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In some states, fostering is not necessarily the same as adopting.

Depending on the state you are in there are at least two (though sometimes more) different types of foster care licenses. The most well-known of course, being the adoptive license where you take a child into your care with the intention of adopting that child permanently eventually.

However, where I am at, what is really needed most are family's that will do emergency care. These are the homes that take in the children while a court decides whether the parents should be given another opportunity to make better parenting decisions or be stripped of their parenting rights. Sometimes this might mean a child arrives in the middle of the night, with fresh bruises etc. Emergency placement homes require a separate license and are not allowed to have the same children in their home for more than a set number of months (again, depending on the state one is in, this can work differently from place to place, so I am not specifying numbers here - where I am, it is less than a year).

In addition to the "new sibling" effect, I'd imagine this complex situation would have even more ramifications for our biological child. Some good, others less pleasant. Has anyone had experience with this or read any studies about it that can share some of the possible outcomes for our child while we help other children in need in a very personal way. What considerations should be made for our daughter?

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I imagine that Karl Bielefeldt could provide valuable insights. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Dec 3 '13 at 10:52

2 Answers 2

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In our state, the license is the same. We started fostering with the intention to adopt, but once we were licensed, the social workers asked us to take some temporary placements, and we agreed for a year. We stopped after we adopted our son.

The main negative was the exposure to bad habits. Our biological daughter started hitting others after we fostered a two year-old boy that hit her. She started screaming after fostering a four year-old that screamed. Those habits mostly went away after working on them for a month or two, and I'm not sure she wouldn't have gone through that anyway as a normal stage, or from exposure at school.

The normal sibling effect is also somewhat stronger than usual, because the foster children's problems require more attention than normal.

Also, our permanent kids still miss the foster kids sometimes, even after a few years.

The licensing process is designed to prepare you for the experience, and answer all your questions. Our state requires a 40-hour class where they cover basic parenting and also the unique parenting challenges of fostered and adopted children. They address the horror stories and you talk to actual foster parents. If your state has such a class, I highly recommend you take it, even if you're not sure about your decision. At the end of the class, you can always opt out. The social workers are used to people not being committed yet when they start the process.

The first time we started the process, we knew we weren't really ready because we kept putting off things like the home study. The second time, we followed all the way through. You'll never know if you're truly prepared unless you take a leap of faith with the first steps.

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I was one of two biological children to parents who, over the years, took in at least 100 emergency placement kids.

There are different kinds of kids one encounters and they will each have their own level of impact on the whole family:

  • Some of the kids really only needed a bed to sleep in overnight - these were often run-aways that had managed to get pretty far from home, or kids of parents that had too much to drink and maybe had a bar fight or something and had to "sleep it off" under the supervision of a police officer. While these parents weren't necessarily great ones, they weren't having their parental rights stripped so the presence of these kids was usually so short it had little impact.

  • Twice we had kids whose parents were in the hospital with terminal injuries and the kids needed a loving shelter/environment until other close family members could arrive. These were also short stays, but the impact was more significant for me to imagine a real-life child on the verge of becoming an orphan. All of sudden the concept wasn't just one I read about in books. Many people might see this as a bad thing, but while it was hard, I think in the long run it taught me some important lessons about appreciating the loved ones I have while I have them as well as how to cope with letting go and grief.

  • Seeing the evidence of violence on kids that had been freshly pulled from violent homes really taught me empathy. Some of these kids were short stays, but a few very memorable ones were with us for nearly a year. Often, it was really hard to be patient with these kids. They struggled to understand how discipline worked because they were used to being ruled by fear so there were a lot of habbits that needed breaking and especially the ones that stayed for awhile were pretty disruptive to our schedule and our lives. As a kid, I hated that. As an adult, I look back and realize how much more patient, tolerant, and empathetic a human being I am, and I think it is at least in part because of experiences with these kids. Some of them, we have been able to keep in touch with over the years, and I still find myself wondering how things turned out in the end for the others. I still miss many of them from time to time.

All in all, I think the experience of growing up in this way had more benefits than draw-backs. In addition to the things I've already mentioned, I learned how to cope with change and how to see both sides of an argument without feeling like it is more personal (at least most of the time) than it actually is. I do feel there are a couple of things to consider:

  • My parents did take in kids that were our same age and older at times. In a couple of cases, I think they (and my sister and I) were lucky we didn't get hurt. One boy wound up in prison for having raped a girl in whose home he was living and he did frequently want to be in my room with me (which was against house rules - our bedrooms were our spaces to go for alone time and no one was allowed in them but the parents and the resident of the room). Older kids need homes too, but I don't want to put my daughter in the same kind of risk - filling out quesstionaires about what kinds of background the kids you are comfortable having in your home thoughtfully and honestly and then doing your best to insure the state lives up to their end of that bargain is really important here. We had more, older boys and girls that didn't create any sort of "hazard" than the ones who did, but also considering putting preventative measures into play (such as my parent's rule about bedrooms) is also an important part of the equation.
  • Be ready for tears, sweat and some real mind-benders for all of you. Some of the issues that may come up, might be hard for adults to reconcile, let alone kids. Just make sure thinking through how to talk to your child about these things while also respecting the privacy of your foster child is a priority at all times if you are prepared for anything, then, when the unexpected comes, you can still function.
  • Finances to be that much more stretched. Of course, this would be true if siblings were added the biological way too. However, some people out there have a mistaken conception that there is money to be made in fostering - if that is why you are considering it - don't. First of all, it will be hurtful to the kids, instead of loving (which is what they really need) and, your expectations will not be met anyway. While many states pay a "reembursement" to their foster parents, this reembursement is actually quite small and won't cover the cost of new clothes, enrichment classes and extracurriculars, travel, gifts and all the things you will likely want to do for these children you will come to love. Of course this affects your biological child because it does mean there is less "extra" to spend on him or her.
  • Karl Bielefeldt mentioned how time would be stretched similarly to your dollar in his answer.

As Karl Bielefeldt said, classes are available. This is ture in the state I grew up in, the state where my sister lives and the state where I live now and unless he lives in one of those three states, there is the fourth state where KB is as well. I certainly hope it is true anywhere. Take advantage of these classes I know a family that did not take the offered classes and the whole thing was an abyssmal failure for everyone that left a whole family disheartened and scarred, not to mention the repercussions for the child they had taken in (Their expectations were that she would be eternally grateful and therefore, a more perfect child than the five they already had - she wasn't. She was a normal kid with normal kid issues at each age during the time they had her on top of having a really hard time with some psychological issues because of the kind of abuse she had suffered at her biological father's hands. Take the Classes!!!

In the end, there were a couple of kids even Mom and Dad never really did let go of, so I actually have an older brother and another younger sister, mom and dad never expected to give us. Special exceptions were made for the brother that allowed him to stay a little over a year before he entered the military and then he was just ours anyway and my parents reapplied for a different license for the youngest sister that was also their last kid in the house.

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