So without further ado ... here's our Welcome Book ...
Finally: the long-awaited-for post about our Welcome Book for foster children. For a while now I've wanted to create a book for welcoming new kids to our home. I kept over-thinking it and it never happened. So finally when I came across a cute binder on sale at Target I snatched it up and sat down that very day to fill it up with some pictures and info about our home and family. My number-one tip when creating your own Welcome Book: do it! My number-two tip: Don't over-think it. Something is better than nothing. As you'll see here, my Welcome Book isn't anything fancy.
So without further ado ... here's our Welcome Book ...
I used slide-in sheet protectors and colorful paper to paste photographs and write a few notes about our home and family. That's it! It took me wayyyy longer to get around to writing this blog post than it ever did to create the welcome book. If you have more time and feel so-inclined you could use an online photo book creator like Shutterfly or Snapfish to create a more polished book. However, I kind of like that it's easy to make changes to my homemade book. As kids move in or out of our house, or as I redecorate rooms or move furniture around it's easy to take a quick picture with my phone, send it to Walgreens for printing, and swap out the page of the book for an updated one.
Reader Rebecca wrote in and asked: "Can you still take out-of-state vacations when you have foster children?"
Yes, you usually can. Typically the process involves asking permission from the caseworker. In some areas of the country a judge must grant permission, and in some cases the biological parents must also give permission. Most foster parents learn to plan their vacations in advance and notify the caseworker at least several weeks beforehand. If you're shopping around for agencies it would be wise to ask what the policies are about vacations and overnight stays.
In my personal experience out-of-state travel has never been difficult. Our agency asks for a two-week notice prior to travel, but in some instances we've been able to get permission in just a few days. In our state some foster parents are able to get standing permission to visit an out-of-state vacation home on a regular basis. I do know of a few foster parents in other areas of the country however who had to get permission from the biological parents of the children for out-of-state travel, and when it wasn't granted they had to either stay home or find a respite home for the children they were fostering while the foster parents traveled.
When our foster care training was coming to an end we sent out an email to our family and close friends in an effort to include them in our journey, answer some of their questions, and explain some rules. Here is the letter that we sent. Please feel free to copy and use it as your own as needed.
Dear Friends and Family,
As you know, we’re nearing the end of our foster parent training! Thank you for all of your support and love through this process. We are so blessed to have family and friends who have helped see us through to this point. Very soon the real work begins, and we’re going to need that love and support more than ever.
We know that our decision to foster will affect you as well, and we are hoping that this email will help to answer some of your questions and set us all up for success in helping these little people through this rocky patch in their lives.
We’ll tell you now that we’re sorry this is so long, and we’re sorry it sounds so bossy. We were trying to keep it as brief as possible, so it may sound a little “short” in some places. But know that we love you, and we don’t mean for it to sound “short.” If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask – we love talking about this stuff! Otherwise, we’ll let you know as soon as we get our first placement!
Placements to Expect
We anticipate being fully licensed and waiting for a placement by the end of next week. (OMG!) We are open to one to two foster kids, ages birth through five years old. We’re open to any gender or race. We could get a call for a placement the day that we’re licensed or it could be several weeks or even months before we get a call. The kids could be staying with us anywhere from a few days to several years.
When we get a placement we will of course share with you the children’s names, ages, birthdates, personalities, and other such details. However the family history, reasons for placement, medical status, and other aspects of the foster children’s lives are confidential and we will not be able to share these details with you.
DCFS policy is that pictures of foster children may not be posted online. We won’t be able to post or email pictures of the kids, and we’ll need your cooperation in not posting pictures that you may take of the kids.
Inclusion in Family & Gift Giving Policy
Other than confidentiality issues, we will treat these children as members of our family. We must insist that everyone respect this policy. The foster children will be treated equally to how our biological children are treated, especially when it comes to holidays, birthdays, or other gift-giving occasions. We never expect gifts for any of our children. But if you choose to give gifts, you’ll need to plan to give equally to all of the kids who are in our care at that time.
Behavior and Discipline
You may observe unusual or seemingly alarming behaviors from the foster children. Accordingly, you may also see us utilizing some unusual discipline techniques (varying from very easy-going to very strict). We ask you to remember that we’re working with a team of professionals on a behavioral and discipline plan tailored to each individual child. If you have concerns that you feel the need to discuss with us, please bring them up in private, away from the child. Comments like “Oh, can’t she just have the ice cream,” when said right in front of the child, can result in a major setback.
Also, DCFS law states that ONLY the foster parents are allowed to discipline the foster child. If you’ll be spending time with the kids, it will be very important for you to understand and adhere to this policy.
Holidays and Special Events
We LOVE seeing all of our friends and family for holidays and special occasions and certainly hope to be able to incorporate our foster children into these cherished events. However, some foster children may have difficulty with the stress of large groups, new people, new food, and higher expectations for behavior. We ask for your patience and understanding when we may have to miss an event, arrive late, leave early, or perhaps one parent has to stay home with a foster child.
What Do They Call Us?
Our foster children will have the option of calling us by our first names or “mom and dad.” We’ll invite them to address you with the same terms that our biological children use (grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, etc.).
What Do We Call Them?
No child wants to be known as “the foster kid.” We will refer to any children in our care as our kids, our son, our daughter. We ask you to please be sensitive to this, and do not refer to a child or introduce them as a “foster child,” particularly in that child’s presence. Feel free to refer to them as you would with our biological children (my grandchild, niece, nephew, etc.). Or, if that isn’t comfortable for you, you can refer to them as our child (my brother’s son, my friend’s daughter, etc.).
About Building Attachments
The question is sometimes raised with foster care if it isn’t detrimental to encourage children to become attached to their foster family. In fact, there was a time about 20 years ago when foster children were intentionally moved to new foster homes on a regular basis to avoid this attachment. We now know that learning to build attachments is one of the most important elements to living a happy and satisfied life. As children bond with us they gradually learn the joy that comes from bonding and how to trust safe adults, and it builds their sense of self-worth. If the child can learn to attach successfully, they can then repeat that attachment process with others throughout their life. This is a vital process, even if they are not with us forever.
The challenge is for us to bond, fearing the pain of losing the relationship when they leave. We expect that you may have this fear as well, but we ask for you to keep the children’s best interests in mind, and open your heart to them.
Update: I wrote this post shortly after we received a baby as a foster placement. Originally our plan was to foster, but not adopt, this baby. We have since changed our minds and are now considered a pre-adoptive home for the baby we have fallen head-over-heels in love with. But I share this post because it shares a different, but equally difficult, side of fostering.
There is a very obvious fear for most foster parents that they'll foster and parent and love a child for a long time who ends up being returned home at the end. On the flip-side of the same coin is a very different fear that I have: that I'll foster and parent and love a child for a long time who ends up becoming available for adoption. Our forever family feels complete. We have to consider how much time and attention we'll be able to give our children in the future when they become adolescents. We have to consider how many children we can afford to put through college. And selfishly, we have to consider the type of lifestyle we envisioned for our family - how many sacrifices are we willing to make? We must draw a line somewhere - we can't keep committing to permanency for every child who crosses our path.
But we also don't feel done with fostering. We know that there are far too many less-than-ideal foster homes still out there, and each really great foster home means one fewer of the not-so-great foster homes. So we continued to keep the fifth spot in our home open for fostering, which is how we ended up with sweet little Baby Legs.
I'm in love with this baby, and I sincerely hope that someday she'll get to return home. Because the alternative is that she'll become available for adoption. As her foster family we'd have right-of-first-refusal to adopt her. If that time comes, how are we supposed to say no to that adoption? How are we supposed to willingly say goodbye to a child we love and adore? And more importantly, how are we supposed to choose to make her move away from us - the only family she'll really have known by that point? I'll become one more in a line of people who've let this child down and seemingly abandoned her.
It's one thing to say goodbye to a child because the government orders that the child be moved. In that case, you know you've done the best you can, you know you've given that child vitally important love and stability during a rocky patch in his or her life, and you know that you've hit the end of the road. There is no choice to be made on the part of the foster parent. It feels completely different to be the one making the choice at the end of that road. Even though we initially started fostering with the intent of only fostering (not adoption), it never really sank in that someday our family's choice might be the reason a child has to move and adjust to yet another family. It's a lot of pressure, and a lot of responsibility.
Meanwhile, many of the really great foster families I know don't want to be crushed by saying goodbye to a child. They really only want to adopt. They want to fall in love with a child they'll get to keep forever and ever. So you have two very different camps - those who wish to foster only, and those who wish to adopt only. Unfortunately, when a child comes into foster care it's usually unknown if that child will become adoptable or not. The goal is almost always to return home, but that doesn't mean the child won't end up adopted.
So here's my wish ... could some genius please come up with a responsible and ethical way to assess the probability of a child returning home or becoming adoptable? Aren't there factors in the birth parents' lives that could be examined - level of education, employment history, number of children, birth order, genetics, economic status, history of trauma, marital status, family history, etc, etc - which would predict with a fairly high probability whether or not they would be likely to complete the tasks required for bringing their child home? And then couldn't the child be placed into a foster-only or pre-adoptive home based on those results? I'm not saying those assessments should be used in any way to decide the actual outcome of a case, but rather as a tool for proper placement in order to cut down on the number of moves a child must make, and the amount of heartbreak that foster families must endure.
There has got to be a better way.
Yes. Terrified. I've already established that I'm in love with these kiddos. So I can only imagine that saying goodbye to them someday is gonna hurt like crazy. But what really gets to me is the fact that once the kids leave our family, we may never see or hear of them again. Confidentiality will prevent the agency workers from telling me anything about how the kids are doing. I can only hope that the parent they move onto, whether it's their biological parent or a new foster or adoptive parent, will allow us to maintain some kind of contact.
Fear of an unknown future for my children without my presence is one of the worst kinds of fears. The kind of fear that wakes you up in cold sweats in the dark of night. But that fear does not prevent me from being the mother that these children need. Because they need my love more than I need to be spared the pain of them leaving.
How long did it take you to fall in love with your mother ... your niece or nephew ... a child you birthed ... your high school sweetheart ... your spouse ... your best friend?
A fostering relationship is just that - a relationship. No matter what the relationship is (romantic, family, friendly), there are always different factors that play into the whole "falling in love": How much time you spend with the person, how long you've known them, how well your personalities mesh, whether or not you have similar values and backgrounds, and how long you plan to know them. And just as all relationships develop at varying rates and to different degrees, the same goes for the relationship between foster parent and child.
I suppose this is kind of a trick question. There's no one answer, and there's no right answer. But as a foster parent of seven months, I can tell that - in my situation - seven months has been more than enough time to fall in love. But then again, by the time my birth children were seven months old I was also very much in love with them. No one ever seems to question that timeline though.
Five children a day in the U.S. die of abuse. Don't let this be your neighbor while you're saying "I knew something wasn't right." Some people (mandated reporters such as doctors and teachers) have a legal obligation to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Everyone else has a moral obligation. The calls are quick, efficient, and friendly. When you suspect abuse or neglect there are three available options for reporting:
I should preface this piece by saying that we're doing foster care to provide foster care, and not with the ultimate goal of adopting. We haven't adopted, and we aren't on a path to adoption. So there are probably others who could speak to the personal experience of that journey much better than I. But I do feel that I've learned a lot about what foster care is and is not that could help answer this question for you, so here goes ...First, define "good." Not much about foster care is "good." In fact, most of it sucks. But that's a whole other Q&A session. Is foster care a good path to adoption? It's one path of many, and from what I can tell they all have their own unique set of challenges and benefits.
The initial goal for children coming into foster care is almost always reunification with their biological family. You, as the foster parent, are asked to help support this goal. Children will typically have regular visits with their family. In some states and counties you'll be encouraged to form a relationship with the birth parent(s), either through sending them letters and pictures, helping to supervise the visits, or taking phone calls from the parents.Children in foster care almost always have "issues." They have likely experienced any number of the following: substance exposure in the womb; emotional neglect; physical neglect; physical abuse; sexual abuse; emotional abuse. In some situations, police have come into their home at night, removed them from their beds without a word, and dropped them off with complete strangers. Without any chance to say goodbye, they've left their family, friends, neighbors, teachers, classmates, pets, clothing, toys, and favorite blanket or stuffed animal. In most cases they never had much reason to trust their previous caretakers in the first place, so why would they ever trust you? And that's just the beginning. A lot of people plan to get around all of this by only accepting infants. Don't forget that many infants in foster care have received very poor prenatal care, and were exposed prenatally to drugs and alcohol. You'll also wait a potentially long time for a placement of a single infant. Having said all this, there are also lots of very healthy children in foster care who thrive with proper love, support, and structure. The gamble with foster care is that you don't know what you're going to get. You typically have to say yes or no to a phone call for a possible placement within an hour - often within minutes. The person calling you often has very little information, and sometimes it's incorrect - in our "say yes or no right now" phone call, they were three years off on one of the kid's ages.
If you're serious about pursuing foster care for the purpose of adoption, you'll want to speak to some agencies in your state. Different states have different licensing procedures and categories for straight foster care vs. foster-to-adopt, vs. adoption-only. Different agencies specialize in those different categories, so shop around for an agency that matches your goals. Be honest and upfront about your desire to adopt.
Understand that foster care doesn't always result in adoption. Many foster parents who wish to adopt choose to take "low legal risk" placements. In this case, it is believed that the biological parents' rights will be terminated, and the state is trying to place the child in a pre-adoptive home that will be willing and able to adopt the child as soon as they are legally free for adoption. There are many stories of these cases turning around at the last minute and the children going home.
Be prepared that until the adoption is finalized, nothing is certain in the world of foster care. But also know that even if your ultimate goal of adoption isn't realized with your first (or second, or third, or fourth) placement, you'll have done a world of good for a child who needed a safe and loving home for the time they were in your care.
The following question was submitted:
How do kinship families set boundaries with bio moms? We're having this problem especially with the upcoming holidays ... help!!
To clarify, for those who aren't familiar with this situation: "bio moms" refers to the mom who gave birth to the child, presumably the person from whose care the child has been removed; "kinship families" refers to a family who is providing foster care for a child they are related to. For example, if your sister's children were taken into state custody, and you became their foster parent.
Full-disclosure: we don't have any direct experience with kinship care. However, we are really, really good at setting boundaries. So hopefully this will be of some help.
First and foremost, accept that fact that setting boundaries with family will make someone uncomfortable, and there's probably no good way around this. Parenting makes you grow some pretty thick skin. In the typical course of things, a new mom has a baby and she timidly listens to the advice of others, allowing herself to be convinced that she's doing things the wrong way. Then comes the second baby, and she learns how to politely nod and smile when someone gives advice, only to go home and ignore that advice. Somewhere along the way she begins to respond to the well-intentioned advice-giver with a firm but friendly "our way works for us."
Foster parenting requires even thicker skin, but without the same natural course of events. You're required to become a warrior overnight, sometimes for children you don't even know. Part of advocating for what is best for your child is setting boundaries. When you become a parent - foster or otherwise - your number one priority is to always do what's best for your kids.
Consider what your children need this holiday season. Do they need the familiarity and normalcy of attending all the holiday events they've attended in the past? Do they need to spend the holidays with familiar faces, including their bio mom? Do they need a whole new set of fun family memories this year? Do they need the calmness and predictability of their everyday routine? Do they need to be protected from the drama bio mom brings to their lives? Answer those questions, and then start there. Allow every other decision you make this holiday season to be guided by doing what's in the best interest of the kids.
If you do decide you need to limit the kids' access to their bio mom, and you know that she'll be invited to certain family parties, we recommend that you choose to skip those events, rather than requesting that the host not invite her. Instead, plan some new holiday traditions just for your family, and do those in place of the family get-togethers. Rather than attending a big party and seeing everyone at once, see the important people one-on-one this holiday season. Call up the folks you want to see and explain that although you're unable to attend the holiday party this year, you'd still like to see them. Invite someone over for present opening on Christmas morning. Have brunch on New Year's Day with someone else. Be creative, and use this change of events as an opportunity to create some positive new traditions for everyone.
You can also talk to the kids' caseworker to find out what they'd recommend in terms of the kids' exposure to bio mom. In some cases, the bio mom is ONLY allowed to see the kids during the pre-determined visits. Even if that isn't the case, you can explain your feelings and concerns to the caseworker, and ask for his or her suggestions. Once the caseworker listens to you, he/she may say that they agree with you that you should limit the kids' contact with bio mom during the holidays. Ah ha! Now you can tell bio mom (and any other family who are upset) that the caseworker said you shouldn't attend this event. Rule number one of foster parenting: never be afraid to pass the buck!
If you do feel like you have to attend events where bio mom will be present, try to establish clear parenting boundaries. If your kids are old enough, you can explain to them ahead of time that their mom will be at this event, but you are still in charge. Explain in detail what that means by asking the kids questions like: Who decides what kinds of foods and sweets you can eat? Who do you need to ask if you want to go outside to play? Who decides when it's time for us to leave? If the child is a baby or toddler, wear him or her against your body in a baby carrier so that you're the only one with access to the baby.
However you decide to handle the challenging family dynamics this year, be ready to exercise your thick parenting skin. Maybe that means assertively telling your family and the bio mom that you won't be seeing them this holiday season, and letting the chips fall where they may. Perhaps it means seeing bio mom and having to spend the entire evening repeatedly standing up for your parenting choices (tip, just say "this is what works for us" over and over without engaging in a debate). Or maybe it means leaving your feelings at the door and letting your kids have a crazy chaotic day with their bio mom where rules fly out the window and you're there just to make sure everyone is safe.
Finally, I want to commend you, question-writer, for doing kinship care. Many people don't realize what a sticky situation relative care can be. But, as I'm sure you know, it's often a wonderful thing for the kids to remain with people who already know and cherish them. I also imagine that, as relatives, you probably don't get quite the same accolades that non-related foster parents receive from friends and family commending our work as "saints." You also are doing a great and selfless thing! Happy Holidays!
This is a "Yes, but ..." kind of answer.Yes, but you have to get permission any time you travel out of the state, even if it's just for the day. We have to request permission at least two weeks in advance, so gone are the days of impromptu travel plans.
Yes, but we hear that it's all but impossible to travel internationally. From what we're told, you can try, but in the end your efforts will be futile.
Yes, but you'll have to pay for all travel-related expenses yourself.
Yes, but you may not want to, depending on the needs of your children.
When our kids moved in we already had an upcoming vacation planned. So two weeks after they joined our family, we traveled with them for the first time. In hindsight, we probably shouldn't have done this. The kids were still settling in and becoming accustomed to our family's rules and routines - things that generally become pretty relaxed while on vacation. They were also still learning to accept us as the parental authority figures, which was confused by having other adult family members in such close quarters. While we did all survive the trip, and we even have a lot of fun memories from it, we decided afterwards not to travel again for quite some time.We waited another five months - until Thanksgiving - to attempt traveling again. This time it was a completely different experience, for the better! The kids fit seamlessly into our family by this point. They felt secure enough to trust that this would be a good experience without having endless anxiety about the new experiences. We, as parents, felt much more confident to express our family's needs and expectations to the extended family members we were traveling with.
Our children have relatively few special needs. Families parenting children with more extreme challenges may find that they need to wait longer to travel, or may decide to forgo traveling all together. Foster parenting forces you to re-examine your priorities, and find creative ways to enjoy your family time together. Sometimes that means changing your usual travel plans in order to best accommodate the needs of your children.
Happy lady. Busy mom (biological, foster, adoptive). Awesome wife. Writer. Public speaker. Previous (and hopefully future) world traveler. Gentle parenting advocate. Tree-hugger and all-around do-gooder. Follow me at www.Facebook.com/Jasmine.Dee23.
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Everything on this site is based on the experiences of one foster family, and stories we've heard from other foster parents. Your experiences may be vastly different. Please remember that rules and regulations vary greatly from area to area, so always check the laws that pertain to your unique situation.