“Do you have what it takes?” This is, essentially, the main question that the licensing process will try to answer. That and, “Is your home a fire hazard?” The second question can be resolved by simply making sure you have a fire extinguisher and a smoke detector in literally every room in your house. (I’m not exaggerating. That’s an actual rule and we now have nine smoke detectors). The first is a little more complicated and necessitates a lot of strangers asking you a lot of questions about your life, family, childhood, and marriage.
It took us about 14 months from the time we went to our first orientation class to the time that we became licensed. We probably could have gone through the process a little faster – but that’s just not our style.
Licensing Step 1: Foster Parent Orientation
Licensing agencies all hold their own information sessions where they provide information about foster care and, in our agency’s case, other opportunities to become involved through their agency such as mentoring, providing respite care, and volunteering to transport siblings to visits with each other. The instructor for our information session was a former foster dad who had adopted his children through foster care and he talked about his experience. The information session was, essentially, a glimpse into real life foster parenting and behaviors you might see in children working through grief and trauma. The potential behaviors we discussed in the information session ranged from feces smearing to cutting and suicide attempts.
Our instructor also talked about working with birth families. He told a story of the notes his wife used to write his foster daughter’s Birth Mom and how crushed she was that Birth Mom wouldn’t open them during her visits with her daughter. They harbored judgment of this woman that couldn’t be bothered to read a note about the daughter that was taken from her due to her own failings. Then, finally, they decided to talk to Birth Mom. Birth Mom admitted that she ignored the notes intentionally saying, “I only have this short time every week with my daughter – I want to be completely present with her. I don’t want to spend it reading.” They found out that Birth Mom had, herself, aged out of the foster care system. She became a mother shortly thereafter. A few years later, she had willingly relinquished her children to the Department of Child Safety when she became homeless and was working with the Department to find work and a place to live so that she could get her children back. She did, ultimately, reunify with her children. This, he explained, was the foster care system working.
He also shared the joys of foster parenting and adopting through foster care – seeing a child overcome being born drug exposed, working through grief, and learning to trust.
At the end of the session, he showed a video of a former foster youth speaking about her foster mother. The young woman had put her foster mother through the ringer. She described how much she hated her foster mom and how much she hated herself. Ultimately, the young woman attempted suicide by drinking some sort of cleaning fluid. When she woke up in the hospital, the first person she saw was her foster mother sitting by her bedside. She was shocked that the woman to whom she had been the most cruel, was the one sitting by her bed. The young woman said that it wasn’t until that moment that she realized that her foster mother truly loved her. She said that moment was her turning point.
I tried to find this video on YouTube and couldn’t. Instead, I’ll share another video that was shown to us later in Foster Parenting Class but is similarly inspiring. Josh Shipp’s message is one that all foster parents need to bookmark and watch over and over again.
After the class, they passed around a small worksheet where you could check a box to indicate whether you wanted to continue towards becoming a foster parent, volunteer in another capacity, or were no longer interested. We decided to check the “Foster Parent” box. We also checked the “Mentor” box – we figured that might be a nice compromise. If this foster parenting thing just seemed like too much, being a mentor might be a good fit.
Then we promptly drove to a restaurant and ordered two large glasses of wine with lunch.