A few weeks ago, we asked you over on Instagram what questions you had regarding foster care, and today we’re answering as many as we can. You sent a lot (which is amazing btw! we love how curious you are about the system!) so be on the lookout for more of these types of posts in the near future. Let’s get right to it…
It’s important to note the below answers are based on our experience of fostering in the state of Tennessee, specifically in Cleveland, TN where we live. We went through a private foster care agency called Camelot, where we took classes and ultimately got our first placement.
If you have any other questions please feel free to send them our way! Thank you for being interested in the foster care system!
What is the most rewarding part of this experience?
For us, easily the most rewarding part was feeling like we made a genuine difference in these kiddos’ lives and seeing them grow and learn every day. They’re amazing kids and we feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to look after them for a time.
What age range did you specify and would you take another sibling group again?
For some reason we had our hearts set on younger, 0-5 yrs old. As we went along, though, we began to open up to the idea of taking older kids. However, since these would be the first kids we would be placed with, we felt more comfortable looking after younger ones for the time being. We have talked about, once we have our own kids and once they’re a little older, wanting to potentially foster teenagers in the future as well.
We would most definitely take another sibling group! There’s something about siblings that felt right to us. Maybe it’s because they would have built-in friends to play with or that their brother/sister would help them to not feel so alone going into a stranger’s home. Something just felt right to us about taking a sibling group, and it still does.
How long does the process take to become approved [to foster]?
We can only speak on how long it took us in our area (Southeast Tennessee), but the entire process from beginning (signing up for the classes) to end (finishing the classes) took around three months. We signed up at the very end of April to start taking classes, and those classes began in the middle of May. We completed the courses at the very end of July, though we finished a week and a half early because we were going to be out of town, so they allowed us to complete the courses before we left.
Did you feel any push-back at any point due to being a gay couple?
None at all, thankfully. This was actually something that was in the back of our minds as we were about to start the process. There were a lot of “what ifs” that we were afraid of coming true (what if they turn us away for being gay? what if we finish the courses but they don’t place us with any kids because we’re gay?), but ultimately the foster care system is short on families and beds, so they’re grateful for whoever wants to help these kiddos out.
Do they tell you up front how long you may have the children?
Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. With our first placement, they didn’t right away because they didn’t have that information. About a week into it we were told there’s a chance the kids will most likely go live with a family member in what’s called a kinship placement, but they weren’t sure when that would be. Sometimes they tell you up front that the placement will be very temporary and you may only have them a few weeks or months, and other times they just don’t know. Lots of ups and downs in the foster care system, so be ready!
Do you get to adopt foster children? If so, how does that work?
In some cases, yes! If the parents give up their rights as their legal guardian, and there are no other family members able to take the kids, you can petition to adopt them. It normally takes some time to complete the whole process, but once all of that is completed and there aren’t any other obstacles, you can adopt them. If the parents have already waived their rights when you first get placed, in most cases you have to foster the kiddos for at least six months before applying for adoption.
How difficult was the initial process: the paperwork, the right agency, etc.?
It wasn’t difficult at all! The most difficult part about the initial process was determining which training class would fit within our schedule. There’s usually one every month, but they’re almost always in different cities, some an hour away. One of the main reasons we went with our agency, Camelot, was because their courses were only two miles down the road and we heard great things about them.
It’s important to do your research when choosing the right agency, though, which is what we did. We debated on going through the state to get certified, but ultimately decided to go through a private agency because of the amount support you get from an agency versus the state. That’s not to say the state is bad, they just have so many cases to handle and a lot of times private agencies have the resources the state just doesn’t. We were deciding between two private agencies and we ultimately feel we made the right one with Camelot.
Biggest/most important thing you learned through your first round of foster care?
Good question! We learned that fostering is an emotional roller coaster. A week into our placement, we considered quitting it all and going back to our regular life because it was SO MUCH. Going from zero kids to three in one day took its toll on us and we thought we made a mistake by doing this whole thing. Then, something just clicked and we realized we could handle this and that it was the best decision we’d ever made.
When the kiddos left, it hurt. Badly. We got attached to them in a very short amount of time and our hearts were, in short, broken when they went to live with a family member (though we were so happy the kids were going some place they felt loved and comfortable in).
All of that to say, there are many ups and downs and some days we felt like everything was great and the next it felt like everything was falling apart. It’s a lot all at once, but it’s 100% worth it and we would do it again in a heartbeat.
Why did you guys almost stop the process after the second class?
We felt extremely overwhelmed by the second week. We started learning more and more about the system and the situations we might encounter and it sort of took us off guard, in a way. We don’t know what we were expecting going into it, but it was so much more than we ever thought. But we told ourselves we would at least get certified and see how we felt by the end of the courses. And we’re so glad we stuck it out.
What certain criteria’s must your house have prior to foster kids moving in?
There’s a whole checklist of things that they make sure you have, and again, we can only speak from our experience here in Tennessee. Some of the main things included having beds for each of the kiddos (the number of beds = the number of kids that can be placed in your home), a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of the home, along with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. All of the prescriptions and medicines have to be locked away and without of reach from the kids as well.
What criteria do they look for in a household before placing children?
As long as you’re a sane human being, you should be good. It doesn’t matter if you’re single, married, gay, straight, make a lot of money, make not so much money, etc. You do have to be over the age of 21, but other than that, as long as you complete your classes and everything checks out with your home study, you should be good to start the courses.
Is the heartache of having [the kids] taken away worth it?
We’ve heard this is one of the biggest reasons people are afraid to start the foster care process. To be honest, we were afraid of it, too. They teach you in class, though, that it’s good to get attached to the children because it means you’re caring for them and loving them and that’s exactly what they need during this traumatic period in their lives. Remember, the kids wouldn’t be in the system if at least some kind of traumatic event didn’t happen, so it’s almost always going to be a difficult time for them.
So to answer the question, yes, it is 100% worth it. At the end of the day, it really is all about the kids and making sure they feel safe, secure, and loved during the time they’re with you. You’re the adult and you have years of understanding how to get over heartbreak and the tools to move on, but these are just kids. It’s all for them.
What is the difference between being a foster parent and adopting?
A foster parent is usually someone who watches and cares for the kiddos for a specific amount of time while the parents get their act in order. It could be for a few weeks or, in some cases, a few years. They are not technically your child, but you are responsible for them while they’re in your care.
Adopting is when the birth parents sign over their rights and you legally become the child’s parent. They become a legal part of your family and you can change names, etc. because you are their parent, officially, from that day on.
Do they let you foster one child by yourself? Do you have to live in a house or will an apartment pass?
You can definitely foster by yourself! And an apartment will definitely pass. Again, as long as you can provide a safe and loving environment for the kiddos, the rest usually works itself out.
What were your out of pocket costs?
Because of the agency we went through, we had very little out of pocket costs. When we were researching agencies, there were some that made you pay for your home study (some were around $500) or made you pay to even take the classes.
For us, the only expenses were the things we needed for our home study to pass (carbon monoxide detector, fire extinguishers, etc.). We were fortunate in that there’s a local organization here called Hope4One that donates items you would need for kids (clothes, bottles, toys, strollers, car seats, cribs, diapers, etc.) to foster care parents/adoptive parents, and they provided us with all of the above and more. We are so grateful for them and all of their hard work!
Are you able to get updates on how the kids are doing after they leave your care?
Yes! As long as the family they go to is okay with it, there’s nothing that says you can’t still have contact with them. We are extremely grateful the kiddos’ family is so sweet and let us babysit them this past weekend. They let us know that they follow us on social media and the kids like to look at our channels and follow along sometimes. It put the biggest smiles on our faces and we felt content knowing they hadn’t forgotten about us after only being with us for a short time.
So there you have it! We can’t thank y’all enough for your interest in the foster care system. Like we said, they’re short on beds, so any little bit helps. You submitted so many more questions that we’ll be answering in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned!