After my first home study visit and as I started my licensing trainings, I couldn't stop thinking about life would actually be like for me as a single foster parent. I've been imagining being a foster parent for years and I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I would be open to accepting as placements.
But truthfully, my daydreams usually involved being married first. Having a partner in this adventure. Someone to bounce ideas off of and someone to share in the responsibilities. Also, I always imagined having a second income to help out! Not having those things ended up shaping my decisions more than I realized it would in the beginning.
Originally, I thought I would be open to any child under age 10 - preferably looking at children who had some emotional or behavioral challenges. I also thought I could handle up to three kids. The age was somewhat arbitrary - 10 seemed like a reasonable age for a parent MY age. None of my friends have kiddos quite that old - but I figured that having a 10 year old at 33 didn't seem too crazy. I was open, and even embraced the idea of having children with some emotional/behavioral issues because that is what I have worked with most often over the years. I am good at working with those types of issues and am pretty confident in my ability to handle some of the harder aspects of working with children from traumatic backgrounds. And I really wanted to be open to sibling groups - so three kids seemed do-able for someone with my daycare, camp and foster care experience.
But as I started thinking more critically about my life, my support system, the logistics of being a single parent, and in general how things would play out - well, things changed quite a bit.
First, I began researching schools and daycares in my area. I don't work far from home, but far enough that it took over an hour during some of our worst winter weather last year. So, I decided that if at all possible I'd rather that Future Foster Kiddo (FFK) should be in daycare close to my job. That way if weather is bad or some other problem comes up, at least it is easy for me to get to them quickly. Then I began to think about what I would do in cases of emergencies - not with the kiddo, but emergencies with me.
My job isn't nearly as crisis oriented as it was when I was a caseworker, but there are still occasionally days when I get stuck out in the field or at court or dealing with some other crisis that involves working past six. Heck, it could be something as simple as just being stuck traffic during rush hour. But once I started thinking about emergencies and child care, I began thinking about all the other things that could go wrong too.
What if my FFK gets hurt at school?
What if they are sick a lot?
What if I get sick?
What if I have to be hospitalized again?
What if, what if, what if?
For a few days I was pretty paralyzed with fear. (It probably didn't help that there were some health scares going on during this time too.) Then I remembered that great support system and wonderful group of friends and loved ones that I knew I could rely on in tough times.
And I realized I had to stop thinking about how I was doing this "all alone".
And while that was a very relieving thought, it also meant I had to stop thinking just about what I could handle. I had to think about my friends and family and what they could handle. I have seen SO MANY placements fall apart because the foster parents' support system couldn't handle it. So, I had to completely rethink my limits as far as placements go.
I also had to think long and hard about my limits as far as short term/long term/adoption/reunification goes. Again, I struggled with my values as a social worker - one who believes strongly in children being stable in foster care and working with parents towards reunification. And my selfishness - the part of me that wants to be a parent.
Here is what I settled on:
1. Ages - 5 and under, with some wiggle room for placing siblings together. The majority of this decision came from looking at my support system and realizing that all the people that I would ask for childcare help have very young children - as in mostly under 3 years old. I knew that they would be happy to watch a baby or a toddler. They would probably even be okay with a preschooler. But asking my friends, with their own little ones to think of, to take on an older child (with unknown life experiences) just seemed too risky. For them, for me, but mostly for any future foster kiddos. I want my friends and loved ones to embrace and love my FFKs like they would my own children. So, I feel a lot of pressure to set everyone up for success.
2. Emotional/behavioral - on a case by case basis. With the under 5 age limit, I think the likelihood of getting a call for a "spec" child is lower in general. There are some issues that I would still say "yes" to but there are others that I'd have to say no. I realize that anything could happen as a child grows up, and I would never want to have to disrupt a placement. So, I am hoping and praying that accepting younger children also will mean being able to intervene and work through issues early, before they become major problems. Only time will tell.
3. Up to two children - but with a preference of having one child placed at a time. Its actually my dream placement to have one child placed and then have another sibling at a later time. (Like in the case of an "add on" new baby.) I wasn't strict about it, and I made it clear to Tara that I wanted to be open to siblings. But realistically, I want to make sure I'm getting the swing of this single parent thing too!
4. Just to round things out - I have no racial/cultural restrictions and only a slight gender preference. I told her not to rule out either gender but did let her know that I have always wanted a little girl. So, I did ask that I not get a call for two boys - unless there was some reason they thought I'd be a perfect placement.
5. Permanency - this was the hardest one. But at the end of the day, even though I really want to be a parent, I know that I couldn't live with myself if I didn't know for sure that any children that end up with me permanently really NEEDED a forever home. I want to be part of the process, to help work towards reunification, and to build relationships with parents. I want to make sure that if FFK can not be reunified that it wasn't because his/her parents weren't given a chance. And, if I do end up adopting, I really want to have a relationship already established so that it can continue. You all know how I feel about open adoption. So, I am open to any goal - including both reunification and adoption. I basically told Tara that I want a child who will stay with me until they go home. And if they can not return home, they will stay with me forever.
I still second guess a lot of my parameters quite often. Just the other day I had to stop myself from emailed Tara and telling her that I really wanted two at a time. Sometimes it is hard to watch workers struggle to find homes for kids at my own agency and not pick up the phone to tell Tara that I will take that type of child or siblings. My heart really goes out to some of our older children, or sibling groups of three plus, etc. But I really want to ensure that any children who are placed with me are a good fit for my life, my support system, and that I never have to contribute to children being bounced around in care.
So, that is where things stand now! It is hard not to spend my days daydreaming about my Future Foster Kiddo(s). Its not all picture perfect in my head - but I am very optimistic!