What a year! One year ago, we both left work early, drove out to SE 122nd during rush hour traffic, and began the The Certification Process to become non-relative foster parents. We went into the orientation session with an open mind. Going into the orientation, we were not committed to being foster parents, we just genuinely wanted to learn more. We wanted to see if this is something we felt we had the capacity to do at this point in our life. Looking back, what ensued after that first class one year ago is a whirlwind. Here is our recap…
After attending the orientation and making the decision to pursue becoming certified foster parents, it took us another 8 painful classes, 3 in-depth and uncomfortable interviews, and approximately 5-months to achieve “emergency certification“. This was the 6-month temporary certification that we were granted by our certifier because Oregon is in a Foster Care crisis, and because we are a safe home. DHS didn’t want to wait to place a child with us just because they needed to write up our SAFE Home Study Report. After granting us emergency certification, it took DHS about 4-months to finally send us a copy of our SAFE Home Study. We HATED how the Home Study was written, and refused to sign it. We sent it back with edits and comments, and they sent us more kids. Now, 6-months later, we have an edited version of the Home Study that we are willing to sign, but they haven’t asked for it, so we haven’t signed it.
We HATED how the Home Study was written, and refused to sign it. We sent it back with edits and comments, and they sent us more kids.
Kids! This is why we became foster parents, to help kids. Our first placement, Ava, entered our life on May 13th, 2016. It was an amazing, overwhelming, and terrifying experience (Four Hours). Ava was our longest placement, and is successfully being reunited with her family, who we have a great relationship with. We provide babysitting and respite care for Ava when her family asks, or when we want to see Ava. We are in contact with her Mom as if she was our extended family, always making sure she and Ava have what they need, and her sobriety is on track. Ava’s family have been to Aaron’s parent’s house for Christmas Eve, and our house for New Years Eve. Ava and her family are now thriving, moving into their own apartment, and successful with their sobriety.
During our time caring for Ava, we welcomed Iliana and Erica into our home because DHS let us told us that if we said “no”, they would spend the weekend in a hotel room with a state employee. We said we could take them in for a weekend, but when Monday came, and they had nowhere to go, we signed them up for summer camps and made it work. They ended up staying with us for 2-weeks, until we coordinated with another foster family who could take them for longer. Although still in foster care, they are now in a home with a family who can care for them long term.
DHS let us told us that if we said “no”, they would spend the weekend in a hotel room with a state employee
Towards the end of the summer, Aaron’s mom had to return to teaching, and could no longer watch Ava while we were at work. Faced with the option of paying for infant care or taking leave to play with Ava all day, Aaron took 5-weeks of leave from work. During this time, we agreed that we probably had capacity for another kid on a short term basis, and if we had the capacity to help, we should help. About 1-week in to his leave, we were asked if we could care for Sabrina, a 26-month old who was about to be reunited with her mom, but was being neglected and possibly abused at her current foster home. We said yes, because what could be cuter (and more exhausting) than having two toddlers in the home. Sabrina was very cute and sweet, but also a handful (The Week from Hell Pt. 1). When we were asked to take her, we knew that she was on the path to be reunited soon with her mom. After being reunited in September, unfortunately, we learned in November that Sabrina came back into care because her mom relapsed. It broke our heart to hear this, especially because we were not able to take back because we had just started caring for Trevor and Ariel.
In the middle of September, somewhat as a surprise, we found ourselves without any kids in our home. We then decided that we needed to take a bit of a break. Partly because we needed to grieve, partly because we were exhausted, and partly because our work lives were very hectic. Jewell also took a new position with the same company, however, had to start her work probation all over again, time off is not super flexible the first few weeks. We told our Certifier that we needed a break, and that we would let her know when we were ready to be contacted again… but that didn’t stop DHS. We heartbreakingly had to say “no” to 4 placements during this time.
We then decided that we needed to take a bit of a break. Partly because we needed to grieve, partly because we were exhausted, and partly because our work lives were very hectic.
In early November, we welcomed Trevor and Ariel (Possible Placements) into our home (they were being removed from a Foster Family due to neglect and a filthy environment). They are still with us, and it looks like they will be with us longer than any of our previous placements. They have exposed us to a whole new world with foster kids. Not only did we have to figure out how to enroll them into school mid year, but they also have a lot of medical and psychological needs, and working through all of that has been eyeopening and exhausting. All we can say is, “these poor kids”.
The best word to describe this last year is “overwhelming”. This past year has been overwhelmingly fulfilling, and overwhelmingly exhausting, as well as joyful, heartbreaking, encouraging, and frustrating. This year has been overwhelmingly overwhelming.
The best word to describe this last year is “overwhelming”.
Going into this year we were pragmatic, but looking back, we were also bright-eyed optimists. After a year of working with DHS during a year where there has been a significant amount of press about the failings of DHS in Oregon, we can say that we have seen these failings first hand. This is not to say that all of DHS or all of the people that work for DHS are failing, but as a whole, DHS needs to improve. These failings are having a horrible effect on the children in the system, as well as the “good” foster families which cause them to stop fostering. Unfortunately, this of course, ends up affecting the children. It is a downward spiral.
This last year, we wanted to help kids in need. Kids who have had a rough start to life, kids who have experienced things that no child should have to go through. We have done that. The situations that our kids have come from have been awful. This is not necessarily a critique on their family, as good people make mistakes, and we have met some of the bio-families, and they are good people. Many of them come from rough circumstances and have made mistakes, and do not benefit from support and safety of extended family.. We don’t want to sugar-coat it either, there are bad parents and bad people out there, and some of our kids have experienced them too. Some of the kids we have cared for have been exposed to or involuntarily addicted to drugs, others have faced extreme neglect, and still some have been abused in unthinkable ways. All have experienced trauma. It makes our head spin at night sometimes, trying to comprehend the awfulness that these kids in our home have experienced. It can all just be too much.
These failings are having a horrible effect on the children in the system, as well as the “good” foster families which cause them to stop fostering. Unfortunately, this of course, ends up affecting the children. It is a downward spiral.
Although we have helped kids in need, there is no denying that we often question how much we have actually helped them. In the last year, we have learned that as a foster parent, a lot of the crucial decisions made for the kids you are caring for are out of your control. Your job is to love them, nurture them, and parent them when they are with you, yet you have no legal say in their future. All you can do is advocate for them, but at the end of the day DHS and their caseworker have the final say in regards to their future and the well being of the child and their family. It is a situation that makes us feel very vulnerable, and also makes us wonder how much impact we are actually having. We love caring for the kids, and we love showing the kids that they deserve to be loved and that their is a good life out there for them, but sometimes we wonder if this is the most effective avenue.
It is a situation that makes us feel very vulnerable, and also makes us wonder how much impact we are actually having.
Did we mention that we are overwhelmed and exhausted? Parenting is exhausting, and we definitely feel that. Parenting coupled with working with DHS, coordinating visits with bio-parents, navigating medical insurance issues, setting up medical appointments to make up for years of neglect, scheduling countless therapy appointments, while nurturing kids processing trauma, and then trying to find time to keep yourself and your marriage healthy can take you to the edge. We love the caring for kids aspect of being a foster parent, but there are many days where caring for a traumatized child is the easiest aspect of what we do, and working with DHS is the most difficult part. There are very few days where we don’t stay up way too late and ask each other “how much longer can we do this”.
This year has been overwhelmingly overwhelming in so many ways. We are emotionally and physically exhausted.
Yes… that is a weird way to put it:
- Certification Process: 5-months
- Number of hours spent sitting in the classroom: 26
- Number of SAFE Home Study Revisions: 2
- Number of SAFE Home Studies Signed by Us: 0
- Number of Placements: 6
- Longest placement: 4-months (although Trevor and Ariel, our current kids at the time of writing, have been with us for 2-months, and this appears to be a longer term placement)
- Shortest Placement: 2-weeks (emergency placement for Erica and Iliana)
- Most Kids in our Home at one time: 3 (it was crazy)
- Youngest Kid: 11-months (Ava)
- Oldest Kid: 12-years (Erica)
- Court Appointments Attended: 2
- Time without Children in the Home: 5-weeks (it was by choice, and it felt weird)
- Total Nights of Respite: 4 (thanks Mom and Dad!)
- Successful Reunifications: 1
- Unsuccessful Reunifications: 1
- Children who have not been technically reunited or adopted: 4 (one had a failed reunification and one is about to be reunited officially)
- Current Kids in our home: 2 (Trevor and Ariel)
- Number of Kiddos DHS Asked Us to Take but We Couldn’t: 4
- Times We Felt Like Giving Up: Too many to count