Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How did we get here?: Deciding to become foster carers

I'm not sure when exactly the subject of becoming foster carers came up. It must have been very early on, probably within the first few months of meeting, because I knew it was something that I wanted to do and I would not have continued with our relationship if he didn't also want to be a foster parent. By the time we were talking about living together we were definitely in discussion about it. It was just a matter of when.

As it became a regular topic of conversation, we agreed that our own biological children had to be old enough to accept and understand the circumstances of foster care. This is not easy to comprehend for an adult let alone a child. So simplifying the whole process was important. Now how to do that? Nothing about children living away from their birth family is simple. It's messy. There's no way around it. But... you can help your biological children to come to terms with the different facets that come into the picture. We decided to feed the children information about foster care slowly and to limit the children's involvement in the application/training/assessment and counselling processes to "as required" basis. Of course we always left the door open for the kids to ask our case manager questions (and they have). In fact, our 10 year old daughter spoke with our case manager on the phone during my first conversation with the agency. Of course we've involved them heavily in the big stuff such as preparing our home, the emotional and physical realities of care, as well as the different reasons children will need us to be their family for a little while.

Years passed, babies were born and sprouted into children and teenagers. I looked into overseas adoption. The chinese adoption option looked great, but something about it unnerved me. Adoption seemed so final. Being the daughter of an adopted mother, I've seen first hand that there is nothing simple about adoption. There is something unnatural to me as a Mother about being a tie being so severely cut in every sense - legally, emotionally, physically, culturally. I knew adoption was not for us. I do commend those who are brave enough to go through the hoops between our government and the government of your adoptive child's country. We just could not do that. It isn't comfortable territory for me.

When our youngest child started school at age 6, and our eldest daughter commenced full time work, we felt that our nest had some more room and that we still had something to offer children in need. I'd contacted DOCS in April 2009 in preparation for the application process. However their slow response and lack of support set off alarm bells and I gave up pursuing the application.

In February 2010, a week after Jack started school, I was standing at his school assembly when the principal mentioned that our area (Sydney Eastern Suburbs) was in dire need of carers and that the school is a regular host to children in care. I phoned the school principal as soon as I arrived at home and spoke with her and she recommended an agency that I had not known offered foster care. I filled in the contact form on their website and received a call from a case worker the next day.

We had several conversations on the phone, including some between our children and the caseworker. I've never asked so many questions in my life. I felt like such a pain in the arse!Our caseworker was great. She responded to all of my phone calls and emails immediately and has never once made us feel as though we're wasting her time. We booked into an information session, but got stuck in traffic and couldn't go. We were already booked into our training so the caseworker came out to our home and gave the information session in our loungeroom. We filled in our applications and then went on a road trip to Alice Springs while it was being processed.

Our Foster Care Application process timeline:

8 Feb: Made initial enquiry
9 Feb: Spoke with caseworker
feb-March: Phone calls, emails, visit from caseworker for info session at home
April 2: Filled in application, wrote our life stories, medical histories etc and sent away
April 28: Police checks and references cleared
May 1: First training session (cheesy stuff about bonding - complete with Stevie Wonder songs)
May 6: First assessment interview (traumatic recollections of our childhoods)
May 8: Second training session
May 13: Second assessment interview and home environment check
May 18: Third assessment interview (all household members to be interviewed alone)
May 20: Fourth assessment interview
May 22: Third training session
May 27: Fifth and final assessment interview
June 3: 10 page profile submitted to DOCS and selection panel
June 8: Received the call that our first foster child - a baby aged 7-8 weeks would be arriving on June 11
June 10: Panel approval date
June 10: APPROVED! Another Home environment check, contracts signed and insurance paperwork finalised
June 11: "The Winter Baby" arrives

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