Getting licensed is the only way into the wild world of foster parenting. The entrance is gated by the process. And the process looks vastly different depending on which side of this entrance you are on.
Standing on the outside, you wonder why any of this training is necessary, why your life is an open book to be commented on and who are these people who have the authority to give (or not give) you the right to take care of children. However, once you are on the inside, you may find the process wasn’t rigorous enough, thorough enough or tough enough.
Before I became a foster parent, I worked at a large private adoption agency. It was my job to talk to prospective adoptive parents about the steps in the adoption process. Undoubtedly, at the end of every information meeting, at least three hands would raise, all asking about the dreaded home study. “Will they look in all the closets?” “What if my kids misbehave while the social worker is there?” “What if…? “Will they…?” As an adoption professional, I explained that the purpose the licensing process was to get to know you and then capture who you are in a written document.
But, I can tell you that when the tables were turned, when I was the one with the bucket of questions and the jumble of emotions, this whole home study and licensing process was INTIMIDATING. I wondered if I would say the right things. Questioned if my bathroom tiles were clean enough. Vacuumed until the floor was spotless and then vacuumed again. Called my friends to edit my responses to any possible questions.
The day of the home study came. My social worker was nice, professional and answered many of my questions. She got to know me a bit and then we dug in. I was (and am) single. She questioned my support system. My finances. My emotional reserves. My ability to be a good parent on my own. Which are all valid questions, but in the moment, it irked me. Mostly because I deeply desired to be married and to have kids. But, that wasn't case. And it felt like... Well, because you aren’t married, you can’t have kids. Package deal. Well, that sucks.
The physical preparation of my house was no better. Around here, the fire marshal is the one to give the final okay on the physical details of your home. My fire marshal was kind – but required a lot of small, seemingly inconsequential changes. A pluthora of fire alarms, completely clearing out the space under my stairs, the exact placement of the fire extinguisher. I felt offended that he would not only ask for changes to be made, he would demand them in order to sign the one last necessary piece of paper for my license. I had to do whatever he said. My life was not my own.
These are only some of the many steps necessary before that first foster child walks through your doors. In the beginning the process feels like a complex maze. In order to navigate, many people keep detailed records of which day they completed each step. A checklist of sorts. Orientation meeting. Paperwork. Home study. Fingerprints. More paperwork. SIDS classes. Foster care classes. Foster Care Shower. Fire Marshal Visit. Car seat class. And of course the date the license came in the mail.
In the end, I obviously made it through, became official and got that license. I have the timeline. I have every date written down. But, in retrospect, the entire process is hazy. People say the licensure process is like labor, the details and much of the pain are forgotten when you finally hold your child. I have found this to be true. Now that I know and have loved children who came to me through the system, all of the work of getting here is forgotten.
Well... except on those days that I realize I have no idea what I am doing. Or on those days I meet other foster parents who have no idea what they are doing. Or days when I meet yet another foster child who has been wounded by ill-prepared foster parents.
On those days, I think that instead of hours, we should be required to have months and even years of training. Instead of months of preparation, years or decades. Instead of requiring the lowest possible standard preparation and safety training, we should have the maximum. Because everything looks different depending on which side of the license you are standing. And whether or not there is a hurting child, who NEEDS you to be prepared, sitting in your living-room.
*For those of you into details, it took me 4 months from my first orientation meeting until I was official licensed. Then one week until my first placement.