Thursday, January 19, 2012

How to become a foster family

I don't care if people know we're a foster family except that I've been told my position as a pastor might compel others to support foster care by writing about it. How's that for an introduction?

We became a foster family a tad over three years ago.  I prefer to think of a couple becoming "foster parents" as better described as a "foster family".  You are providing a family situation for a child who cannot have one for some reason.  It could be a long term placement, or just a few days or weeks.  In our three years we have had 8 different foster children in our home, with one of those children being the little girl we have had for almost two years.  In our case, we have our own children (three boys), so all the more reason to think of ourselves as a foster family.  Our boys are just as involved with the children as we are.  Further, my mother, who lives close to us, is also very involved in the life of our family, and with those foster children we may have.  We are a foster family.  It really has to be that way, in my opinion. Every family member has to be called to this ministry.

How do you become a foster family?  I don't know about every state, but in Kansas, here is how it works-

1.  MAPP Class. If you are a couple, both must take a class called MAPP.  MAPP stands for Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting (MAPP).  MAPP class is the state required training course to be certified as a foster or adoptive parent in Kansas.  I think this is true for most states.  The class is usually offered somewhere in the evening, one night a week for ten weeks.  Each class is 3 hours long.  It basically covers every aspect of foster parenting.  In Kansas there are several foster/adoption agencies that provide the class.  The agency we use is TFI. Another agency in the KC area is KVC.   Contact either place to find out when and where the next MAPP classes will be held.

2. Get Licensed. After completing MAPP class, you must contract with a foster/adoptive agency to become licensed.  These are different from private adoption agencies.  TFI and KVC mentioned above are  private foster/adoption agencies that contract with the state (SRS is the state agency) to train and provide foster and adoptive resources.  We contracted with TFI who helped us through the foster/adoption licensing process.  The licensing process includes a state approved "Home Study" conducted by an agency assigned social worker.  The Home Study is an extensive analysis and overview of your home situation (family dynamics and your actual physical house) that is used to determine if you are qualified to be a foster parent. Like us, you may have to make some physical modifications to your home in order to be licensed. There is quite a bit of paper work involved in licensing, the process can take 3-6 months.  Your agency will walk you through the whole process very helpfully.  TFI has been a great agency to work with.  In your licensing process, you will have the opportunity to choose what age span you want to be licensed for.  This depends partly on your Home Study results.  In our case, we opted for an age 0-5 license.  There are personal reasons for this which I'll address in an upcoming post.  If you are open and qualified, you can license in a way that steers unusual medical condition placements to you.

You can reasonably expect the whole process of becoming a licensed foster family to take a minimum of 9 months.  MAPP class is usually a three month commitment (unless you take an accelerated schedule) and Home Study/Licensing takes 3-6 months (more likely, 6 months).

3.  Start taking placements.  Once you are licensed, your agency will begin calling you as new children come in to the foster system.  You will get a phone call from a call center, which could come at any time, night or day, and be asked if you can take a placement.  The call center will give you all the immediate information they have so you can decide, but it's not usually too exhaustive.  We got a call saying they had a young toddler with "some burns".  We said "yes".  He turned out to have severe burns over 30% of his body and required quite a bit of medical attention.  We're very glad we said yes, but it was a pretty challenging situation we didn't know was coming. You never have to take a particular placement.  You decide on a call by call, situation by situation basis.  I will write my thoughts on how to decide on what placements you take in a future post.  It took us a while to get our first placement, but once we did, we had regular placements for over a year before we took in our current foster child, who was a newborn at the time.  There are different kinds of placement lengths, some are known to be long term, some are short "respite"care cases (where you relieve another foster family for a week or so), some might be a medium length stay.  In all cases, there will be challenging situations that have caused the child or children to come in to foster care.  Foster care is not for the faint of heart and people who are easily alarmed or freaked out are probably not best suited for this kind of ministry.  More on that in a future post.  

On one hand, becoming a foster family is straight forward.  On the other hand, it involves some time, quite a bit of tedium, and some privacy intrusion.  If you are one of those anti-government types, you won't like various state agents and social workers popping in and out regularly.  If you practice something like spanking (as we do with our own children), you have to be willing to agree not to use such discipline with a foster child.  Obviously such a thing will create an interesting dynamic in your home if you have children of your own.

In a post coming soon, I'll share some of our personal experiences and perspectives and give some humble advice to those who are contemplating becoming a foster family.  One thing is for sure, and a reason why you don't see me posting on our foster family experience too much- no one should be guilted in to doing this ministry.  Being a foster family makes you NO more spiritual than any other Christian.  Foster care is not for everyone in the church, but everyone in the church should be supportive.  Yes, I think more should consider it than probably are, but it's not something that should become a test of spirituality or a means to be proud.  It's a calling that will basically feel natural and not require constant attention and acknowledgement from others..

Posts on foster care coming soon:

The motivation for being a foster family
Determining which foster placements you should take
Foster care as a family calling and ministry
Foster care to adoption

1 comment:

Woody Woodward said...

My dear brother, you and Shari have set some wonderful standards, and what a blessing to see other Redeemer familes heed His call to become a foster family. Some great info here and I am sure others will read and seek His face and His wisdom on such a call.