An Interview with a LUK Foster Parent
By Michele Morrissey, Director of Community Placement Services
People who are wondering about entering fostering tend not to ask the questions they really want to know. They usually vague questions such as; "What's it like?' The following is an interview between two experienced LUK foster parents.
Q: Is fostering worth doing?
A: All life's big things; love, marriage, children, family, and work, are what you make them. Being a foster parent has its challenges, I'll be quite honest about that, but on the whole it's fantastic otherwise we wouldn’t still be doing it. In fact, for me, it's the best thing I've ever done.
Q: Is becoming licensed difficult?
A: It takes time. After you've phoned or emailed LUK, and say: "I'm interested in becoming a foster parent" someone will visit you in your home and talk about what it means to foster a child and what to expect from the licensing process. They're making an early quick-fire assessment. Some people aren't right for it; maybe their home isn't right, might be their situation, (e.g. free-roaming pet snakes, the only spare bedroom being the utility room next to the washing machine....)
I don't know what percentage fail at the first hurdle, but no one's time is wasted. There follows a period of six to twelve months where you get regular visits at home from a specialist whose job it is to go through all your circumstances. I've been through this twice, found it fun and helped me focus. They dig into your whole life. They're not looking for perfect angels, those people don't exist. They are interested in how you've dealt with the different difficulties we all face in life.
Q: Do you have any say in which children are placed with you?
A: Definitely. Even before you're approved your Family Resource Worker (FRS) will be working with you on what sort of child your ideal placements will be. Some people are better suited to teenagers. Some will prefer younger kids or infants. A lot depends on the shape of your family, especially if you have children of your own. Some foster families are initially cautious about children who've had their troubles. Some are worried about being thrown in at the deep end, so they opt for respite (you get a child to foster from Friday afternoon to the next Sunday evening or maybe for a week).
Q: Are you on your own?
A: No! Each foster family has their own designated FRS whose job is to help, advise and support the foster parent. Mine visit at least once per month, for a whole morning. They are always there at the end of the phone. Plus I attend monthly trainings, which offer me an opportunity to discuss and bond with other foster parents. Your foster child has their own designated Case Manager who also visits weekly and works with your own FRS to keep things on track. Frankly, in all my years and so many different jobs, I've never felt better supported.
Q: What kind of person are you? What are some of your personality traits?
A: Faith is by far the strongest tool I have to work with. From faith comes the patience required to truly understand what is really going on in a challenging situation. Faith provides the assurance that God will never thrust you into a situation that you cannot handle if you seek and follow His guidance. From faith sprouts consistency; including the ability to embrace change and adapt to new situations. Each child is special and has unique needs. One wants to be hugged; the other fears any physical contact. Foster children yearn for consistency in their traumatized lives. I have to work at listening. I cannot help a child with his problem unless I truly understand that problem as he sees it. Too often I catch myself trying to fit a “standard solution” to the wrong problem i.e. not the problem that the child perceives.
Q: What happens if things aren't working out?
A: Good question. You know, I sometimes wonder if they ever seem to be working as I'd like! But if you are having frustrations that's when you pick up the phone for support. And of it gets too much for you; you can always end the placement, but that is a last resort. LUK offers trainings monthly and helps with getting additional supports so you don’t have to disrupt a child’s placement, but sometimes it is unavoidable.
Q: If I end a placement, will that be the end of my fostering career?
A: No, (unless that's what you want). LUK needs all the foster parents they can get. Your qualifications and credentials are valuable; it's up to the system to play to your strengths. I found that things got easier the more fostering I did, I got familiar with the stresses and strains and learned better to identify the joys.
Q: How does the payment work?
A: Fostering is a profession. We are all professional parents. Our bi-weekly payment is termed a stipend, as we are reimbursed for the costs associated with providing for a child in our home. You are reimbursed daily when a child lives in your home. It is tax-free and not deemed an income. I am reimbursed a rate every day per child. That money covers their room and board, food, transportation, recreations such as dance lessons or karate and all other costs associated with taking care of a child. The children do get clothing allowances on top of that. LUK also helps out with the costs associated for family vacations, summer camps and special requests that would go above and beyond everyday care.
Q: Is there anything else I should know?
A: Sweet Jesus, yes! The bulk of it is stuff you have to find it out for yourself as you go along, and so you do. Each child is so utterly unique you have to make tailored arrangements to help their specific needs, and that means making your fostering up as you go along. There's paperwork; not much. There's monthly trainings, and social events. But mostly you're just finding out how to be a good mum or dad to a particular poor lonely child who's done nothing wrong to end up sad, worried and frightened.
There is no ideal profile of a foster parent. The demographics are broad and include single adults or coupled partners. You may be single or married; own or rent your home; but you must pass a criminal back ground check and a safety check of your home. There are many conversations and interviews held with prospective foster parents to ensure a good fit.
In other words, foster parents don’t have to come with a super-hero cape, but they might earn one over time. We recruit people who have a gift for working with children, who have a passion for wanting to develop the best in children but also realize that there’s not a lot of glamour and glory in foster care. Being a parent is one of the toughest jobs in the world.
We call on all of you to join us in becoming one of the faces of Foster Care and to change a lifetime of a child or youth in foster care. No matter who you are or how much time you have to give, you can help create permanent, lifelong connections for these children and youth. For more information, please call us at 800-579-0000 or find more information at www.LUK.org/FosterCare.