As a trainer of the foster parent training program in my home state, I have observed prospective foster families who wonder what the first call for placement will be. Often, they are scared to say ‘no’ for fear it will put them on a blacklist or something like that. However, they recognize that their eagerness to foster a child might cause them to say ‘yes’ to a placement with whom they might end up not being best-suited.
Although trainers try to prepare families for the world of foster parenting, it is really hard to give a real-life depiction of it in the classroom setting. Many families are sure of the age range, gender, and how many kids they can foster, but they are often unsure about specifics such as the type and extent of abuse and neglect the child has been through, how the child is functioning, struggles both in the home and outside of the home, and the expectations of the team.
To assist with the decision to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when one gets a phone call, here is a list of questions to ask the social worker before placement. It is important to keep in mind that with brand new cases (meaning new kids coming to foster care), the social worker may not know the answers yet; still, it is okay to ask.
- What caused this child to enter foster care? Type of abuse? How long has it been occurring?
- What is the age of the child and how does he/she function at that age? Any developmental delays?
- Are there siblings? Is the plan to get the siblings placed together at some point in the same home?
- Does the child have any allergies to medication, food or animals? Any special diet? What formula does the baby use?
- What is the gender of the child? (Believe it or not, I know families who accepted placement for children with gender-neutral names but forget to ask the gender!)
- Will the child come with clothing and other items or do we need to purchase them?
- When is the next meeting? Court date? Where and the time for both?
- Does the child have visitation with biological parents or any other family member? If so, will we need to transport the child?
- Are there any family members being assessed for taking the child? If so, what is the timeline for completion and a possible move?
- Who are the attorneys (GAL and parents’ attorneys)? Who is the juvenile office (if assigned one depending on how your local courts handle the cases? Who will be the primary caseworker?
- What size does the child wear in clothing, shoes, and diapers (if applicable)?
- Does the child attend school or daycare? If so, where? Would we need to switch schools or if possible, can the child stay at his/her current school?
- Who is the child’s dentist, doctor, therapist or another specialist?
- Why is the child disrupting from his/her current placement? (Note: Only ask if a child is currently in care and experiencing a move.)
- Are there any special considerations that we need to know? (E.g. Does the child have a history of sexually acting out? Does the child do well with other children or animals? Is child fearful of men or women?)
- Does the child have any triggers or fears that we need to be aware?
- Is there anything else that we need to be aware?
Foster parents are often asked to take in children who are coming straight out of their homes due to abuse and neglect. It can be a difficult transition for the children as well as for the foster family. Do not be afraid to ask questions! If you know in your heart that you would not be able to meet a child’s needs, it is okay to say ‘no.’ It is better to say no at the beginning than to have a child move into your home only to disrupt.
Saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to any child in the foster care system demands a lot of serious consideration. Hopefully, these questions will assist you as you navigate this journey.
Caroline Bailey is a mother of three children through adoption and a strong advocate for the needs of children and families involved in the child welfare system in the United States. At the age of eleven (1983), she underwent an emergency hysterectomy in order to save her life. Caroline is the youngest person to have a hysterectomy. Her life has been profoundly affected by infertility. In 2006, Caroline and her husband, Bruce, became licensed foster parents. They were blessed to adopt two of their children through foster care in 2008 and 2010. Their youngest child is a relative of Caroline, and they celebrated his adoption in 2013. Caroline works for a Christian child welfare agency in Missouri. She has been a guest speaker at churches and conferences regarding adoption and is currently working on a memoir about the impact of illness, faith, foster care, and adoption in her life. Caroline is also an avid cyclist and enjoys cheering her children on in their various sporting activities. She shares her experience with foster care, adoption, barrenness, parenting, and faith in her blog. She would love to hear from you! Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.