*Ahem* Is this thing on? I have a big announcement to make. Mr. and Mrs. FullTimeFinance are now licensed foster parents. This post will explore why we chose foster care and the financial/emotional impacts of that decision.
Considering Adding Another Child
Over the last few years my wife and I have considered adding another child to our household. We have two boys already, one 7 and one 4. And yet my wife really wanted one more child. Perhaps it was just the motherly instinct. Perhaps it was that she worked full time for the first year of both our two boys lives and this time she could be home. In any case, she convinced me to consider adding one more to our family.
A Decision: Adoption or Foster Care
And yet we are not in a position to have another biological child for various private health reasons. So having that 3rd child would require some sort of adoption. That really left us with a choice, foster to adopt or private adoption.
Why We Did Not Choose Private Adoption
We first looked at private adoption but this quickly went out the window. The first reason we dropped private adoption is psychological. I’ll be honest I’m not entirely sure how we will get on full time with another child. A foster child gives us an opportunity to see whether a child will work well in our home over a foster period rather than committing to a lifetime. (Note: my wife does not agree or like my phrasing of this “psychological reason”, but I feel it was important to include as one of my main concerns over a 3rd child is already feeling overwhelmed with 2).*
Why We Chose Foster Care
The second reason we chose to foster, if I’m honest, is cost. If you’ve checked how much it costs to adopt a child these days via private adoption you know it is in the $30K range. While we want another child both myself and my wife agree we’re not missing that third child to the tune of $30K. Meanwhile in a foster to adopt adoption scenario is nearly free. The quote I heard from the local agencies was around $35 for paperwork.
The third reason is really all about helping the children. Time to get a bit personal. My wife has a family member that was adopted and so do I. So adoption is a big part of who we are. Private adoptions in the US seem to be fairly well serviced, hence the cost mentioned above. But very few people take in foster children.
They don’t want to deal with the trauma a child has experienced. That trauma is very real and can make dealing with a foster child more of a challenge. But, on the flip side, you are really helping out a child that really needs your help. A little boy or girl that might otherwise end up in the system for the rest of their life. There’s definitely an altruistic aspect to it all.
Foster Care Costs
Add to that everything that child needs while under foster care is essentially covered by the state. Medical care, clothes, even a food stipend follows the child through foster care. Some despicable people even foster children as a form of income. That leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth to even say. In fact, it seemed like some of the foster programs are set up around income incentives. Honestly, that is not why we are doing this. However, if this leads to adoption with little to no financial cost to us, then I’m all for it.
We Chose to Foster Babies Under 1
We have chosen to foster a baby or infant under 1. Why so young? Well, our youngest is only 4. We want a child younger than him. Also, my wife really wants to experience the baby phase again. I’ve heard a few murmurings from those outside the system that getting a baby might be difficult. However, in talking to the state I gather that is a remanent of a time in the past. Sadly, due to the current US opioid crisis they have an abundance of babies. It truly is sad, though it does mean we probably won’t be waiting long for a charge to arrive.
Permanency Versus Reunification In Foster Care
But what about concerns of being on hold to move to the adoption phase forever? It’s a common myth of foster children that you could be in limbo over whether you can adopt the foster child forever. This use to be true, but in many states, like my own, they’ve made some changes.
Within the first year of a child entering the foster system, many states require a hearing called a permanency hearing. All fostering situations start with a goal of reunification: reuniting a foster child with their birth parents. A permanency hearing is the point when a decision is made to switch that goal from reunification to getting that child adopted. Thus, within the first year with a new child, we are guaranteed a review to determine whether the foster situation is heading towards adoption.
Having Our Choices and Limitations Heard
Add to that as part of the foster care setup in most states you are encouraged to have your limitations heard. So if we say we are open to adoption, then the foster care groups will generally tend to send us a child that is more likely to be placed permanently. There is, of course, no guarantees, but it also increases the chances of adoption being the end result. We’ve decided for all the reasons above there is little to no risk. At worst case, a child will benefit from having a safe loving home while they stay with us.
Other limitations also are considered by agencies. Let’s be honest. My family couldn’t handle a severely disabled child in our current life. We just don’t have the capacity. We could handle a child with a short term delay or moderate trauma. So those are the kids we told the agency we would consider. The decision is on us to decide what we can handle. Children with opioid dependency, for example, tend to have short term issues, but also if addressed early do not tend to have lasting disabilities. A child with this type of issue might be a good fit for our family. A child with something more severe may not be.
The Impact of Foster Care on Traveling
I’ve written on a few comments that our international travel may decline somewhat in the near term. While you can apply for a passport for a child in your care, in general for major trips you need the birth parents permission or approval from the judge to take a foster child with you. There is no guarantee this will be forthcoming. If we did not receive approval and decided that it was important for the rest of the family to take a particular trip, we would have to place the child in respite care.
Respite care is a situation where you leave them with another foster family while you travel. The foster care agency will allow small periods of respite in a year. To be honest I can’t see us taking a vacation without a foster child and leaving them in respite care. That just seems jarring for a little one who is already experiencing a lot of upheaval in their life. Instead, we expect we will have a period of more domestic travel and shorter trips.
Prudent Parenting Law and Short Day Travel
In 2017, a new foster care law was passed by the federal government called prudent parenting. It allows foster parents to do things with their charges that would be normal for their family and would not require court or birth parent permission. Pre 2017 a simple day trip to my in-laws, the beach, or city across state lines would have required pre-approval. With the law for shorter trips we should be ok to stay at the beach for a day or 2 without needing to run through hoops every time, although we will notify the appropriate caseworkers for any trips across state lines regardless the duration of the trip. We’ll still ask permission for potential larger trips, but for now most of what we have planned in 19 will be shorter trips locally.
The Foster Care Process
So, once we decided to consider foster parenting what came next? Well, in our state we had to attend 10 training sessions, have our home inspected by the state, pass a background check, get a health test, and complete an in-home interview. We’ve completed all the tests at this point. I will comment here that the training for being a foster parent is very good. In some ways I’d wished we’d received those same sessions when we became parents rather than having to learn on our own, they are that good. So we felt it was a good use of time. The state also gives us a bit of a start-up stipend for the costs incurred during the initial steps. So really it’s just our time that we had to commit to.
Will We End Up Adopting?
Will we end up adopting or just being a foster parent? I don’t really know, it depends on what fate has in store. But based on what I know about my family the answer is it depends on the agency and birth parents, not us. As mentioned before, the goal of foster care is reunification, until it isn’t. As such, it is vital that we also support and work with the biological parents to make that a reality. However, I also know deep down once we have a child in our home if adoption is an option that child will stay. So, I will admit I’m fooling myself with the trial period stuff mentioned above. But on the flip side I really tend to undersell that strong positive feeling you get from helping a child in need to a more permanent life.
Our Current Foster Status
We’ll see how it all turns out. As of this posting we are on our second placement. Our first placement was moved to be with family after one week, and we’ve now had another placement for a few weeks. My original supposition that babies were more common is sadly correct.
One Final Note
One of the first rules of foster parenting is that you should not refer to your child as a foster child. You want to make them feel as welcome as possible. Being anonymous I feel ok to promote fostering as it really is a needed thing in our society. Anyone I tell about this activity in my everyday life I make clear should not refer to our new visitor as a foster child. We tried to be proactive about sharing that we would have foster children with family, friends, and regular acquaintances so that we would not be bombarded with questions in front of a new child. If you ever meet me in real life I ask that you maintain the same respect.
Is anyone else a foster parent?
*From a real-world perspective, any child we receive into our home will be treated the same as anyone else within our family for the time they are here. They receive the same love and care that our own biological children receive, and we introduce them as part of our family. Any child that is placed with us will then be part of our family from that point on adoption or not. IE even after any foster period there is a very real possibility you could remain in contact with that child over their lifetime. That is something you do need to be willing to accept when being a foster parent.