By Betty Daigle Hastings
When the final approval has been given to newly approved foster parents there is that feeling of excitement, enthusiasm, and the desire to demonstrate that they are now ready to begin immediately fostering a child needing placement. There are many areas that need to be addressed prior to the placement of a child in a home. Is this the right child for our foster home, is an important question to ask before acceptance of a child. Hopefully, time will be given to consider this important decision.
Accepting a Child Into Your Family
During the licensing process, foster parents must determine the age of the child they want to consider. Due to the desperate need to place children, foster parents are often called to consider children who do not fit within that age limit or type of placement families feel comfortable handling. With all the love, training, and what they may feel they have to offer, it’s important to understand that every child may not be best suited for placement within a particular family setting. Careful consideration should be given to each request.
The foster parent must be able to understand that every child will likely suffer a devastating loss associated with his or her removal from the biological parents and being placed in state custody. Every child who comes into care has a different situation. The circumstances surrounding the process of treatment and success to a permanency plan will vary from child to child. Therefore, it is important that the potential foster parents be informed and have the knowledge of the child’s prior history. They need to be allowed to review any and all information to assist in determining if the child would be a proper placement for their home. The child’s health history is an important fact as there are the foster parents who are not able to deal with the special needs of a particular child. Lack of this information will definitely jeopardize the successful permanency work that the foster parent must offer to a child.
Consideration should be given to the ability to preserve the continuity of the child’s racial, ethnic, and cultural identity in a positive manner. A key component to effectively foster children of other cultures is for the foster parents to become aware of their own culture and the difference and similarities between their culture and that of the child’s. There may be cultural bias within the foster parents’ extended families, the community, the school system, or other areas. The child will need the support of the foster parents to be able to navigate through this emotional time. Understanding these facts is important and where there should be great consideration if the placement would be in the best interest of the child in the home.
Foster care is temporary and foster parents must determine if they can work effectively with the birth parents if reunification is the goal of the child. Children placed in legal custody, when given the right to visit with their birth parents, need the support and shared parenting responsibilities of the foster parents. Foster care is a partnership which involves the agency, birth parents, child and foster parents. To effectively meet the best interest of the child, all components of this partnership must work together. No matter how troubled or difficult the birth family may be, they are the roots of the child’s origin and identity. Inability to work with a foster child’s birth family, when the goal is to return home, would certainly prove to be detrimental to the placement the child.
In considering the placement, it is important to recognize the other members of your immediate family, the effect that it has upon your spouse, birth children, extended family, and others in order to work effectively with the foster child. Certainly, there are often those unexpected circumstances that will arise after placement, and perhaps movement from the home may be inevitable. Understanding that each movement of a child sets the child back possibly six months, nothing good can come from multiple moves. Therefore, this makes it even more important to take all areas under consideration prior to placement to keep disruptions from happening.
Refusing a Child
When the decision has been reached by foster parents to refuse a placement, it is important to clearly express to the agency the reasons why. One of the most important pieces of good relationships is communication.
Communication opens doors for foster parents and workers. It is the responsibility of all involved to share information and certainly understand the reason for refusing to receive a placement is a part of the good relationship between the agency and the foster home.
If foster parents refuse a placement they should not fear they may never be called for a placement again, unless refusals occur numerous times over a period without good reason. A placement should never be accepted with the feeling, “if I don’t take this child, I may never be called again.” Foster parents must keep in mind the best interest of the child which is what fostering is all about. There will certainly be another call eventually because there are so many children in need of care. It’s just as important that when a home is needed, it also be the right placement for the child and family.
The role of foster parents has made a tremendous change within the past few years. Foster parents in some states today are able to receive information and assurances of participation prior to placement due to the adoption of the Foster Parent Bill of Rights. Even though the Bill of Rights may differ somewhat in wording in the individual states, the intent is to give foster parents an understanding of their rights, but also it has opened the door to give foster parents an understanding of the responsibilities associated with those rights mandated. In some states as adopted by the Bill of Rights, foster parents have the right to refuse placement without the threat of retaliation. This move has made it easier for foster parents to be able to truly give that request for placement deeper and more consideration of how it will affect their lives and the life of the child needing placement within their home.
Foster parents should always keep in mind that if the child is placed in their home, they hold a part of that child’s future within their hands. If placement is not in the child’s best interest and placement is denied, they should never feel bad. There will be another child needing a home. The excitement, enthusiasm and desire to foster will return when a good fit is found.
Betty Daigle Hastings is a foster parent in Tennessee. She was a foster child in her teenage years. Hastings worked for the University of Tennessee as a foster parent trainer and continues to train in Tennessee and across the nation. She serves as state president of the Foster Parent Association in Tennessee for six years. Presently, she serves as chair of the National Foster Parent Association States Affiliated Council and was elected as vice president of the Tennessee Foster Adoptive Care Association and to the Tennessee Supreme Court Improvement Committee. She serves on committees, meeting the needs of the children in the welfare system. She and her husband have fostered more than 300 children and adopted two boys during this time.
Reprinted with permission from The Foster Parenting Toolbox, © 2012, EMK Press. For reprint permission, please contact EMK Press