The Certification Process – Pt. 1

Our experience navigating the System to become Foster Parents

Swimming

As mentioned in the blog introduction, this blog is not going to serve as a “How-To” on becoming a Certified Non-Relative Foster Parent in Oregon.  For details on how to do this, Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) should be your go to, and they have information listed HERE.

This post will be more about our experience navigating the process to become certified.  We are Certified Non-Relative Foster Care Providers (foster parents) in Multnomah County, Oregon.  Our experience is limited to Oregon and Multnomah County, and we are aware that the process may be significantly different outside of Oregon. There are also Private, typically through faith based organization, certification methods as well, which also may be significantly different, but we do not have experience with those.

Deciding to Become Foster Parents:

This is the first step to becoming certified.  You need to decide that this is something you are interested in doing.  Notice we did not say “your family” needs to decide that you are interested in becoming care providers. We believe that everyone in the family needs to make a personal decision that this is something they can do, and that they want to do, for foster care to be a realistic option.  This is not like raising a cat or a dog, where you can say, “sure Honey, we can get a dog but I will not be responsible for feeding it or taking it for walks, or cleaning up after it, that is your responsibility, and the requirements for us having a dog in the house”. No, this is a child, a vulnerable child, a human who needs love and nurturing and a stable home. The entire household needs to be on-board for this to work, there can be no passive care givers in the home.  If individually you determine that this is something you would like to do, then you can move forward with the family/household discussion.

This is a child, a vulnerable child, a human who needs love and nurturing and a stable home. The entire household needs to be on-board for this to work, there can be no passive care givers in the home.

Prior to beginning this journey of becoming foster parents, our Family consisted of Jewell and I, our tiny dog Salty, and our cat Captain.  Jewell was more familiar with the Foster Care System than I was, and brought up the idea to me. After we both determined that we wanted to look further into becoming foster parents, we began the process of certification.  I will post more in depth in another post about our conversations regarding our decision to pursue becoming foster parents in another post.  For now, we will focus on the certification process.

Orientation:
The first contact we had with DHS was the Orientation class. This is a 3-hour class where a DHS instructor gives a brief overview of what DHS as an organization is and does, how kids come into care, what the role of Foster Parents are, and what the requirements are to becoming a foster parent.   This was a very matter of fact presentation by DHS, not geared toward scaring you away from being a foster parent, or convincing you to be a Foster Parent, just facts, statistics, and process. Our main takeaways were:

  • As long as you are not a convicted rapist, murder, pedophile, or child abuser, you can probably become a Foster Parent.
  • There is no such thing as “Foster-to-Adopt” in Oregon
  • It will take a lot of time and detailed scheduling to become a certified foster parent
  • There is a huge need for foster parents
  • The vast majority of people in the training were interested in being Relative Care Providers
  •  We were the youngest people in the room.

Following orientation, we had a couple brief conversations about whether or not we thought being a foster parent was feasible for us and something we wanted to do.  We both, individually and as a couple, decided that we wanted to continue towards certification, but that if we ever felt like it wasn’t for us, it would be alright to stop the process.

“Foundations Training”

After completing the initial orientation class and deciding that we wanted to continue down the path towards certification, we were required to fill out an application packet and attend “Foundations Training”. Foundations training is a series of eight (8), three-hour classes held at one location in Portland, offered very infrequently, always held during rush-hour traffic, and they should be labeled “common-sense training”.

So to clarify, there are eight individual classes, each on a different topic, you do not need to take them in order, they are held at DHS on 122nd and NE Powell and they start at 6pm and go until 9pm on Mondays and Thursdays.  We had to make a spread sheet to schedule out how we could attend all of the classes in the shortest amount of time. It took us about 5-months.  It was very inconvenient, but we thought, the information presented should help us learn about how best to care for children in the system, what to expect, and what resources are available to us…that was not the case.

they should be labeled “common-sense training”

As with the orientation classes, we were the youngest in the room. I believe we were the only people there without biological children of our own, and in the definite minority of people who were not relative care providers and currently caring for a child in the system at their home1. Of those who were hopeful non-relative care providers, we were again in the minority, because we were not becoming foster parents with the sole intention of adopting.  It is strange how many people become foster parents for the sole purpose to adopt, even though DHS specifically states that “Foster to Adopt” is not a program that is available.

The classes are called The Foundation of Foster Care and Adoption training. Topics include:

  • System Orientation
  • The importance of birth families
  • Child Development and the impact of abuse
  • Behavior management
  • How to apply effective child rearing practices
  • Discipline vs punishment
  • Understanding the effects of abuse, neglect and trauma on children
  • Valuing the child’s heritage

Although the class names seem interesting and helpful, in a class of 30+ individuals, the topics quickly morphed into specific, personal, anecdotal questions ranging from:

  • Contact highs (there was an actual debate on whether a person who was recently high, could get their child high by holding them)
  • Spanking (why can’t I spank this traumatized child I am caring for)
  • Why can’t I have foster children sleep in my bed with me
  • Why would DHS not take children away from parents who smoke marijuana?
  • Do I have to take the children to the faith based services (prayer at mosques) that the bio-parents request? But I am a Christian?
  • Why can’t I force my foster-children to go to church with me?
  • How do I tell a child that they can’t be gay or trans in my house?
  • Do I have to send the children on visits to bio-parents? I plan on adopting.

Oh, and when it wasn’t hypothetical or specific personal questions, it was outdated YouTube videos about foster care from the 90’s.

These classes basically felt like a repetitive first day of school, at a new school, being taught by a substitute.  You are surrounded by people you do not know, probably do not have anything in common with, and you are forced to do ice-breakers and role playing games in between outdated videos that don’t play properly on malfunctioning A-V equipment.

These classes basically felt like a repetitive first day of school, at a new school, being taught by a substitute.

The best hour of the 24-hours of classes was when an actual foster parent, one who mainly cares for medically fragile children, came and spoke openly and honestly with the class. She discussed the difficulties in dealing with DHS, the difficulties in dealing with bio-parents, the trials of caring for vulnerable and traumatized kids, and resources available to foster parents. She invited us to join a private Facebook group for foster parents and perspective foster parents in Oregon, and talked at length about the joys of being a foster parent.

Throughout the eight (8) classes, there was always free Folgers coffee, and occasionally, some stale dum-dums and starburst.  There were food carts nearby, so we were able to bring dinner with us.  At the end of each class, since you do not have to take all eight (8) in the order they are listed, there were always a few people who were “graduating”.  There was a great little ceremony, during which the instructor (there were two ladies who switched off instructor duties) would look at the stack of “certificates” in front of them and call out a name. She would then look around the room anxiously to finally put a name with a face. We would all give a half-assed clap to the stranger, envious that they would not have to take another 3-hour class.  Then, most people would file out to their cars, while as school goes, some people would stay behind to talk to the teacher to earn brownie points that aren’t necessary.  Finally, there was the exhausting drive home where we would complain about how worthless the class was, how it was all common sense, and how we fear for the children in the care of many of the people in the class with us.

These classes were an inconvenience at best, and a deterrent at the worst. As a couple with no kids, the only thing we could complain about was the time-wasted, the commute, and the uncomfortable feeling we got while in the class.  Talking to others in the class, we had it easy.  If you have kids in your home already, bio or foster, you have to pay for a babysitter.  If you don’t have a flexible schedule or don’t work the “standard” 9-5 job, you have to take work off to attend these classes. On one hand, we understand the need to introduce people to the rules and requirements of being a foster parent, as well as the difficulties you may experience when caring for children who have come into the care of DHS. On the other hand, the information provided was minimal at best, the difficulty of attending classes could be prohibitive to many families interested in becoming foster parents, and everything could have easily been provided on-line or through a workshop setting that was easier to attend.

But hey, we got our Certificate!

So now we are foster parents, right?!?!?!?! Nope.

  1. Relative Care Providers are, as it sounds, people considered by the State to be a relative to the child who has come into custody of the State.  Whenever feasible, the State attempts to place children who need care with Family, and can often provide an emergency certification to a relative to allow the child to be immediately placed with family, and then require the relative to complete the certification process within a certain period of time, typically 6-months, to maintain their certification and be able to continue care for the child.

Photo: Ava taking swimming lessons with Aaron’s Mom

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