Thursday, January 30, 2014

10 benefits for foster parents that would make a big difference

I have a little girl snuggling on my lap in her post-nap haze.

I never anticipated wanting any "benefit" from fostering. I was shocked to learn that foster parents get a stipend.
Really? If you're going to foster shouldn't you be prepared to parent, budget and all?!

But here's the thing: our lives are tremendously effected on every level by adding to our family. I think if fostering was permanent - say like birthing or adopting - then it would be easier to manage budget-wise because you'd know the long term plan. For example, we now have a van. We don't need a van permanently, as things stand. We bought one purposefully FOR fostering - and to be honest, we still owe our moms for the van. It's not always dependable, but it (mostly) gets the job done and it was cheap.

So that got me thinking that a leased van provided by the county that we are licensed through would be really helpful. That way we aren't "stuck" with a van when (if) we no longer need it. There would be stipulations (a foster child must be present in the county-leased vehicle - it can not be your primary vehicle). And then I remembered the car seats that the county provides. We bought our own car seats. The county-provided seats are not as safe as we'd like, in fact, they are kind of scary. So a leased vehicle may well be the same way.

But what benefits WOULD make a difference - encourage more families to foster. Because seriously, I have some awesome friends who would make awesome foster parents. But really, you shouldn't do it if you don't feel a drive to foster. But then there are a lot of people who seem to have a drive to foster - but it doesn't seem like the kids are that motivation. It's sad and frustrating, but not all who are attracted to fostering are caring for children in even the basic way that is set out during foster care training. And I don't want to attract my friends because of a leased van - but what if a leased van would mean an appropriate family felt they then COULD foster. What if that made the difference between having an awesome dedicated family on the list or not?

So I informally polled other fostering families and came up with an impressive and sensible list:

1. A leased van - see above
2. College loan forgiveness - those who work in civil service or teachers who have worked 5 consecutive years have their loans forgiven. I think fostering is a civil service AND a teaching gig - and it's 24/7. This would attract more educated families and provide a relief for those who are struggling to make it on one income (often needed when raising foster children who tend to have higher needs).
3. Low-interest mortgage - many families feel they don't have the space for more kids but could emotionally, physically, medically, etc care for a larger family.
4. Home-renovation fund - similar to above. Many are willing to add on space to their existing home or need to somehow modify their home to accommodate disabilities of the children they are fostering.
5. House cleaning service - this seems frivolous - but it's not. More people = more mess = less time for more people. This benefit was one of the most talked about when I polled foster parents.
6. A local home babysitting list of authorized individuals - many counties have (understandably) restrictions on who can babysit children in foster care. In this county babysitters must be over 18. Thankfully we have a college nearby. We also often don't need or want a sitter. BUT there are times we do, and we're stuck. We'd really need 2 people, I think, because we have 5 kids right now. Also, a stipend for babysitting. There is an option for respite where children in foster care go to another foster home for a night or a weekend or a week. But this is not an option we're excited about because we don't always know the other foster family (and we'd like to know them better than knowing their background check cleared) and also - there's no respite option (here anyway) to cover a couple of hours - say while we take another kid to a doctor's appointment or go to a meeting. So a list of babysitters that we could contact and interview and a bonus babysitting fund.
7. Volunteers to helps in home, like babysitters but the parents would be home. Especially when a placement first arrives and everyone is trying to figure out the new normal.
8. Transportation - particularly in an emergency situation foster parents are required to provide daily transportation to things like school. If the emergency placement becomes a long term placement then busing is obviously arranged. But in the interim, the running around - especially when multiple placements are added is a big challenge. And AWD vehicles for employees that DO provide transportation - in a location (like ours) where it snows 9mos of the year!
9. Caseworkers and other support staff that are respectful - maybe employees would be less burned out if they also had the bonus benefit (below). We have had several awesome workers who are compassionate and still realistic. We love workers like this. We've also worked with some condescending support staff and caseworkers that turn us off fostering all together. Not cool. I get that caseworkers, therapists, supervisors are very very overworked and feel under-compensated. I get that after years working with people, you get burned out. People don't live up to your expectations or their promises - but assume the best first. This family is not THAT family that has burned out multiple times and they are the foster family caring for kids day in and day out.
10. - a hot tub and regular massages and maybe even group or individual therapy to process. Seriously. Fostering takes a toll on many levels and it's a lot of giving. That's what foster parents sign up for and what they WANT to do - to give and give and give. But some times that tank needs refilling and a hot tub, a massage, therapy would all help with refilling that tank.

I love that these are all very specific targeted benefits - no vague anything. These are things that would support foster families from a systems standpoint. There are things individuals can do too, but this was a conversation about the system and it was fun and interesting to ponder.

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