"Two weeks," I replied.
"Two weeks!? Wow. You don't look like you just gave birth two weeks ago."
Well, that's a relief.
I don't usually advertise the fact that he's my foster son, but to escape the lie that I squeeze into regular jeans 14 days after childbirth, my conscience demanded that I fess up. After I explained, again, (because I've repeated this scenario a dozen times since he joined our crew) came all the questions.
But honestly, I don't mind the questions. Answering them is a platform of sorts. A chance to talk about what we've learned and promote the big, big need for foster parents. It's an opportunity to educate and dispel myths on a subject I've become passionate about. So bring 'em on. My guess is that since strangers and church members and best friends and everyone in between have questions about how fostering works, others might too.
Disclaimer: This will undoubtedly be my driest and dullest post. (We can hope, anyway). I operate more in the realm of storytelling and persuasion and anything that involves emotion. Straight facts with little commentary give me flashbacks to writing research papers. The horror. I get all worked up about being inaccurate and incorrect and saying something that will make social workers revoke my foster license.
But I can well remember the hours I spent online when we began considering foster care. It was a huge unknown. In all my life, I've never had a personal relationship with someone who was a foster parent, or a foster child. I had no framework of experience through which to filter my questions, no one to ask about the process, no flesh and blood person to fill me in on what life might look like if we took the foster care route. And the greatest desire I had was for information on this great unknown. Trying to wade through government sites of garbally gook was barely helpful. What I needed was someone to answer my questions in everyday language and give me real life examples.
So in the spirit of providing information for those who are curious, or considering foster care, I give you the following questions I get most often and how I usually answer them.
(Keep in mind, I'm usually less sarcastic to people's faces.)
Question #1 - Are you going to keep him?
As if it were that simple. The short answer is, "We have no idea."
By it's very nature, fostering is designed to be temporary. The long term plan for most children who are brought into custody is for reunification with the birth parent(s). The child is not an orphan and parental rights have not been terminated, therefore the child is not currently adoptable. His parents aren't dead-just unable to care for him due to abuse, neglect, or failure to provide. So the Child Protective Services places him/her in a foster home with the hope that they will only be in custody until the parents are deemed able to care for the child again. Of course, in cases of extreme abuse, the plan is not for reunification.
So, when a child comes into foster care, most of the time they are not up for adoption. They may eventually become adoptable (more about that later) but for the time, the state has custody and a temporary placement (foster home) is found until they are returned to their home, to a close family member, or become adoptable.
When the social worker asked us if we wanted to foster our new addition, we knew that our future with him was highly uncertain. He may be with us a short while, many months or his status may change at some point to adoptable. At which time we would sign on the dotted line. But at this point, only One knows "if we are going to keep him."
Question #2 - How long will you have him?
Pretty much the same answer as #1. There is no way for us to know. The biological mom has 14 days from the time he was brought into care to name relatives she would like to be considered as a family resource-someone in the family who could take custody of him. After a family resource is named, DHR begins the process of determining if that person is able/fit to take him. They look at many of the same things that were considered for our foster care license- home inspection, income, background check, interest in the child, etc. This process takes several weeks, more if the family resource lives across county lines. If the family resource checks out as a good option for him, he may only be with us 4 weeks or so.
If the family resource does not get permission for custody, then he will potentially stay with us until he is either reunified with his birth mom, or he becomes adoptable.
Question #3 - Why was he removed from his parents?
Can't talk about it. Not as in, it's too emotional. But for confidentiality purposes. This little guy doesn't need that aspect of his story shared with the masses. Some people don't know how to respect the delicacy of that information. In order to protect him, and his birth parents, we keep this (generally) to ourselves.
Question #4 - What are the chances he will go back to his biological mom?
It depends entirely on her. If she does all the things the court has asked her to do, the chances are high. Alabama believes (in theory anyway) in the preservation of families. In other words, the court system and human resources work to reunify children with their families. But the road to that actuality is very difficult for many parents. The cycle of sin is nearly impossible to break for countless moms and dads who have had their children taken away. It is obvious to me that our little guy's mom loves him. The question is, can or will she take all the steps necessary to earn the confidence of the social workers and court system.
Question #5 - At what point would you be able to adopt him?
The general guideline is to give birth parents one year to get their act together. If the parents do not meet all the court orders and deadlines during those 12 months, the court will (usually)begin a "permanent plan" for the child. In order for our little one to become adoptable, the court would have to terminate parental rights. However, some courts are more inclined to do that than others. Many simply want to give the birth parents every reasonable chance to get their child back. Which means the child is in foster care for longer. If parental rights are terminated, we would get first dibs on adopting him. Even if he does become adoptable after that year (or so) the process to adopt takes time too.
We're relatively new to this whole process and still have loads to learn. My perspectives and answers to these questions may change dramatically as we actually live this thing out. If you are a seasoned foster care veteran, by all means share your answers to these questions in the comments field. The educational process is fluid and we need your input! If you're a rookie like me and curious about a question I didn't address, ask that too.