To foster, to foster

At some point in the not too distant past, I started to call one of the foster care agencies to talk about being assessed as a foster carer. I’ve always been interested in foster care, but assumed that it wasn’t really an option for me since I work full time. After spending some time on a foster care forum though, I realised that I could still complete the training and then request emergency and respite care placements, which can occur on weekends. I also started to think that it would be good exposure to the system, the kids, the agencies and the Department as I gear up to go through the gruelling permanent care process. The assessment process for foster care is normally shorter than permanent care and I imagined I could have my weekends and apartment filled up with little folk within a couple of months.

I think on my fourth attempt at communication ( I swear there’s some sort of social services code that you need to break- very similar experience when inquiring initially about permanent care) , I finally spoke to a real person, who put me on the phone to another real AND relevant person, and I got myself locked in for an info night. I had to travel interstate for work that day, but I booked a flight that would have me home with plenty of time to get in peak hour traffic and head out to the far flung burbs for the session. Until of course my plane was delayed on departure, delayed on landing (the worst kind of delay) and somehow I had misplaced my parking ticket for the day, so I had to locate the stupid customer service place in a stupid location and hand over stupid boarding passes and sweet talk stupidheads so I could get out of the stupid parking lot… argh. Home. Bed. Fetal position. No foster care info night.

The agency do offer to come to your home though, if you can’t make it to a session. I am sure this service is designed for and utilised by busy mothers, not childless single people, but they didn’t bat an eyelid when I suggested this alternative and after the time was shifted once or twice, tonight was finally locked in. A lovely lady from the agency turned up on my doorstep and chatted with me about my options for nearly an hour and a half. I was scared Omar was going to do a big, stinky poo in his kitty litter while she was here, but instead he showed the most amount of chutzpah I’ve seen to date with another person in the flat and demonstrated his new found bravery by repeatedly attacking the crapola out of her leg. Sigh. Thankfully, she’s an animal lover. Or so she says. Eek.

She was young, but very experienced. She’s been a foster carer before, knows a lot about the permanent care program in my region and, interestingly, her partner and her are going through the domestic infant adoption program.

She did a great job of being balanced and honest, and while her interests obviously lie in recruiting more people to foster care, I don’t think she was being unnecessarily damning of the permanent care program when she did say some not-so-complimentary things about it. She spoke about how the application process and the workers often come from a deficit base in the PC application process, whereas the foster care program comes from a place of recognising strengths through adversity. She used the example of postnatal depression. In the foster care assessment process, if a woman identified she has postnatal depression at one point in her life and engaged the appropriate services to aid her her back to health, the foster team would recognise that as someone being able to acknowledge their own limits and make good decision about accessing help when required. The PC team would just assess it negatively overall.

She also spoke about people having their PC applications rejected mainly due to high BMI. I’m not surprised and this is not an issue for me AND the two programs are assessing for completely different types of parenting experiences – forever versus short/medium/long term – but it was a very noticeable difference in how the two programs are positioned and thought through. And they are different – foster care has the ultimate goal of reunification. PC is about finding a forever family for a child when parental rights have been terminated. I told her that I feel I need to put my battle gear on when I begin the PC process and she didn’t disagree. She also said that the most thoughtful, well researched and ‘with it’ people often have the hardest time during the PC assessment process because of the lack of control and the considerable power imbalance. I don’t doubt it. She also encouraged me to really apply myself to PC though, if that was the path I wanted. I do want it, but I want to do foster care too. Waaah!

I suppose what I really learnt from tonight was that doing foster care through an agency can provide a community experience, with a lot of support in place. She also said some children will never go home, but are not referred to the PC program because they’re too old and the likelihood of them getting placed is minimal. When chatting about why single, female carers are preferable at times, she mentioned a little boy they have at the moment who is nearly 3 and is terrified of men. She spoke about his propensity to self harm and how he’ll probably never go home, but also may not go to PC because he has behaviours that would already make him a difficult candidate for the program. Of course, I instantly wanted this little man in my care!

I asked her whether she thought my idea of doing foster care as ‘groundwork’ for the PC process was valid and she agreed. However, there’s little to no chance that the PC workers will be interested in me doing a foster care assessment whilst doing a PC assessment. They will question my motivations. They also do not like PC parents doing foster care for 2 years after being placed. I can understand that would be in the interests of the child, but any thoughts of doing foster care will be ruled out for at least 3-4 years now if I proceed as planned with the PC process. The alternative is that I slow down the PC process (not that it’s moving all that bloody quickly right now!), get qualified as a foster carer and then pick up the PC application process again once I’ve been a foster carer for a while.

There’s probably a bunch more I will want to add the minute I hit ‘Publish’ on this post, but my thoughts are a little jumbled and I want a hot drink and my hit of True Blood. Sookie and her vampire issues will most certainly help me even out my thoughts, no?

Thoughts, anyone?

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6 Responses to To foster, to foster

  1. TM says:

    Oh, thoughts, so many thoughts. This lady sounds fantastic. Lots to process there. I have been wondering when your personal, home delivery info session was happening and remembered it was a Thursday night but not which one 🙂

    The PC process really does sound like a battle. The positioning they do and the biases they bring to their work would be immensely frustrating for me and would make me feel really powerless and angry (which is exactly to be expected according to your FC lady). I recognise and understand the reasons that they cannot accept you and your motivations at face value. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Having your intentions second-guessed and your identity as a “good person” destabilised is a high price to pay for wanting to do the right thing. And yes, the right thing comes with huge rewards and is not done purely for altruistic reasons, but nevertheless …

    I think that what you’ve learned tonight further reinforces my inclination that were I in your situation I would do FC first. Partly, because I dislike (intensely dislike) being dictated to, and so be told that PC workers prefer you not to do foster care is a red rag to a bull. But yes, there’s more to it than just intransigence. I still feel the power of serendipity and think that somehow your forever family will come to you through foster care. I don’t know why I feel that way, but I just do.

    I hope you find some clarity and I hope my thoughts haven’t just muddied the waters further!

  2. Kate says:

    I also have lots of thoughts around all this.
    Firstly, this FC worker sounds great. Workers with experience as carers can identify with and relate to carers in a way other workers never can. It sounds like she may be happy to give some ‘off the record’ advice should you need it.
    While I can see your rationale for wanting to do FC before PC, I strongly recommend doing the PC assessment first. PC departments don’t like FC, and in my experience, think foster carers should stay where they are and leave PC to the people who are truly committed to having children permanently. The assessment process is always gruelling and extremely invasive, but I suspect mine would have been easier had the worker not been convinced that I had started out in FC and needed to stay there.
    A couple I know completed their PC assessment, then completed a FC assessment. They wanted some experience with respite to give them a taste of what life would be like with their own child. They had 6-12 months of invaluable FC experience before being placed with their beautiful nearly 2 yo daughter.
    I agree with the FC worker that PC is very keen to weed out any applicants with issues they don’t like. I know a couple who were rejected because the PC worker thought the woman was suffering from some form of depression. Her GP didn’t think she was depressed and neither did she – apart from that induced by the stress of a PC assessment.
    I felt like a fraud during my assessment process as I was required to prove that I am a perfect parent. Clearly, no one is perfect, but PC workers seem to need to demonstrate that anyone they approve is ‘practically perfect in every way’.

  3. Millie says:

    I think the emphasis on ‘Permanent’ makes this area very pressured. So all the assessments are more definite and seem to be stricter.

    Foster Care seems to have a fluidity to it that PC doesn’t have. The lady that visited you sounds great Jess. What makes her most valuable is her own personal story. Thanks for posting this, I’m really interested in your experiences.

  4. Thanks for your comments, TM, Kate and Millie.

    I’ve had a good think about all of this some more and have decided to power ahead with PC. Like you mentioned, Kate, I can always do the FC assessment after PC while I am waiting for a placement. The sneaky side of me even thinks this would be an excellent plan if there were any siblings born after the PC placement and I could be their foster carer. The bottom line is though, I want to become a mum and care for a child permanently and I’ve already been geared towards this for nearly 2 years, with another long wait in front of me.

    One thing I didn’t mention in my post, simply because I forgot, is that there is actually one state-wide agency that deals with permanent care – Centacare. I was surprised I hadn’t come across this organisation before, because I think I am pretty well researched, but the the lady from the FC agency told me that it’s low profile. It’s a Catholic organisation and she said some people use it if they feel that they are on the wrong side of the regional Department workers. She did say you don’t have to be Catholic to access the service, but I really do struggle with this particular organised religion, so I might battle away with the local Department workers to start and see how I go.

    On the Department, with my renewed vigour I called yesterday just to reassure myself that they had indeed received my paperwork so I could attend the June education sessions. I expected borderline rudeness and I got it. It made me smile. Bring it!

  5. Kate says:

    The couple I mentioned previously did their foster care training through Good Shepherd. This agency is a catholic organisation, however they are very supportive of singles and same-sex couples. They are also supportive of foster care to permanent care conversions and have suggested it as a possibility to a few couples I know.
    I like everything I’ve heard about Good Shepherd – they provide great support for their carers and like permanent care.

  6. Pingback: Mojo murmurs | Never mind the distance

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