Foster Care: The First 30 Days
Disclaimer: The following information is based on Indiana DCS policy and my personal experiences...but don't let that stop you. Read on, because if you have even a twinge of curiosity, this may answer a lot of questions.
So, you are curious about foster care. Great! Without a doubt, we need more quality foster parents.
Let’s just be frank. Fostering children WILL be an intrusion on your life. The good comes with the bad. I still feel that with all that you are about to read, fostering is the biggest blessing in my life next to having children of my own. You need to know what to expect when you welcome foster children into your home.
DCS (Department of Child Services) requires quite a lot for the children in care…as they should. Know that when you first receive a placement (new foster child), you will be a busy bee for the first month. My experience has held true to the cycle that life always normals out near the end of their first month with you.
DCS Requirements for the First 30 Days of a Placement
I will tell you that it is NEVER this simple. Many times, depending on the reason for removal, there are numerous doctor visits for follow up care for physical/sexual abuse or multiple dental visits for a mouth full of cavities or tooth damage. Also, many children come without up-to-date vaccinations. You may make several trips just for this. Your first month will be loaded, especially if your placement is a sibling group.
In Indiana, we are expected to maintain a Medical Passport, which is a journal for logging medical visits. I find it easiest to keep printed documents on file. Just ask the nurse to print a report summary for the visit. If the doctor finds anything unusual, document it in an email. I also encourage you to use the child's initials in correspondence rather than their name just in case you find your email hacked. This way confidential information isn't being viewed by others. You will also want to send an email update to the Case Worker, CASA/GAL (court appointed child advocate) and therapist. It's always a good rule of thumb to send update emails to all three individuals so everyone remains informed.
All foster children will come to you with State funded health insurance. Your out of pocket expenses will be minimal. You may have to purchase over the counter medication, but all prescriptions and medical fees are covered.
You will also need to make sure the children begin school ASAP. In many cases, the children attend the same school. State policies require school districts to transport children to their home school whenever possible.
If you are too far or if the case worker grants permission, you can enroll the child in your local school district. All efforts will be made to minimally intrude on the child’s life. If they can attend the same school, they will.
Also, foster children automatically qualify for free school breakfast, lunch, textbook rental assistance and field trip fee assistance. Supply fees are rarely covered.
If a child has just come into care, you should be given a Clothing Voucher for the child. This is a document you give to the designated department store to get a certain dollars worth of clothing for the child. This is generally $200-250 per child. This doesn't go very far, but it certainly helps. If the child is transferring from a previous foster home, they should bring all of their clothing and personal belongings.
In most cases, children will have weekly, court ordered visitations with parents and/or siblings. In most situations, visitations will take place at a supervising facility or with a therapeutic visitation supervisor. Generally, you will drop the children off for 2-4 hour visits that will be supervised by a trained supervisor. These visits have strict guidelines for what can and can’t be discussed. Notes will be taken regarding the visit and they are generally summarized for the judge to show how the parents interact with their children. In some cases, these notes are used to show whether a parent is demonstrating their ability to correct their children’s behavior and parent their children. Visits are mandatory. They are court ordered and if you miss them frequently, you will be explaining yourself to a DCS supervisor or to the judge. It is your responsibility to transport the children to and from visits.
Therapy and Transportation
Nearly every child will be required to attend therapy. These sessions are generally once a week. Therapy can be an intrusion on your time, but it doesn’t have to be. My #1 tip in this department is to request school based or home based therapy. This will help your family stay on a schedule and provide the most normalcy for your family.
School based therapy allows the therapist to pull the child out of class or lunch once a week for therapy. You will have to attend an intake appointment and occasionally they may request a family therapy session with the child and foster parents, but for the most part, your interaction with the therapist will be over the phone or over email.
Home based therapy enables the therapist to visit the child at your home; weekly or bi-weekly. I do not mind this at all (in theory, it helps me keep my house tidy). Home based therapy is great because the child can be observed in their state of natural play or the therapist can opt to take them out for ice cream etc. Again, it does intrude on your family time, but it is the best time saver option next to school based therapy for maintaining a normal evening schedule for your family.
If school based or home based are not options, then you will have to transport children to therapy.
Part of the state funding for foster children includes mileage reimbursement. You are reimbursed at the state rate for every mile you drive over 164 miles in a 30 day month. The per diem (state funding) for foster children states that part of mileage is the responsibility of the foster parent. 5.3ish miles per day are already included in the per diem you are given for caring for the children. Some months you do not use that many miles, but generally you do the first month with all the appointments. You can only claim mileage for medical, required school meetings, trainings, trips to your agency or DCS, visitations etc. You cannot claim mileage for extra-curriculars or optional school events.
Within the first 30 days or anytime after, you may also be asked to transport the child to a facility where they will be interviewed about their abuse. This interview is for legal purposes and is conducted by trained professionals who specialize in youth interviews. You will not be allowed to enter the interview room. Generally, this is the statement that children give for court so they do not have to testify. However, older youth and sometimes younger children are still expected to testify should the need arise.
Case Worker Visits
DCS Case Workers are required to visit with children once a month. Don’t be surprised if they ask to speak to the child privately for part of the visit. This is a safeguard so children can be honest if they are uncomfortable speaking freely in front of the foster parent.
Behavior and Teaching
Expect to teach, reteach and repeat over and over and over again.
It amazes me that almost every child that has been placed with us does not know how to wash themselves and/or brush their teeth properly. Once the kids get a little more acclimated to your home or if you notice a trend, you may have to teach them how to wash and brush their teeth.
Regarding behavior, set your house expectations (rules) beginning day 1. Do not wait. I generally begin when we are in the car on the way home. As I drive, I tell the kids about me, my hubs and our children and pets. I always tell them one thing they can look forward to. i.e. we have a huge “movie theater” in our basement and they can watch movies like in a theater (this is simply a projector on a wall, but kids think it’s super cool).
I also explain our house rules and share the big No-No’s in our home. The #1 No-No is that we give one another privacy and we never, ever talk about people’s body parts or touch their personal body parts. I also tell them the other rules such as no hitting or speaking unkindly to one another. I make these positive statements to the children i.e. “We always speak to one another with respect and we are kind. We expect that from you as well.” I don’t bring up consequences until we have an incident and it’s generally within the first couple of days.
Consequences do not come into play for the first week until I have taught and retaught and reminded many times or unless a major incident (such as hitting) takes place. The first week is spent reminding the children of my expectations and I will make comments like, “Sarah, I have told you several times that you may not say shut up. You have lived here for 5 days now and I know that you understand this. The next time you say shut up, you will sit in time out.” Then, enforce it…every time.
Keep in mind, some children may never have been disciplined well. By discipline, I mean discipline by definition…TEACHING. Many have been screamed at, beaten or been allowed to run wild. You will spend a great deal of time teaching and reteaching. You cannot spank or use corporal punishment with foster children. Above all, be fair in all you do. Do not have one set of rules for your children and another set for your foster children. They are members of your family even if just for a season of their life.
Regarding food, you may find yourself teaching children table manners and etiquette. For the first week, stick to the diet they are used to in their home. Ask them what their family usually eats and make it or buy the fast food. Food will be a huge comfort to them this first week. They are nervous, scared and uncomfortable. Having one thing familiar will be comforting. So make the Ramen Noodles, macaroni and cheese, "crap in a can" (as I call it) or get them McDonald's. Teaching healthy eating, manners and etiquette will take time. Yes, you will want to move them away from a diet that consists mainly of these foods, but there is no rush. Slowly introduce a more healthy lifestyle and more healthy food choices.
The best thing you can expect is that you are giving these children great memories of being safe and well loved. Many children in care have not been on vacations. Many have not traveled or experienced the ocean or a roller coaster. You have the opportunity to give them amazing memories. You can give them great Christmas and birthday memories. You will cherish these memories and you will feel great pride knowing you have given them memories to last a lifetime. Your souls will be forever connected because of the time you invest into your kids.
I hope this article hasn’t scared you off. You need to understand what will be expected of you. Also, please know that you will be very fatigued the first few weeks. This is a HUGE change for you as well. If you find yourself doubting this decision to foster, I urge you to carry on. Around the one month mark, they begin to feel like they are yours. Life normals and you forget what life was like without them. Generally, the deep, inner work begins around one month.
Again, fostering can be very intrusive. It’s a huge life change, but there are huge blessings that come along with it.
You’ve got this.
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