How Do We Decide to Say “Yes” When the Placement Desk Calls?

We are licensed directly through our state, not with a private agency. This means that we receive the daily email distribution listing briefs on every child in our county (and sometimes beyond) in need of a foster home. We also receive frequent phone calls from the placement desk (and after-hours placement) asking if we can take a(nother) child, “even just for the night.”

As you may guess, we want to say “yes” to them all! But obviously that’s not possible. A couple of years ago, I came up with a simple rubric to help us decide whether we can say “yes” (or whether we need to say “no”) when the placement desk calls.

To get the full scoop, watch this sixteen-minute video. If you don’t have time for that, here’s the gist of what we take into consideration when deciding whether to add another child to our home when those sweet social workers call:

  1. Are we licensed for a child or children that age? This may seem like a ‘no-brainer,’ but it’s not! We’ve said ‘yes’ to the placement desk and taken a child who was older than what we are licensed for. (We got in some trouble for that!)
  2. How are we (my husband and me) doing? How is our health? How is our emotional well-being? How is our relationship?
  3. How are our kids doing? Is it the right season of life for our kids to have the disruption of another child added to the mix? Are our kids in a place emotionally where they can handle our attention being even more divided than usual?
  4. What do we know about that child? Do we have good reason to think that bringing them into our home will not put our own kids in any kind of risk? Does the child have any fear of dogs (we have a big, loud dog!) What do we know about how they will fit in with our own children?
  5. What does our gut say? This might be the most important thing of all! We have gone with our gut every single time except one, and that one turned out to not be a good fit for us. (He moved to a single foster parent with no other children and has absolutely thrived in her care! He is now reunified with his mom, but his foster mom remains a significant presence in his life and he sees her often.)

If you are a foster parent, I’d love to know how you decide whether or not to say “yes” when you get “the call.” Please share your thoughts below!

When One Person’s Honeymoon is Another Person’s Hell

Yesterday, I wrote about something that every foster parent I knew has experienced. We commonly refer to it as “the end of the honeymoon period.” When a child is first placed in a foster home, things look fine for a bit. The child is on his or her best behavior, as are the foster parents. But after a time—perhaps a few days, perhaps a week, even a bit longer—everyone settles in, starts to feel a bit comfortable, and stops trying so hard not to rock the boat. Kids begin to test boundaries or just let their big feelings out, parents grow irritable and impatient, and pretty soon, a storm is brewing.

Obviously, I write from the foster parent’s point-of-view; I’m a foster parent.

But what if we try to see things from the perspective of the child in foster care?

It occurred to me last night that calling this period of time “a honeymoon period” is a misnomer.

A real honeymoon involves two people who chose to be together. They want each other, and they decided to put their lives together. A honeymoon is positive, happy, and exciting. A honeymoon takes place in a special location both people in the relationship chose. A honeymoon refers to something fun, light, and hopeful—the start of something beautiful.

None of these describe the experience of a child in foster care during their first week or so in a new placement. They had no say in it, they did not choose these people to be with, they had no voice in the location of where they would be placed, and rather than being something hopeful, this experience is terrifying.

Calling their first week in a new foster home a “honeymoon period” is actually pretty insulting, the more I think about it. “Hell period” is more like it.

A child has been plucked from the only life they know, taken from the only parent(s) they know, and placed in a stranger’s home, where they will sleep in a strange bed, wear clothes that are not from their closet, and try to sleep despite the fact that they miss their mom more than words can express and they have no idea what might happen while they are lying in that strange bed.

This is the period of time when a child is on high alert, noticing every foreign sound, smell and texture. “Who are these people? Where is my mom? Why am I here? When am I going home? The food is different, they don’t let me watch my favorite shows on TV, I had to change schools, and I don’t even have any of my toys from home.” Fear, anger, confusion, and more swirl around in this child’s heart and mind. This is not a fun, positive time; this is a terrifyingly traumatic time.

This is a period of time when a child will be on his best behavior precisely because of how uncomfortable and scared he is. He has absolutely no idea what to expect from these people, and he doesn’t want to do anything that might set them off.

It ain’t no honeymoon, from the child’s perspective at least.

We need a new name for this period that is not so foster-parent-centric. We need a term that takes into account what this experience is like from the child’s perspective. We need a term that recognizes that, while from the foster parent’s perspective it’s a positive thing—we’ve been dreaming of this moment for years! We have our first foster child! We are so excited!—from the child’s perspective, it’s a nightmare.

While I will always see things first and foremost from the perspective of a foster parent, because that’s what I am and that’s my lived experience, I’m learning more and more how important it is to at least try to see things from other people’s points of view. As I’ve been reading over my recent post on how to get through the honeymoon period, it suddenly dawned on me how that might look from the perspective of the child living through it.

It dawned on me that one person’s honeymoon is another person’s hell.

Being a foster parent is hard sometimes.

Being a kid in foster care is infinitely harder.

And we foster parents probably need to spend a little bit more time thinking about that.

As one of my viewers who grew up in foster care  graciously pushed back on me, encouraging me to stop referring to children in my care as “placements,” I am now inclined to revisit much of my terminology and try to view it through the lens of a child in foster care (or an adult who grew up in foster care.)

“The Honeymoon Period” is one such term.

So going forward, I’m looking for a new way to frame that first week/month. I’m looking for a word or phrase that doesn’t insinuate something positive (honeymoon) for an experience that is decidedly not positive for everyone involved.

Transition Period? The Early Days? The Getting To Know You Time? The Settling In Period?

I’m still working on it.

I know I can’t change common foster parent parlance, and many—most!—will continue to refer to the first season of a child’s placement as “the honeymoon period.”

But I’d love to encourage all of us to revisit and re-frame how we are describing things so that we take into account the lived experience of the child in our care, not just how things look for us foster parents.

When it comes to “The Early Days” (see what I did there?), the very reason a child tends to be so cooperative is that they are in survival mode. As they emerge from “The Settling In Period,” they begin to relax and feel more comfortable, letting their true feelings show. And let us not forget, we want that. We want them to feel safe and let their true feelings show. We want that, even when it signifies that “The Getting-To-Know-You Period” is over and things are about to get pretty challenging for the foster parent (and for the child!)

I don’t know how many foster youth or former foster youth read this blog or follow A Fostered Life on Facebook, but I would sure love to hear from you.

What are some of the other terms foster parents tend to use that great on your last nerve?

How “Claiming Language” Can Help Foster Children Adapt to New Homes

Here is a great tip for new foster parents, courtesy of research done by the University of Boston (click here for the entire article):

When foster parents say, “This is our house; this is your room,” to a foster child, they’re relaying an important message: “You are part of this family – the whole family,” and that’s a strong statement, says to Annette Semanchin Jones, an assistant professor in the UB School of Social Work.

Researchers refer to this as “claiming language” and its consistent use by foster parents plays a critical role when foster children are adapting to new homes. (Read more…)