What to expect...
It's funny because as a foster mom I find myself home more than maybe the average mom is. I get a lot of information from the internet. When my family was first certified, I turned to the internet for help with situations that came up that were out of my knowledge and experience base. I was disappointed to find that there really aren't many website on being a foster parent. Hopefully this blog will help a new foster family out in the future. Who knows....?
After you have completed the application package, training, background check, and home inspection, you wait for a call. (my experience is in the state of Oregon, I imagine the process varies to some degree from state to state) When the DHS office call you they will tell you what they know about the children they are asking you to take in. Sometimes they know a lot, most of the time they know very little.
Where do the kids come from? For our family kids have come from five different places. 1. They were asked to leave the foster home they are currently in due to behavioral problems or some other reason. 2. they come from a relative, who attempted to help out but found that they were unable to handle the situation for a variety of different reason. 3. They come from a residential treatment facility and need a family to help them reintegrate into society. 4. They come from a shelter care foster placement. (that is a foster home that takes kids at all hours and keeps them a few days to a few weeks while the caseworker and certification team locate a more permanent foster home placement. 5. They have just been removed from their home. I am sure there are other situations, I am just not aware of any, yet.
Depending on the situation you can expect different things.
If they come from another foster home where they have been asked to leave, it can be really hard. Too often the children with difficult behaviors move from home to home, with or without their siblings. With each move the damage to their emotional health worsens. It is important to ask about the child's or children's past homes, if possible. I also try to find out if they have siblings in care at another home. If possible I will ask for all siblings to be placed together in our home. Sometimes they can, sometimes not. I also ask if it is possible to talk to the foster mom from the home they are leaving. Usually this is the best way to get information about the behaviors of the kids, so you can make a decision about them being a good fit for your family. As hard as it is, it's a lot better to say no, if you are concerned about the effect the behaviors will have on your own children or other kids in you home. I have had to ask children to leave my home for different reasons, the biggest is being a new foster family not knowing the right questions. And taking more on then I can handle. It is really hard to ask the kids to leave. I can tell you from experience that you will think about them for a long time after they are gone.
If they come from home, they are usually filthy, often having lice. Th range of emotion is huge, some kids are too frightened to speak, some have no idea what is happening, some are relieved to be out of a bad environment,some will sleep well and eat well some will scream through the night. Usually, aside from sleeping and eating the kids will behave well, we call this the honeymoon. Usually the kids will have learned some incredible behaviors from their lives, they will come out at sometime ore another...
I don't have experience with residential treatment.
The important things to remember are to ask as many questions as you can to as many people as you can, before the children come to your home. Remember that the homes the kids are leaving may or may not be accurate with the behaviors. Sometimes they are so spent that they will down play the behaviors in order to not scare you or out of guilt. Sometimes they over state the behaviors, maybe out of sheer exhaustion, or reaching of the breaking point. I don't think either are intentional, or even realized by the foster family. Just listen and take the information with a grain of salt. Remember the honeymoon. Often the behaviors don't come out for a few months.
In the end asking questions is a great place to start. I also try to cook as much "box" food as I can stand for the first few days. Their diet has likely been limited before being placed in foster care. It helps to ease the transition.