May is National Foster Care Month. Children enter foster care for many reasons, and with more than 400,000 kids in the system, the need for foster parents is great. I won’t pretend to know all of the facts or have all of the answers, but what I can tell you about is our experience. Our family recently completed 36 hours of pre-service training and we’re working through the home study process required to be a licensed foster care home in the state of Ohio. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) oversees Ohio’s foster care system.
When I share that we are going to foster (and maybe even adopt), it’s interesting to see the various reactions. Yes, there are a lot (!!) of unknowns, like when will a child be placed in our home, what issues we might need to help them work through, how will we fit visits and appointments into our family’s busy schedule, how long a child might stay with us, and so many more. Many people comment too that they would not be able to foster because they would get too attached to the children and “wouldn’t be able to send them back,” knowing that the goal of foster care is the reunification of the child with the biological family.
But our family didn’t choose this path because we think it will be easy or because we think we won’t get attached; in fact, we didn’t choose this path at all, we say it chose us. We believe Jesus first loved us, and in return, we are called to love others. It’s exciting and scary at the same time but foster care and adoption has been on our hearts for several years. After walking alongside friends who’ve fostered and adopted, combined with experiences we’ve had as a family that have strengthened that call (like mission trips, a miscarriage and the desire to grow our family), we finally followed that tug we felt and contacted UMCH Family Services about the process last fall. UMCH Family Services is a comprehensive children’s mental health and child welfare agency that helps families stay together, reunify or become new forever families.
The general requirements of a foster care parent are listed on the ODJFS website. It’s not a difficult process, but it can be lengthy and you need to be committed. The first step is pre-service training. UMCH offers training quarterly. There are 13 trauma-focused therapy training modules that cover everything from the history of foster care and the child’s treatment team, to sexual abuse, to adoption. The training is designed to give you an eye-opening view of all that is involved in fostering so that at the end of it you can decide whether or not to continue with the licensing process.
My husband and I were most surprised at how every child in foster care has experienced some sort of trauma, even if it’s just being removed from their home and how much trauma affects a child’s brain development. We’ve had a lot of great conversation around each topic, and it’s influenced how we parent our 11-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. We’ve enjoyed getting to know our fellow classmates over the four weeks and look forward to keeping in touch with their families on this journey.
Now that our application has been approved, we’re working through the home study process with our assessor, which includes a series of visits to interview everyone in the home and talk about our background and motivation for fostering. There’s a lot of paperwork to complete to ensure we are stable and healthy, and that we maintain a safe and secure home. We need to get physicals, submit financial information, have a fire inspection done on our home, and write our autobiographies. The training staff warned us that the licensing process may feel very personal and long, but this part of the process is important for us to continue learning about the child welfare system. Our children are involved in this stage too. Both of our kids are excited to have a foster brother or sister – in fact, they each want twin girls! (Maybe they know something my husband and I do not?!)
We’re excited about the possibility of opening our home and hearts to a child in need some time in the near future, and we’ll continue to share our journey with the Columbus Moms Blog community. If you’ve wondered about becoming a foster parent or felt the tug on your heart to help, visit the ODJFS website for information or comment and I’ll do my best to answer!