From Fostering

Some Facts About Fostering: An Interview with a Licensed Social Worker

Danielle Maloney, a Licensed Social Worker in Massachusetts, has been working in child welfare for twenty-eight years.

MS: What do parents have to do to become foster parents?

Danielle: There’s an application process. In Massachusetts you need to be at least 18 and have US legal status to become a foster parent. You may be single, married, partnered, divorced or widowed. Your family must have a steady source of income and cannot be reliant on the foster care stipend. You may either own or rent your home. The living and sleeping quarters must provide adequate space for all household members. Some people wonder if children can share a bedroom with birth children. Yes they can, but the children have to be same sex and age appropriate. During the application and licensing process, Department of Children and Families (DCF) will complete a CORI check (criminal offender record information), fingerprinting for applicant and household members ages 15 and above, and physical standard check of household to make sure the home meets safety requirements and standards.

In addition to the CORI and the physical standard check, potential foster parents in Massachusetts have to do a mandatory ten week training called MAPP Training (Massachusetts Approach to Partnership and Parenting). The training helps families better understand the difficulties children in foster care face and how fostering will affect your family.

MS: How do parents qualify?

Danielle: There is an inquiry, application, training, and licensing process.

MS: What qualities are important for a foster parent?

Danielle: DCF is looking for people with good communication and problem solving skills. It is important to have the ability to express and understand feelings your own and those of your children. Having a good sense of humor and being flexible are great qualities when dealing with the unpredictable nature of fostering.

MS: Can single parents foster kids?

Danielle: Yes.

MS: What reasons do most parents give for choosing to foster?  

Danielle: Most say that they want to give back.

MS: What are the most common issues parents face when fostering?

Danielle: The first concern that people come to me with is getting too attached to the child and having their children be too attached to the child. People also worry about having negative influences coming to the household.

MS: How often does fostering lead to adoption? Are some kids only foster?

Danielle: Regionally this can be very different. When out of home placements occur, DCF works with families toward reunification. When this is not an option, adoption with kin is explored. If kin is not available adoption outside the family may occur.

MS: What do you wish people knew before they started the process?

Danielle: Our kids are very resilient and there are “happy endings.” Children in foster care need what every other kid needs to thrive, stability and nurturing and respect/acceptance for who they are and where they came from.

MS: What resources are available to foster families?

Danielle:  Foster parents will have a family resource social worker and the children placed in their care will also have a social worker. Additionally there are many ongoing trainings as well as foster parent support groups available.

As for financial support, foster parents receive a stipend for daily expenses, and a quarterly clothing allowance as well as insurance coverage for medical, dental and therapeutic needs. The stipend does not count as income so it doesn’t affect tax status. In Massachusetts, the stipend is around $22 to $26 per day per child depending on the age of the child. .

MS: How is the relationship with birth parents managed?

Danielle: Foster parent involvement with the child’s family is determined on an individual basis by the case manager.

MS: What should foster parents do when it’s not working out?

Danielle: Turn to DCF staff and professional collaterals for help.

MS: What is the most common question you get?

Danielle: People ask, “What if I get too attached?” My answer is: “We want you to get attached. How could you help a child thrive if you didn’t get attached?” So, yes, you are going to get attached but for most people knowing they helped a child by providing a sense of safety and stability helps them get through the sadness when they leave your home.  

For more information on fostering and state-specific requirements, check out these sites:

Child Welfare Information Gateway

Foster Care Bill of Rights

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Adopting Motherhood

From the editors: this piece was submitted by Erin X. To continue the conversation with Erin, leave a comment!

I always wanted to be a mom. I was changing my siblings’ diapers and rocking them to sleep by the time I was nine, and it suited me. I have had friends who did not feel that way about children at all, but when it happened to them they said “oh yeah, I was meant to do this,” and I felt pangs of envy that became stronger in my mid-thirties.

When the idea of adoption entered my radar, I felt an internal struggle that I couldn’t quite explain. I had to challenge my own assumptions about marriage; I had just figured that it would happen for me someday, and then I could have children. In the span of a few months, random conversations about the possibility of adopting a child on my own started to creep into my consciousness. One of my high school students told me that she wished we could go back in time, and I could adopt her. Friends at a poker party mentioned some friends of theirs who had recently adopted a baby, and I found myself hungry to learn about the process. I began to yield to the possibility and believe that someone might give me a baby even though I was not a celebrity with lots of money, and that maybe I could raise a child by myself.

As I began to feel confidence in the idea, I noticed outside resistance from well-meaning friends and family. Some asked, how will you afford it? how can you do it alone? how will you ever find a boyfriend if you adopt a kid by yourself? Do you think you could love a baby that wasn’t really yours? It was hard to explain to them that I was not asking for their advice or blessing, I was just sharing my plans. In retrospect, I know that there were supportive voices as well, but all of the questions made me feel like I was not enough, but I wanted it so much that I moved forward in spite of my fears.

Little Big Man came to me through foster care weeks after he was born, and I had only been licensed for a month. I am grateful that I was so naïve about the complexity of “legal risk” because I may not have had the courage to adopt through foster care if I knew. Essentially, I was agreeing to raise him, but the courts could give him back to his biological parents at any time. In the first eighteen months of his life, I was able to live in the moment in a way that I have not done before or since. In my memory, our early months together are suspended in time. Not everyone likes the demands of a newborn, but I relished every moment. People often asked me how I could risk the loss of a baby that was not really mine, but I knew somewhere in my soul that he was worth it. Our life together had value no matter what would happen next. He and I talk now about how he did not grow in my tummy, but I was waiting to be his mama the whole time.

Although I experienced great joy with Little Big Man, I did find the challenge of caring for a baby who had been exposed to drugs in utero daunting. The frequent trips to the doctor’s office and occasional hospital stays took their toll in those early days. When he was almost 2-years-old, I started to imagine him having a sibling. I desperately wanted another baby, but a part of me wondered if it was fair to expect Little Big Man to go through the risky process with me. I thought about it for a long time, and it was watching the way he loved other children that made me willing to try. He was about to turn three at the time, and I told him that we might take care of a baby who needed our love. He was all for it. As much as everyone loved my sweet boy, many expressed wonder that I would risk my heart again to adopt another child, and many questioned my ability to “handle” two children. However, they stood by me when I had a baby placed with me only to be reunited with birth relatives a few months later. In my weakest moments Little Big Man provided solace that I never imagined such a tiny creature could contain, and I began to heal. In spite of the grief I experienced, my heart and my home were still open two years later when Baby came along.

The road has been rockier for me and Baby, and I am facing my demons about that. He joined our party when he was two, after time with his abusive biological family and a temporary foster home, and he is still not my legal child a year and a half later. I imagined that I would love my children the same, and although I am deeply connected to both of my boys, so much that I sometimes wonder where I end and they begin, the time that Baby and I were not able to share has made the bonding process slower and more unsure, but we are making progress. The sensation I had the other day when he told me, “I love you too much, Mama,” gave me such hope for our future. He has suffered so much at the hands of the people who were supposed to protect him, and I stand awed in the face of what he has survived.

In the car this afternoon Baby was talking about a stuffed animal his biological mother gave him at a recent court-mandated visit. He asked me, “Mama, why did my ‘new mother’ give me a stuffy?” Before I could answer with a catch in my throat, Little Big Man said, “No, that was your old mother. Erin is your new mother,” and I had trouble seeing the road through my tears. The truth is that I am not enough. It is in my lack, in my inadequacy, that I am reshaped by my children into the mother that they need me to be.
ErinErin holds a Master’s Degree in Communication from Northern Illinois University and has been teaching since 1995, including Northern Illinois University, Springfield Technical Community College, and Westfield State University. She is the mother of two energetic boys adopted through the Department of Children and Families.

 

 

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