When we started the adoption process, we were thrilled that it was basically free. We knew we could afford to take care of a child, but also knew that we didn't have tens of thousands of dollars to spend to adopt a baby. We didn't know about the other incentives until we had taken the MAPP classes, filled out applications, and were obsessively searching the photolistings. Turns out that if the child is labeled "special needs" in Florida (and most of them are), you receive a monthly subsidy for the child until he turns 18. What did this mean for us? It meant we were able to afford for me not to work, so I could stay home with the kids. It did not mean that we were rolling in the dough and making money off the kids. It's a help, not a cure. This is how I know that foster parents are not getting rich and if they are doing it for the money, they are doing it wrong.
Growing up, I always wanted to be a foster parent. After watching a "My Two Dads" (at least, I think it was "My Two Dads") episode when the judge took in a teenage foster kid, I knew that I wanted to do that. I didn't plan to adopt 3 young children and not have any biological ones, but here we are. :) (And, here is great.)
The day that we agreed (happily) to take Lizzie was the day that our official experience with foster care started.
|Official Daddy and daughter picture|
What we were told would be an expedited process actually turned into a year of basically being foster parents without the perk of being labeled as foster parents or receiving any of the benefits of that (i.e. financial help). We were categorized as a non-relative placement. I always thought that was an odd term for us, as we were parents to her brothers and they were our family. And, of course, the second I held her, she was my family, too. But, technicalities count and that's not the point of this blog.
|Always a family|
The point is, for a year, we were acting as foster parents. A case worker came out monthly to check on Lizzie and her living situation. We even had a worker come out as early as 8am because she just couldn't figure out another time to do it. Lizzie had weekly visits with the birth parents. The driver would pick her up and take her (and my heart) away for 3 hours and then bring her back. If they didn't show up, she would bring her back early. We were always thrilled to have her back early, but I would often be running errands or trying to work. I'd end up meeting the driver at gas stations and grocery store parking lots to get my girl. Very early on, I had to quit my job. I couldn't keep up with my work and all of the Lizzie obligations. Let alone, my boys' needs.
This is when I started to really appreciate what foster parents have to do. Foster parenting is not easy. If you foster parent, it consumes your life. But, that's the thing, if you foster parent, it should consume your life. Because you are a parent. These kids deserve someone who will obsess about them. They need someone who will understand that they have issues and they can't just make them go away because you want them to. They need someone who will deal with a little bureaucracy to make their lives a little better and a little less lonely until the state figures out what the best permanent solution is.
From what I can tell, there are a lot of improvements that could be made in the system. Just like everything else in this world. Some of the case workers could be better, some of the foster parents could be better, and some of the arbitrary rules could be better. But, if people don't step up and help; how do things get better? And, for every thing that is wrong, there is someone working hard to make it right. There are tons of really hard working people out there, trying to make it better. I know because I've met them. I've met them in real life, on twitter, and on facebook. They are there.
I often hear people complain about the system, complain about the workers, and complain about the foster parents who aren't that great (because they are the ones who are more likely to get the press). At times, I have been one of those people. But, it's also true that Antwan and William's case worker brought them Easter clothes after they had already been placed with us. They got balloons and I got flowers at the Finalization because someone worked to make it extra festive. The case worker of my children's biological brother drove for 3 hours to meet us, halfway, so that the siblings could spend time together.
There is a lot of good going on, too. And, I think it's important to remember that.
Last night, I watched a video from Family Support Services of Jacksonville. At the end of the video that made me want to race out and adopt another child, there was a great line. "If we don't take care of the children in our community, who will?"
This is my cause, this is the foster parents' cause, and it's the cause of a bunch of awesome people who work in the system.
Wanna do something? Check out http://www.adoptuskids.org/ for ways to help!! :)