There has always seemed to be a great divide in blogging about foster care - the divide between foster parents and social workers. One side says they have the education, the experience, and the objectivity - so they know what is best for the child. The other side says they live with the child, they love the child, and they know them better than anyone else - so they know what is best for the child. Well, I'm about to find out which side I think is right soon enough!
I started the licensing process about eight months ago. I've wanted to be a parent all my life (at least as far back as I can remember). I have known I'd be a foster parent eventually since I was in college (long before I knew I'd be a social worker actually). So, when the events of last year made me think long and hard about HOW parenting would happen for me, I decided that now was the time to act. Even though I am still physically able to get pregnant, I decided I wasn't ready to take on that kind of single parenting yet. The idea of taking everything into my own hands, ruling out the idea of having a partner in concieving a child, just wasn't something I was prepared to do by myself. I haven't ruled it out forever, but at 33 years old I like to think I still have some time to spare. We will see if my body agrees with me and keeps fighting off any lingering cancer cells.
But I knew that holding off on becoming a parent just wasn't an option for me anymore. I've lived in two bedroom apartments for most of the last six years because I wanted to pursue foster care. But between changing jobs and a host of other reasons, I'd been making excuses for far too long. If there is one thing having cancer will teach you, it is that life is too short. The other thing it will teach you is who your friends really are.
I was lucky enough to learn that I have AWESOME friends.
So, boosted by the knowledge that I didn't want to waste anymore time and also by the certainty that I have pretty much the best support system in the world, I decided I could really do this single parenting thing.
I had the first "introductory" meeting in July. It was interesting to be "on the other side" of the table. The guy leading the meeting had a pretty relaxed approach, which normally I wouldn't mind but for a meeting with complete newbies it seemed a little too relaxed. He explained their different programs and the basics of what the process looked like. I tried very hard not to be critical, but I failed. All I could think was "this is what I'd do differently". ;)
The agency I'm licensed with is not the agency I work for - its a conflict of interest, so I also can't ever take kids that I've worked with in a professional capacity. So, I used my own knowledge of other agencies in the area and also asked around about my top choices. I asked lawyers at court, service providers that work with lots of agencies, and co-workers who have even worked at some of my picks. I finally chose my agency based on a few top factors:
1. They are a large agency, so I know that they have a high intake. This was important because I didn't want to wait around forever for a placement. Also, they are not a highly specialized agency, so I knew they would get a variety of kids in regards to age, needs, siblings, etc.
2. They are a well known agency with good standing with the state. This was important to me not only because I want my foster kiddos to have good people working with them, but also because in my state agencies who perform at higher standards get more intake. Also, I think that agencies who already have a good reputation work harder at keeping it good. (Can you tell that my worst fear as a foster parent is getting an idiot social worker? Cause it is.)
3. They are right around the corner from my house. As in literally only one turn and less than a mile. This was important because I know how often foster kids need to go to the agency. I drive by my licensing agency twice a day minimum already. So, I figured it would be easy for me to drive by and pick up kiddos from visits or appointments on my way to/from work. I also figured it would be good that the agency is close by because I know my foster kiddo's parents will know the area well enough for us to find some good meeting places if I'm able to supervise visits. In fact, there is park very close to my agency and my home that I really hope will be a fun visit spot someday.
4. They have both traditional and specialized foster care. This was important because it means they already have some idea of how to handle children with trauma and behavior issues. So, even though I don't think kiddos in my age range will be specialized, at least if something comes up they know how to deal with it. And it won't mean a change in agency if they do end up having to stepped up in the future. (I'll talk more about my age ranges and such in another post.)
There were other reasons, but those were highest on my priority list. I looked at websites and talked to people at a few others, but I only went to meetings at the one. I did the same thing with college and grad school. Once I make up my mind, it is made up for good apparently. :)
I'll get into my experience, my licesing homevisits, and my thoughts on our foster parent training in the next few posts. Feel free to ask any questions! I'm so glad to have this space to "talk things out" again. I've really missed it!