A Day in the Life of a Foster Parent
Normally, a call for a placement happens in the late evening, and the newly arriving child might make it to your house around eleven o’clock at night (or possibly into the very early hours of the morning). In the meantime, you begin prepping for their arrival. Clothes come out of storage to get washed; a bed and all of the bedding are moved and arrange to hopefully imitate some comforts of home for the new arrival. There may be a quick trip to an all night store to grab essentials for a baby, toiletries for a child or a favorite food that the child says he or she likes. A DVD is popped in playing a familiar cartoon or movie to welcome the terrified bundle, and a few prayers are made that you can say and do the right things upon greeting this precious new one.
Finally, headlights appear in the driveway. Your household is asleep, and you are the only awake to welcome them at the door. However, that is just fine as to not overwhelm the child. Hellos are exchanged, and your only clues and insight to this little person is handed to you in a single folder. Their entire history reduced to a few sheets of paper, and one single sheet of it entrusting you with their care. You take your cues from their body language, and in their timing you show them around a strange house that they’ll call “home” for an unmeasured amount of time. Hopefully, they’re so exhausted from their day that sleep won’t be an issue tonight. Sometimes, we only then discover that this child has experienced more trauma than first thought, or that they have cognitive delays, medical needs or behaviors that aren’t typical. We roll with whatever comes our way until daybreak.
Our first day together usually comes with more introductions as there is a new person in the home. The other children introduce themselves; they play with each other. They also are setting up personal boundaries and testing one another out. Does it displace them in the birth order of the home? Is one child more assertive than the other? This is usually explored through conversation and actions over breakfast. The interim case manager will call to schedule their appointment with the child protective team within the first seventy two hours of the child being in your home. You’ll have to make arrangements to get the child across town to an advocacy center as to maintain being a consistent presence in their spinning world. You want to communicate to them that you are a safe place and an adult that they can rely on.
While you’re waiting for the team to evaluate your new child, you have the extra time to figure out schooling: What grade are they in? Are they on grade level in all subjects? Would they benefit from tutoring? Were they un-enrolled from their previous school? No? What was their previous school? Does the child want to stay in their school? How could I get them there on time everyday with our current schedule? Are there openings for their grade in the school we’re zoned for? Once those questions are answered, you try move forward with what fits best for that child. However, once that decision is made, most children need to be caught up with their dental work and vaccinations. You realize that you also do not have a birth certificate for the child in their folder, nor do you have their social security number to register them. You make several calls and emails to track these items down, and you wait.
Most children haven’t had easy access to medical care, and many have never visited a dentist. Over the course of the following days you must obtain a child’s medicaid number, find a doctor and dentist that accepts their plan, make their appointments and get them to said appointments in a reasonable amount of time. Once we make it to the doctor’s office with our limited records, we usually find that the child isn’t caught up on their physicals and vaccinations. The doctor can proceed with the physical, but, we cannot give those vaccinations all at once to the child. We will have to get on a new schedule to play catch up, and over several weeks and months you will be driving to that doctor’s office for a vaccine. That also means that we will need a special waiver for schools, day cares and other programs requiring vaccinations being up to date. You obtain the form from the school board, and the doctor will have to sign off on it before school registration is complete.
You finally get your child registered for school. You go out with that child the night before their first day and buy all their needed supplies, backpack and new lunchbox. You sign every waiver; you email the teacher introducing yourself, and you disclose very limited information about your child. You try to explain that they may be missing a few classes for visits or court dates, and you hope that they are understanding and support your child regardless of their situation. You walk your child into the school, and your secretly have inward conversations with them about their behavior; you hope that the other children don’t notice that your child has begun to pull their hair out, pick at their skin, use colorful language to gain attention, know more than any child their age should about very real life topics, throw things when they are embarrassed that they can’t grasp a concept, try to run away at recess, don’t know how to play with toys like other children, or whatever other behavior or tick that may manifest during a stressful situation or trigger a traumatic event. This reminds you to begin advocating for a therapist; that requires many more emails and phone calls until a referral is submitted for a suitable service for your child.
Once your child is picked up from school, you must rush home for a visit with the case worker. She scheduled time for your child to have a visit with their biological family. You are not able to take them this time, as you have to pick up your other children from their after school activities. You’ve prepared your child for this visit, and they’re looking forward to it. Several hours later, the case worker returns. Hopefully, the visit went well. Hopefully, the family that was supposed to arrive did so. Hopefully, the child ate dinner or at least a snack. Even with the best visit scenarios, there will be behaviors to deal with afterward. The child may be moody, angry, aggravated, depressed, soil themselves, destructive, or worse, they could be silent. Visitation has been set up to occur weekly during school. You commit to driving them there when it’s possible. Also, you will then have to not only deal with these behaviors on a weekly basis for a day or two after a visit, you’ll have to catch them up on schoolwork, as well.
The referral for the therapist a week ago went through, and a therapist will come to evaluate and add your child to their schedule. You try to make it during a time that doesn’t interfere with their new chosen activity (like soccer, baseball or gymnastics). Between practices, homework, case manager visits, and family visitation, you find a block of time that works. You’re grateful and excited to see and experience progress for your child. You’ve also learned that they qualify for other therapies that will take place at the school. You obtain everyone’s names, phone numbers and emails to receive all of their reports and recommendations to keep in their folder.
A few more weeks go by and you get a call from the guardian ad litem that has been assigned to your child. They schedule a visit to come meet everyone, and you oblige with the limited amount of time left in your week. Also, the new case manager was assigned, and they need to pay their monthly visit to your home, as well. You squeeze them both together in the same time slot, and you make a note in your calendar when their next monthly visit will be, as to not over schedule the following month. During the visit, you learn of the first court date. Everyone would like you and the child to attend. The court date and time is scheduled during school hours, and you arrange with their teacher their absence and make up work. You realize that your child is going to need a tutor as they are now falling behind in their studies. This again will require several calls and emails to find the appropriate funding and resources to get your child set up. You find the last window of time that everyone is available and make it work.
The case manager calls to remind you that you needed to have the child seen by a dentist. Their appointment arrives and you take them to their first teeth cleaning. As you hold their hand, you listen to the dentist complain about their hygiene, and you hold your tongue the best that you can. He tells you that your child has so many cavities that they will have to be under general anesthetic to correct all of the issues and have teeth pulled. They’ll have to miss more school. You leave being as upbeat and positive as you can be for your child. You write emails and make phone calls informing the teacher, therapists, case manager and guardian as to keep everyone updated and make arrangements as necessary.
Several more weeks pass, and your child has grown more comfortable in their temporary home. Their birthday is coming up, and you’ve been planning what may be their first party. You buy the gifts, cake, set up the venue, invite their friends and whatever family is appropriate. You do the same for this child as you would for your own for every special occasion, holiday or activity. As the special day arrives, you feel their joy and excitement, and it makes all of the stress of planning worth it.
Many months have passed. You’ve dealt with a repeated cycle of appointments, therapists, doctor and dental visits, court dates, case manager updates, guardian ad litem check ins, family visits, schoolwork, IEP meetings, staffings, tutors, transportation, upsets, victories, tears and hugs. It’s been a very rough road, but you wouldn’t trade it for the world. You hope that your family has positively impacted this child. You love them as your own. They call you mom or dad; they’ve become a part of your family. However, the time has come to pack their bags and begin the transition home to their biological family. Over time, you’ve exchanged information with their mom. She has your number; you’ve been visiting her with the child, and you’ve watcher her progress into a healthy and supported parent. The anticipated move is heartbreaking, but it’s celebrated. This timid child has blossomed, and you were able to be a part of that. You’ll continue to do so when they leave. There is hope that mom will continues the phone calls and updates. There is hope that they’ll become stronger together.
The final goodbye has come, and you await those headlights in your driveway once again. You’ve given hugs, and there are tears being held back all around. The brand new suitcase is packed, and there are several duffle bags stuffed with acquired toys from friends and family. They eagerly squeeze into the back seat of the case worker’s car. You hand her the now stuffed folder full of their important information, recommendations, report cards, numbers of new friends and recipes for new favorite foods. One final wave, and they’re gone. You go inside, and you’re free to cry now. You feel the loss of someone you’ve loved. You know that you’ll hold them close to your heart forever, and they will never be forgotten. You’ve helped another soul, and that brings comfort when it is not an easy or a celebrated goodbye. You get yourself motivated to make some dinner for your family when the phone rings. The familiar voice on the other end lets you know that it’s all about to start again, and you don’t hesitate to accept the challenge.
Written by Kelli Bock, current Foster Parent Advocate and foster/adoptive parent.