plan is drawn up with the parent/guardian of the child. This includes the weekly visiting schedule with the child, steps that must be taken, time frame, and other details.
- After three months, the plan with the parent/guardian is revisited and the parent/guardian’s progress is evaluated. If steps are being completed, plans are made to carefully and over time reunite the child with the parent/guardian. If no progress or not enough progress is happening, the plan is revised accordingly, and another three months passes.
During all the time, the hope is to return the child to their home. Generally speaking, the state is not interested in removing a child for good, unless there are extenuating circumstances, and those have to be pretty bad. Only after at least a year has passed do children start to become available for adoption, and even then things might change such that they are returned home.
Further, kinship placements or fictive kinship placements are sought before unrelated fostering or adoption. If a child you are related to is taken into care and you are willing to take that child, the state will do their best to make that happen. If you know a child but are not related by blood or marriage, but are related in affection, the state will still try to make that happen if you are willing. We saw this with one of the families getting certified along with us who knew a young girl who’s mother died during our training period. The family hadn’t finished training, but because they knew the woman who died and her daughter, their certification got pushed through and they were able to care for the girl immediately. They still had to complete everything later, but the important thing right then was placing the girl with someone who knew her and who she might be more comfortable with during that rough time.
Back to the training. Much of the first few weeks of the foster parent training was designed simply to get the prospective foster parents away from these stereotypes and out of our own heads. Why would a foster kid, knowing only their birth family and feeling loved there, feel grateful to be removed from that situation? It might be better for them, but chances are really good that they are not going to appreciate that, nor are they going to look with any favor on these strangers who are now in positions of power over them. Imagine that you are suddenly removed from your own and placed in another family. That family wants to love you and hug you and take care of you. But they are not your own family, not your partner/child/parent/cat. Why on earth would you jump in happily and without regrets?
After trying to make sure we were thinking about foster parenting from the kids’ perspective, we then moved on to more of what I expected, mostly development stages, possible things we might see, what the legal processes look like, and lots and lots of stories — both good and bad. We had speakers several days: people who work in foster care and adoption from the state’s side, foster kids, and foster parents.
Some of the stories were lovely. I adored the one about a sibling group of five kids in care. Who has space in the Boston suburbs for five extra kids? So they had to be broken up. But there was a group of foster homes all within a few blocks of each other, so each home took one kid. Kid is having a rough day and needs her older brother? No problem, we can arrange for a visit after supper. Birthday coming up? Let’s get all the kids together and have a party.
Others were harder to hear. Parents who couldn’t or wouldn’t get themselves together to regain custody of their kids, and how hard that was on the kids. Parents who seemed to get it together only to backslide and have their kids taken away again. Relatives who thought they could take in their young grandchildren, nieces, cousins, or nephews, but who realized they couldn’t manage. Sometimes these stories had happy endings, and the kids found homes with adoptive families who loved and cared for them. Sometimes the best options was just to be in care until they aged out of the system.
And now we are up to today. Training ended two weeks ago. This afternoon, the social worker is coming back to inspect the house. We’ll see what’s next.