About two years ago my wife and I decided to officially commit to the process of becoming licensed foster parents. That wasn't the first time we considered it. Prior to our second child being born we began the process but were pleasantly surprised by the news that we were expecting, so we put fostering on hold. Two years ago he was 3 and we felt led to begin the discussion again.
As of today we've been fostering a little girl for almost 17 months.
I've been wanting to write about our journey with fostering for awhile now but have found it difficult to get started. I think I was hesitant at first because it was all so new and I was experiencing a myriad of new emotions that I felt blogging about it that early on would possibly be irresponsible. Then as time passed the shear amount of information that I wanted to share began to overwhelm me, so I shied away from starting. But I haven't been able to shake the desire to share, so without much of a plan or formal structure I'm launching into a series of posts which will discuss my experience so far.
How did it all start?
At the time my wife and I began discussing the idea of fostering we had one biological child of our own. We discussed the idea of having another kid, but we're also at peace with the thought of only having one. So the introduction of the idea of fostering from the beginning was never about having more kids or due to a lack of ability for us to have kids, though that is a fairly common reality for some people. For us the idea centered on wanting to help kids who need help. We saw an opportunity to open our home to kids who need a safe place to call "home", for whatever period of time that may be. The more we learned about the reality foster kids live in every day the more our hearts broke. Even though we were still young parents and figuring it all out, we felt we had a home we could share and more of ourselves we could give.
So we started the process. We knew very little about how to get started, so we contacted CPS and attended an initial informational meeting. It was shortly after this time when we found out we were pregnant with our second son. It was clear to us that we had a passion growing inside us, but God had a different time table for us. In retrospect we are so thankful for how the timing worked out. Not only because we now have two wonderful boys whom we love dearly, but also because of the extra years of parenting we then had under our belt plus better connections and friendships which would help guide us into a better way to begin the licensing process instead of going to CPS directly.
While the timing was better now for practical reasons, the decision to pick back up the fostering conversation for me personally was hard to make. My wife still greatly wanted us to do it and felt prompted by God to pursue it again. I still had the same desires to help kids, but I was getting used to the fact that we had emerged from the newborn fog and that our kids were old enough for us to stretch out our schedules and do things again which are just not easy to do when you have a baby in the house. But in service to the desires of my wife's heart and personal convictions to help kids I supported us picking back up the process and becoming licensed.
The Licensing Process
This time around we opted to align with a fostering agency. Through a recommendation we landed with Caring Family Network here in Austin and have absolutely loved working with them. CFN provides us training and leadership which has given us a great deal of comfort as we have been on this journey. The training we went through opened our eyes a great deal to what we were signing up for. We learned about what the fostering system looks like, how the state involved, CPS' role, and a lot of information regarding what the kids experience. Everything shared with us regarding the kids was the hardest to take in. Sessions on trauma and abuse broke us. The reasons why kids end up in the foster care system can be horrible enough, but to also hear how being in the system can cause trauma was an eye-opener. Sitting through these sessions and going through the material only solidified our desire to play our part. The licensing process took about seven months (due to our own pacing, it can be done faster) and in September of 2014 we became licensed foster parents.
At the start we decided to begin as certified Respite for foster families so we could take a smaller initial step rather than jumping fully into a placement situation. Respite is essentially babysitting for foster families. When you have a child you are fostering there are limitations as to who can care for that child in your absence, like if you needed to leave town for a wedding or just want to go on a date. We felt this would give us a snapshot as to the world we were about to jump into. We watched two girls for one day, but pretty much right after we were certified we started to get calls for placements. We decided we would welcome a child from birth age to 2 years old. There is a large need for foster families who are willing to take in teenagers or sibling groups, but we didn't feel qualified for that scenario since our own kids were still so young. The calls we were getting were for infants. It only took the first call for us to realize we needed to jump in rather than wade in gently. We'd come this far, it was time to go all in.
Those weeks when calls would come were nuts. Our house was ready, but there's no way to emotionally prepare for that experience. You're on the edge of your seat, knowing the phone will ring at any moment day or night. And when it did, we were told a little about the child and that we might need to be ready to welcome him or her in within a couple of hours. So you're on constant alert, starting to imagine what was about to happen, but then time would pass and we'd find that the child had gone to another home. This was exhausting, but eventually we got the call that would turn into our first placement.
Welcoming Baby Girl
The call came in saying there was a little girl who needed a home. She was about 3 months old and in the NICU due to a variety of reasons. Our second child spent a month in the NICU, so we already had experience with that (which we found out was a factor into why we were picked). After a weekend of my wife meeting her and spending time with her there at the hospital we welcomed her into our home.
For specific reasons I am unable to share her name or post a photo, so from her on out I will be referring to her as "Baby Girl". She was so sweet. We all fell in love with her right away. One of the biggest questions I had in my mind since the start is how my boys would take to having another child in the house, especially one who wasn't ours. I'm going to write a whole post about that and how we handle talking to them about what our family is doing, but I'll say from day one they were warm, loving, welcoming and just amazing! I was blown away. My wife and I wanted one of the reasons we did this to be so our kids could see a world beyond their own and serve together as a family. We want them to know that life is not just about themselves and a big component to the purpose of their life is to care for others.
We welcomed Baby Girl into our home in October 2014 and she's been with us ever since. I have so much to share about what that's been like and I promise to do so. My hope with writing about all of this is to help spread the word about fostering, open eyes & hearts, and for myself so that I can put the past 17 months into words. My goal is not to turn everyone into a foster parent. It's not for everyone and it's definitely not something you jump into lightly. But it has been an incredible ride for me and I'm thankful I chose to set aside some of my own comfort and live the life of a foster parent.