"It’s virtually impossible for training to totally prepare you for what will happen when that child enters your home—that’s where a lot of people get caught off guard."
Aurie Good is a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of five children, two biological, one adopted from foster care and two in the process of adopting from foster care. She has developed great strategies to help you keep your sanity while parenting and maintaining the mountain of paperwork required while fostering. She and her husband, Ken, have fostered 11 children during their nine years of foster parenting in New Jersey.
Getting Started in Foster Care
If you are a new foster parent or are interested in becoming a foster parent, Aurie has these suggestions for getting started:
Google “Foster Care” in your state – you’ll get a list of private and state foster care offices. The offices have different names in each state, but you’ll want the main number for Child Protective Services or the Division of Youth and Family Services or a similarly named department. Call the main number and tell the person who answers you want information on becoming a foster parent. There’s such a huge need for foster homes across the country, they’ll be very happy to talk with you.
What you’ll hear about first is a rundown of what foster care is: taking care of children who have been removed from their family for a variety of reasons. Then they’ll set up a resource contact person. You’ll have a massive amount of paperwork and information that needs to be provided, including: background check, fingerprinting, credit check, home safety check (with a fine-toothed comb!), criminal background check, driving record, insurance records, past employers, online activity—everything in your life is open to investigation and scrutiny.
If, after hearing about all this paperwork, you still want to continue the process, the contact will talk with you about training. A specific number of hours are required (which, again, vary by state) for certification as foster parents—all of which will need to take place prior to any placements. In addition, a certain number of hours of ongoing education are required annually to keep your license current.
Why is it such an invasive process? Aurie explains that these agencies are responsible for the safety of children who have been removed from an unsafe environment. They are accountable legally for placing the children into a safe environment. “The logic behind all the background checks and all of the home visits is to make sure they can confidently say in a court of law that this child has been removed from an unsafe environment and placed into a safe and nurturing environment.”
What is Training Like?
Foster parent training is kind of like Parenting 101, especially if you’ve never had kids. If you have children already, it is likely to feel pretty redundant because the topics that are covered are pretty basic. Some specific topics may be included such as caring for abused, malnourished, or medically fragile children or dealing with various behavioral issues.
However, Aurie cautions, “It’s virtually impossible for training to totally prepare you for what will happen when that child enters your home—that’s where a log of people get caught off guard.” The state’s objective is to provide tools to equip you for when that child enters your home, but the training will certainly not be able to cover all the possible scenarios you may face with the child or children who comes to your home simply because each child, each situation is unique.
At times, the training even seems rather clinical. Aurie remembers the way instructors discussed various diagnoses and explained medical conditions and labels, because every child comes with a label. At first she felt badly that the child, regardless of age, was already labeled, but now she realizes it’s helpful to have the label because it helps you know what you’re dealing with and what services will need to be provided for the child.
If you’re willing to take special needs children (“special needs” being a very broad label for a variety of situations), you will likely need additional training. For example, all of the children Aurie and Ken have fostered have been medically fragile. But even then, she admits the training was pretty basic: making sure you know CPR and how to resuscitate a child, taking care of a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter and similar circumstances. When it comes to calling the pediatrician or specialist, as for any child, it largely depends on you. “Trust your gut and advocate, advocate, advocate for the child,” Aurie suggests. Sometimes children who come into your care won’t have accurate records or information—if something feels off, have it checked out.
Home Study and Placement
After the initial paperwork and training comes the home study. “This feels very invasive,” Aurie warns. A licensing person comes to your home and has the right to open anything—they can investigate every nook and cranny. You will be asked pages of questions, some of which are repetitive, some of which may
not seem to have anything to do with caring for children. Even though it’s a tedious process, you just have to remember that it’s for the kids—to make sure your home is safe.
Once the home study is complete, you wait to get your license. How long depends on the need and the backlog in the agency that issues the license. Once you get your license, you are eligible to get a call for a placement. Finally!
Getting “The Call”
Waiting for a call for a placement can be nerve-wracking, and when the call finally comes, Aurie has several tidbits of advice, the most important being, Don’t say “yes” right away. Instead, ask these questions:
- How old is the child?
- Why is the child being removed from his/her home (if they can tell you)
- Can the child be placed with other children?
- When would the child arrive?
- Are there any special circumstances or information that you as a foster parent would need to know? (e.g., medical needs, school, transportation, visitation)
- What are logistics of visits? Will you be required to drive a significant distance or to a different city?
Ask the basic questions so that you’re equipped and so that you and your family can make an informed decision that’s best for your family. Have the questions written down so that you don’t forget—then calmly tell the agency worker you will get back with your answer within 24-36 hours or so.
Other questions to consider
How much information do you get about the kids? — Aurie says it ranges from “more than I ever wanted to know” to “not nearly enough.” A lot depends on the case, the caseworker and even the biological parents. The information they have provided may not be accurate or they may not be willing to provide some information.
For example, Aurie explains that medical records are not accurate because the birth parents don’t know or don’t want to tell. She advises to double and triple check medical details about the child. Additionally, children aren’t born knowing what they can’t do—they have the innate ability to push through everything and make it what they can. So while there may be a lot of unknowns, Aurie says, “You can live in fear of the unknown or you can step out in faith.”
What if my spouse isn’t on board? – This is the number one question Aurie hears and her response is simply that spouses need to be on the same page. “Foster care is very stressful. I don’t think it can be done successfully unless both parties are on the same page.”
How much time do you get to prepare for a placement? – “Usually not a lot!” she laughs. Sometimes 12 hours, sometimes the child is sitting in a car or the agency office. The tricky part is that there isn’t a good way to give a lot of notice in most circumstances. “The state has to wait until they actually have custody before they can call foster parents for placement. So it seems like it’s always at mealtimes or late at night!”
What’s it like for a child to come into your home? – There’s a lot of fear and overwhelming joy—fear of the unknown, which is thankfully overwhelmed by the joy. “They just need someone to pour into them,” she says. And the honeymoon period is awesome—for the first few weeks, everyone is on their best behavior and gets along, which is good, because it can be a blur of appointments with caseworkers, physicians, specialists, school teachers, home visits, sibling/parent/family visits—you go from 0 to 90, so the first few weeks go really fast.
How much information do you get about the child’s family? – You don’t usually get much information about the birth family. One strategy is to ask a direct yes/no questions that the caseworker can answer without sharing personal information. Some foster parents look on Facebook or other social media to find out what they can. If you do have contact with the biological family, it’s important to develop a good relationship, especially if reunification is the plan.
How do your biological children handle being a foster sibling? – Aurie’s daughters were very young when they got their first foster placement, so they’ve grown up with it. But it’s still hard at times. Aurie suggests giving them just enough information—keep it simple and positive. Don’t sugarcoat the truth, but details aren’t necessary. Aurie and her husband also try to be very upfront about where the child is likely to end up as soon as they know what’s going on. And they make the transition as exciting and positive as they can. Usually their children are happy because they know how hard a family has worked for reunification to happen. Foster care is a very normal, positive part of their daughters’ lives—they include adoption and fostering in their play and they often tell others about it.
Experienced foster parents know, and new foster parents learn very quickly, that they should have a binder for each child’s information. And everything needs to be documented—medication, education, early intervention, visit records—there’s a lot of information that needs to be captured and recorded. Through the years, Aurie has developed a binder with pdf documents that enables her to keep everything together in one place and organized. The best part is that she’s more than happy to share! You can find the forms here.
Encouragement for New or Discouraged Foster Parents
“I get the fear and uncertainty and wondering if you’ve made the right decision in saying ‘yes’ to foster care,” says Aurie. When things are hard, she suggests, “All you need to remember is that, what is important, is that you’re going to say ‘yes’ every morning: ‘Yes, I’m going to get up and take care of this child and love on this child today.’”
Hopefully, this episode has helped you right where you are on your foster care journey. That’s the goal. If you enjoyed it, will you tell others?
The best way to do that is to rate the podcast on Apple Podcasts and leave us a brief review! Your ratings and reviews help us get this podcast in front of new listeners. Your feedback also lets us know how we can better serve you. Thank you so much!
Meet Our Guest
Aurie and her husband, Ken, are the parents of five children, three who were adopted from foster care. She offers honest, reality based perspective and information about fostering, homeschooling and being who you were created by God to be on her website, ourgoodfamily.org. A self-proclaimed organizational “nut,” she has found being organized is an important sanity saver when working with the foster care system and all its requirements. She and her family live in New Jersey.
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