So, you’re a new foster parent – congratulations! You’ve successfully completed your pre-service training and are ready to make a difference in the lives of children in need. Since you’ve been licensed, you’ve been excitedly (and a little anxiously) waiting for the phone to ring and hear a caseworker say, “I have a child who needs you.” But it’s been weeks, maybe even months, and still no call. New foster parents often ask the same question about the foster care placement process: when will I get my first foster child? Here are some things to keep in mind while you wait, as well as a few tips to help increase the chances that you’ll be the person who gets the call for the next child who needs to be placed in a safe and stable home.
Things to Keep in Mind About the Foster Care Placement Process
The more open to different types of children you are, the more likely it is you’ll soon receive a foster care placement. Foster children come from many different circumstances. They are many different colors. They have many different challenges and many unique needs. If you are only interested in fostering children of a certain race between certain ages, you may not get a placement as quickly as the foster parent whose criteria is more open.
You may also be more likely to receive a placement if you take in children that others may consider difficult, like teens or children with special needs. While many foster parents do set some ground rules for placements, such as no foster child older than the oldest biological child, which is a fairly common one, many are open to helping as many children as they can.
You should never take in a foster child you are certain won’t be a good fit for your family just because you want a placement. Imagine this: You’ve wanted to start fostering for so long and you’ve finally gotten the call you’ve been waiting for. You’re so excited that you forget to ask some very important questions like whether the child has been sexually abused. You also forget to ask if the child has any developmental delays or major health issues to contend with. You even forget to ask if you would be the child’s first placement or if the child has been in care before, and if so, why the child is being moved. It’s not a big deal that you didn’t ask, you tell yourself; the caseworker wouldn’t have called you if she didn’t think you were right for this child.
Caseworkers do try to make good matches between foster parents and children coming into care. But only you can know what your family can – and cannot – cope with, and you need to make a decision based on your judgement. Make sure you get as much information as you can at the beginning of the foster care placement process so that you can make an informed and rational decision. Like all children, foster children need someone who will stick by them, even (or especially) when they are angry, sick or sad. As someone committed to helping children in need, it’s your duty to find out as much as possible about a child before they are placed with you so you can determine if you can be that person.
Kinship foster care is on the rise in many areas, making the foster care placement process longer for new foster parents. In many U.S. states, caseworkers try to place children coming into care with relatives or family friends as a first option, rather than placing them in traditional foster homes. The number of grandparents raising grandchildren is growing, and some new foster parents find themselves waiting longer than they thought for children who need them.
The pros and cons of kinship foster care are hotly debated topics, but the majority of people feel that placing children with family members they already know and often love is better for kids in the long run. Foster parents who are trained in handling special cases, such as medically fragile children, teens and more are more likely to get placements in this new environment. With this in mind, you may want to consider additional training that could make you more likely to be called when a child with needs that match your expertise is in need of foster care placement.
No matter how long the foster care placement process takes, it will be worth the wait once you’ve helped your first foster child. Once you’ve given a child in need safety, security and sense of normalcy, your frustration at waiting will ease. You’ll be left with a sense of satisfaction and anticipation that will carry over until the phone rings again and you welcome the next child who needs you into your home.