Adoption · Fostering

10 Ways Foster Parenting Can Affect Your Family

When I am in conversation with people, especially someone I don’t know well, it will often come up that my husband and I were foster parents for many years. When people hear we have 9 children, the next questions is usually, “Are they all yours?” I’m comfortable saying, “Yes they are… 6 are biological and 3 are adopted.” But after a bit of chit chat, I’ve had so many people say to me with energy in their voice, “I’d love to talk to you more about fostering. I have ALWAYS wanted to be a foster parent!”

And every time, I feel a catch in my throat and my stomach tightens up and I have to remind myself to take a breath. Every time.

I want to be excited for them. I want to be part of that story but I also don’t. I want to be completely honest with them and I don’t want to tell them the truth. I was that person once and I haven’t quite figured out how to go back.

If you drive down major interstates in my area, you will often see billboards from Children’s Services that say “You Don’t Have to be Perfect to be a Foster Parent.” or “The Best Gift You Can Give a Child is a Home.” I used to see those billboards and feel a tug…here was something I could be part of…it was inspirational. And the thing is…it really is awesome. Fostering is a huge labor of love. But the reason I feel this catch in my stomach is that those billboards with happy faces and cute kids are so far from daily life while fostering that I see them and feel like its propaganda. I feel like the message they send is a bait and switch.

My experience tells me that cute memes and oversized billboards can’t begin to explain what fostering is. It has taken YEARS AFTER ADOPTING our foster kids for us feel somewhat normal as a family. This did not happen while we were fostering. So when someone tells me they want to foster, I kinda feel unsettled…how honest do I want to be with these new friends? Do I cheer them on and tell them, “That is awesome! You will be great!” Or do I tell them the truth….do I tell them how the system is so flawed, it completely disrupts your life in so many ways and what life is really like as a foster family? I never really know. But in case you stumble across this post, in case you are thinking of fostering, I want you to know. I wish someone would have given me a fuller picture of what it looks like to foster. There are so many pieces to this puzzle and its hard to find them all. I realize not everyone goes into fostering with the same expectations or situation, but between the horror stories and glossy promo literature, I had difficulty finding a good picture of what fostering could look like for my normalish family with young children to begin fostering. This is by no means comprehensive. It is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you look up information on fostering, here are some of the things they will look at to qualify you as a foster parent:

  1. How old are you? States have minimum age to foster. In Ohio you must be 21 to foster.
  2. Income & Employment – You must be able to provide for your own living expenses. They will check your tax returns to see that you are stable here and don’t have a recent history of bankrupcy.
  3. Housing – Does it meet safety requirements and does it have enough bedrooms to house children according to state standards.
  4. How many other children live in the home? Each state has a maximum number of children allowed to live in the home. Biological or adopted children under the age of 18 are part of that number. In Ohio you can have 10 children in the home (5 of whom can be foster children) but there are some states where the maximum is 5 children.
  5. Do you have a criminal record?
  6. If you are single or if both parents work, how will you go about providing care for a child when you are not available.
  7. Do you have adequate transportation or live in an area with public transportation.
  8. Are you healthy enough to foster?
  9. What kind of a support system do you have?
  10. If you have children, they will want information on all of them to make sure things are squared away – birth records, social security numbers, confirmation of school enrollment, health physical etc.

As we were planning to foster, I looked over the list above and my brain went…check, check, check next to each little box. Clearly we could do this. We already had 4 children of our own and I was expecting our 5th. We loved them like crazy and we had a great support system of family and friends. Our circumstances did not preclude us from fostering…therefore…it was totally doable in my mind. However, while the system is quick to run a prospective foster family through a rigorous process to license them as foster parents, they are not as quick to make sure you really understand that becoming a foster parent might just turn your life on its head. I’m not blaming the system or anyone really. If we had it to do over, we would ask better questions before we began to hopefully prepare ourselves better.

So while above I have shared 10 common requirements to become a foster parent, now I want to share 10 things you SHOULD consider before you become a foster parent. These are all from our personal experience and other families will have had other experiences that may not line up with ours.

  1. Having social workers come sit in my house every week or two for an hour or so at a time was pretty disruptive. We had young children and the workers might come at nap time or right before dinner. They often came while I was trying to prepare dinner because we had school-aged foster kids and they needed to see them and not just me. Trying to keep my little kids well behaved, talk to a social worker and get dinner on the table was just difficult. During that hour, I ended up talking to the workers most of the time as the majority of our foster kids were either too young to talk to them or did not want to talk to the social workers. When we added weekly counseling visits to this number, I had people in my house several times a week whose primary job it is to make sure that these kids were ok and that we were doing everything we could to help them be ok. I became accustomed to life under a microscope.
  2. I felt like I had to justify our lifestyle to social workers. It’s weird…having a social worker come to our house made me feel like I had to rationalize potentially controversial things about my family. For example, we homeschool, and many social workers do not associate that with good outcomes for kids because of cases of abuse that have entered the system and were “homeschooled.” Our first social worker was so kind. She was an older lady. She would step into the house and I would see her eyes immediately scan the diningroom, taking in the homeschool books spread across the table. Eventually I brought up homeschooling to see what she thought about it and because I wanted to clear the air. We had a pleasant chat. She really didn’t know of any diligent homeschool families who actually educated their kids. Her experience was on the abusive side of things, so she was noticeably cautious. She did seem to relax more after talking and eventually we settled into to a pretty good relationship. As part of our paperwork, we had to turn our annual homeschool notifications to Children’s Services proving that we were legally educating our kids. So, not only did we have to account for the education of the foster children, we had to account for our own kids too. I don’t think this is bad practice in any way, it was just one more way that it felt like “Big Brother” might be watching. There were other situations in our family over the years where we would have to provide an explanation or documentation that suited the system every time. Thankfully our county was pretty easy to work with but on our end it was stressful to have to explain the details of random situations to a stranger who then would “judge” it on its merits.
  3. When you foster children, it is really really hard to get a break when you NEED one. Life with your own little biological kids means you don’t get many breaks anyway. Maybe grandma will take them for the afternoon or overnight but most of the time, life is 24/7. But when you have foster kids, unless grandma is fingerprinted and background checked, she cannot babysit the foster kids (at least when we fostered) and she could not keep them overnight unless she was licensed as a respite foster parent. This requires the same training as regular foster parents in Ohio, which is extensive and very time consuming. None of our extended family were licensed as respite providers. In our case, if we wanted or needed respite, it was usually when we were desperately worn out. Without many respite familes on standby, it was usually several weeks before we could have a break and often we would need to drive an hour or so to drop them off with another family and pick them up there a couple of days later. Usually the entire process was so much effort and came at a time when the the crisis was over that respite care did not feel useful. If I had it to do over, with difficult cases, I would go ahead and schedule respite on a regular basis so I could have a planned break and the child could look forward to it.
  4. Having a rule for everything can make you feel crazy. Most people are used to having a range of possible parenting strategies but when you are a foster parent, those choices are heavily limited. I had no idea how many normal things I do on a regular basis would not be allowed with foster children. I understand all the limits but when you are living in the middle of chaos, all that “knowledge” is not always that helpful.
  5. Most social workers have never been foster or adoptive parents. In our case, we had some that had never had biological children either. Most of our workers were great people, but its hard to really explain what its like to have your life disrupted 24/7 for someone else’s children with people who have never fostered. After all, at the end of the shift, they go home. Yes, they might be on call and have to go out, and their job IS very difficult, but they don’t bring the kids home with them….and that is very different…no matter how understanding they try to be. There were times times I felt so stressed by our situation with foster kids, but there was no help and talking to social workers just made it feel more hopeless. And HOPE was my fuel when fostering...it is what I needed every day.
  6. Your family will take a back seat to the system. While the system resists calling fostering a “job,” if you think of it as a 24/7 job it will help you have better expectations. It cannot be called a job because it would pay something like $1/hour or less. However, just like an employer has the “right” to prioritize how you spend time on the clock, there are a large number of ways the system prioritizes your time and things you are allowed to do and not do as a family when you have a placement.
  7. The system will rely on you to create the boundaries you need to stay sane. You will need to learn the word “NO” very quickly!! If you are a safe, loving home, they will place as many children in your home as your license allows even if you personally feel overwhelmed UNLESS you say “NO.” This also goes for all the extras they ask of foster parents. Depending on the country, things like transportation to different activities may be required or optional. In our case, there were never quite enough drivers for things they provided transportation for so they would regularly ask foster parents to help with the driving. It was usually a kind request done a way that made you feel guilty for refusing if there was some way you could possibly rearrange your life to help. By the end of our fostering journey, I was very good at saying “NO.”
  8. When you license, they often warn you that your friends may not stick around for your foster journey. We did not have that happen. However, as we would encounter difficult behavioral problems, some of which were directly related to trauma, friends often could not understand. Often they would say something like, ” I don’t know, I don’t think that behavior is uncommon. My daughter also does XYZ” or “My son did that at that age too.” And after years of fostering and adoption, I can see that in some ways they were right in some ways BUT (and this is a very big BUT), that does not make it the same. In a foster situation, you definitely have trauma going on, you also have very limited ways of responding AND attachment (more like detachment) is a huge factor in how we as human beings respond to each other. Attachment has taken many years to happen with all 3 of our adopted kids and was never in place with our foster kids. So their behaviors and our responses were being filtered through brokenness and detachment and it made it really hard to figure out what we should do as foster parents. While my bio kids may not like consequences, we would talk about mistakes, learn from them and it would build trust. Consequences for my foster and adopted kids made them feel alienated or unloved for the same behavior. At the time, when my friends would tell me that parenting foster kids was the same as biological children, I just felt crazy because I could not figure out where the breakdown was. The parenting books did not have my foster kids in them…it was clearly different but I didn’t really have words for it at the time.
  9. Your extended family may really struggle with where they fit in to your foster journey. I have an amazing family…its big, supportive and a blessing in every way. However, my parents and siblings had never fostered or adopted. Being foster grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins was all new to them too. My family would offer a listening ear, give suggestions and empathize as best they could. It was difficult for them to see us going through really hard stuff with other people’s children. At times there were conversations where someone would say, “Do you think you will do this forever? Why do you keep doing this? or Is this the best thing for the rest of your kids?”
  10. When you foster, people will often say things like, “Well God bless you! You are a saint. Thank you for all you do. I could never do it, but the world needs more people like you.” I’m not much of a tongue biter....but this was when I usually bit my tongue. I would plaster a smile on my face and nod in agreement and not say ALL the things I wanted to say. I would usually meet one of these well-intentioned people on a bad day (of course) and I was so tempted to set them straight. I wanted to tell them that really I’m not a great person…I’m actually a fairly terrible parent on some days and these foster kids all deserve someone better than me. And I wanted to tell them that “I could never do it” either and yet here I was doing it. I wanted them to say, “Wow, fostering seems like it would be really hard. What is the hardest part for you?” I could have answered that question honestly and agreed that it is hard. But all the positive accolades made me feel like this was not the time to be real, so I just bit my tongue with a smile on my face while my inner critic reminded me of all the ways I was not saintly. When people think you are doing something special…something they are not part of, something they were were not “chosen” to do, it can be a lonely place. When we were actually fostering, I had a really hard time articulating this thought because it didn’t feel safe. Thankfully I did have people I could be honest with (usually other foster parents) but in those moments of temporary sainthood, I never did quite figure out what to say.

If you are considering fostering or know someone who is a foster parent, I hope that my experiences will give you another piece of the puzzle as you try to figure it out. There are so many words to say on this topic. My husband and I no longer foster, but I care deeply about this topic, especially the needs of the whole foster and adoptive family. If you have questions that you wish some foster parent would give you insight into, let me know. I will do my very best.

Disclaimer: My intent is to share my thoughts on fostering from the perspective of a foster and adoptive parent of “normal” kids for the purpose of discussion, education and connection. There are many resources about caring for children and their needs and that is wonderful, but in my experience, the needs of the foster parents and family often take a back seat. The children are the primary focus of the foster system as they should be but this makes it difficult to feel supported or find real information at times. Fostering rules are different in every state and may be different than what I have shared here.

Fostering

What Is Back to School Like with Foster Children?

Over the years, several of our foster children were school-aged. This is a distinctly different experience than having preschool or infant foster children because children going to school are going into yet another environment with expectations that exist…expectations from the agency, the school and from other children. In every day life, the foster agency already has expectations…a lot of them…but when you add school, it is just another layer. None of my experience with foster children happened during COVID-19…but some of the things I learned should still be applicable!

First, if you have other children in school, you are already familiar with the large amount of back to school paperwork required to go to school. I remember when I was in school that on the first day, we would come home with a large packet of papers & cards in assorted colors which my mom needed to fill out asap and return to the school. Multiply it times 4 kids in school and I’m sure she absolutely dreaded it! We homeschool most of our children, but I have had a couple enrolled in school, and I always think…”Why can’t they just copy off one form to give to each school department. I’m writing the same information over & over on different colored forms!” Things have improved around here since then and now the paperwork gets filled out in early August and the school has a “back to school” day when you come and turn in paperwork, get school pictures done and meet your teacher….all BEFORE school ever starts. The packet of papers to fill out is largely the same as the ones that existed all those years ago and ALL of them require a parent or guardian signature.

Now about that parent or guardian signature…no big deal. Whip out a pen, scribble on the line..done deal. Not so fast. When you are a foster parent, you are neither the foster child’s parent or guardian. Nope. That is not you. When we first started fostering, I had no idea…I identified with being the child’s guardian. After all, I was guarding her, taking care of her, and she was sleeping in my house. But in the legal world, I was not her guardian. Her guardian was Children’s Services. And so, every one of those colored sheets of paper needed a signature…just not mine. So, I would fill out all those papers (somehow my lack of position did not stop me from participating here!), send them to the foster agency where they would be signed by the proper authority and then they were finally returned to the school. Usually this step required a phone call or two….”Who do I send these to? Did they receive them? Did they send them to the school? Ok then, are we done with this step?” Some social workers were really on their game and made this all pretty easy, but other ones I had to walk through the process.

The second noteable area of significance is all the back to school buying….the clothes, the school supplies, maybe the athletic supplies etc. When you are fostering, talking about money is taboo…sort of. We all know, “It’s Not About the Money.” Only the bad foster parents think about the money. The really good ones…the ones that love children…for them, its not about the money. Ok, so I digress. I never had the luxury of not thinking about the money. Whatever kind of foster parent that made me…oh well. And when we are talking about school supplies…and clothes…we are talking about money.

If you have a child in school, you know what I mean. Johnny is in 1st grade and Mrs. Smith would like you to buy a supply list that looks something like this:

— Crayola 24 pack of crayons (not the other brand please, those don’t work)

–a 4 pack of black Expo markers (yes, I know the 4 assorted colors are on sale for $1.00..sorry too bad…4 black for full price)

–a 1.5″ binder (yes we know that they cost 4 times as much as the budget 1″ binder)

–a red folder and a yellow folder (I’m sorry…every teacher in your county also asked for yellow and red. No, we did not coordinate and suggest all the teachers pick different colors. Sorry if Walmart is sold out of these two colors. Maybe fold some out of posterboard)

–2 boxes of Kleenex (will sharing Kleenex boxes even be a thing after COVID??)

–24 wood pencils (please make sure you buy the good expensive ones because the other ones are junk and will break constantly if you do not)

—and on and on it goes. The list of required supplies. If you have multiple children, double…triple or whatever and there you have it…something that should be a separate line item on the budget right up there next to the car payment.

When I think about back to buying school supplies for foster kids, we encountered a couple of different scenarios. The first time we had a school aged foster child, our now daughter had been with us for months. She was starting the school year in 3rd grade, and I had the whole summer to gather things up on that list. In the world of dollars and cents, understand that this means that I had months to account for this cost and plan ahead how to budget this expense among any others we had at the time. I was able to shop the Walmart sales..get the right color of folders while they were still in stock and inexpensive, overall, I did not spend a fortune. However, the second time we did back to school buying, it was quite different. That placement came right AFTER school had started…like 2 weeks or less after school started. In this case, the supply selection was wiped out on many supplies except for full priced options. We homeschool and I happen to have a large closet that I usually keep stocked. So, our first stop was the closet, and then we made multiple stops at different stores to try to fill in the list with normal supplies as well as odd things like locks and lanyards that were on the list. At that time, they had been with us for a couple of days….there was no “check” to cover this and they were expected to stay only a couple of weeks. They needed whatever was on the list in addition to new book bags. There were few items available in the store and even fewer for a great price. So we spent significantly more than the first time…a LOT more. There was no time to plan…no time to shop deals…no time period. In addition, any local programs that give away free supplies were also over. In a practical, financial sense, the second placement came with a huge list of expenses and we had to meet those needs out of pocket. I knew money was coming later but this situation was backwards from the previous which was not something I had anticipated. The reality is, they could have left in 2 weeks and whatever I spent beyond on the per diem received in that time period would have been truly out of pocket and not reimbursed.

In a similar way, buying clothing for back to school can be a significant expense that is better anticipated ahead of time than decided in the moment. When I was growing up, I remember standing in line behind families who would stack the checkout high with new clothing purchases for back to school. In our family, we usually had one or two new outfits and new shoes but not a whole wardrobe. The rest of it came from thrift stores, hand me downs or my mom made them. When our foster daughter was 8 and preparing for school…we had the summer to prepare to gather the list. She was only 8 and the only one of our 6 kids going to school. Her wardrobe was a mix of new and used and very affordable. The second placement at we had for “back to school” was completely different. They were in middle school and high school came with zero outfits and needed everything quickly. It was far more expensive shopping that way. Since they wanted all name brands, trying to meet their needs was much more difficult. I found myself having a lot of internal distress over their needs, wants and a my own desire for them to feel welcome and cared for.

These girls were placed right after school started, and highlighted that we didn’t have a great solution for a situation like theirs. Our longer term solution that we implemented for the 10 months they stayed was for them to have a monthly budget for spending on clothes or makeup. I would give them cash at the beginning of the month for them to control. In the short term though, the back-to-school wardrobe was just a difficult, expensive situation. I did not feel like they were happy or that I was happy about how we got their wardrobe in compliance. Essentially, to salvage the budget, we bought a couple of new outfits and new shoes and supplies but the rest did come from the thrift store. One of the girls in particular did not like this and rarely wore the second-hand clothes…choosing instead to wear her few new outfits over and over or take my daughters clothes or unfortunately, steal from others. Not good.

The third part of the back to school experience relates to just meeting the educational needs of that individual child. Often times when a child is placed, the social workers don’t really have a full picture of what a child needs academically. They are often being removed in an emergency situation and they are primarily assessing the most iminent problems. But once a child is in the home and there is time to finish gathering details, an IEP often comes to light. An IEP, or Individualized Education Plan, is used in the school setting to identify and meet the specific learning needs of children who might need extra help or accomodation to make progress in their learning. One of my adopted children has an IEP, but as his parent, I am an integral part of his learning needs being met. I fill out the paperwork with all the background information, and I provide any outside documentation that medical providers, counselors or other services have provided. But when a child is placed that has not lived with you and has or needs an IEP, it is an entirely different experience. The school wants to look at you the foster-parent to fill that parent role. They know you are not…but they still visualize you that way….at least in my experience. They invited me to IEP meetings as well as a social worker. However, for foster children, I felt most comfortable handing this back to Children’s Services for a placement that was new. I did not have valuable experience or information that would be helpful in the process of obtaining IEP services. The county had more information than I had. So, while they would have let me be part of the process…I deferred on this one. In order for an IEP to be implemented, there are often several meetings with teachers, parents, and school psychologists. When we had a placement with older girls, they had IEPs in place but still needed meetings to implement. But as a foster parent, I had nothing to contribute because I did not know them, so I chose not to be part of the conversation and let the county handle it entirely.

All in all, doing the Back to School routine with foster kids looked similar to the experience with my own kids, but the timing of placement did affect how easy or stressful it was to make this transition. If I had it to do over again, I would actually make a plan for 3 things:

  1. I would create a “fund” early on in our foster journey to be used for “surprise” expenses related to fostering. Whether that was a placement with no wardrobe or buying a new carseat, having a slush fund that was only used for special purposes would be wonderful and would have relieved some of the stressful decisions made due to finances.
  2. I would ask Children’s Services what resources they have to help with clothing and school supply needs for foster kids. (Because we only encountered this back to school situation a couple of times, and only had one scenario where the children arrived without belongings, I did not establish a routine for how to fill these needs with community resources that do exist.) They do have and can usually give you a list. I would investigate those early in my fostering journey to become more comfortable with them.
  3. If I was fostering school aged children, I would educate myself on the IEP process and purpose. I would also educate myself on how to access IEP services. They take months to implement so if you have a placement that needs one, it is helpful to start the process shortly after placement.

Whether you are just investigating fostering or have been doing it for years, I would love to hear what other tips or ideas you have for the back to school season that would help other foster families navigate this more easily.

 

Adoption · Blog · Fostering

Our Double Adoption Story – Idealism Meets Reality-Part 2

Continued from Part 1 of When God Whispers – Our Adoption Story

Idealism Meets Reality – The part where fostering is so much harder than we could have imagined.

We said “yes”…and they came. The social worker arrived first followed shortly by Sadie and Abel with their grandparents, and aunt. The social worker, Dawn, explained the logistics of what this placement looked like. We were not licensed foster parents yet. We had only completed classes but not gone through the rest of the licensing process. Because we knew their family, they could stay with us as a kinship placement. Normally that is reserved for family members, but it can also be used by friends or acquaintances who take children in.  When you foster children, there are requirements about how many kids can be in a room, the ages and genders of kids that can share a room and endless number of other requirement.  At the time, four of our kids slept in one bedroom. Elliott (the baby) slept in our room and the only other room was used as a playroom. It did not meet the requirements for foster care. It had an unfinished bathroom, with no door and exposed wiring (don’t worry…it was on the ceiling). It was halfway done but definitely unfinished.  Now, with kinship care, the rules aren’t quite as strict as regular foster care, but we did not have any way to arrange the bedrooms at that time to accommodate the gender requirements. Sadie had spent a great deal of time off and on with our neighbors through the years. They were her second family, and she loved them dearly. In the end, they agreed to have Sadie come live with them, and Abel would stay with us. The courts agreed to “separate” these two kids only because they would live next door to each other. Normally, the courts prefer to keep siblings together.

Continue reading “Our Double Adoption Story – Idealism Meets Reality-Part 2”
Adoption · Blog · Fostering

Our Double Adoption Story – When God Whispers – Part 1

Like many stories, ours does not have a concrete beginning. I think I have wanted to adopt since I was a child. But, this adoption…the one where we add two blessings to our family, began in early 2006. By God’s grace, we had found a buyer for our  small bungalow house right before the market crashed. Even better, the house I had always dreamed of buying was empty. Its owners were in a retirement home.  My brother was a house-flipper and title agent at the time, so he negotiated with the family for us to buy this new house. In so many ways, it was an answer to prayer because at the time, it was really more than we could afford. The mortgage was fine but the $50,000 in improvements was a bit out of our range. But bit by bit, even that worked itself out.

Continue reading “Our Double Adoption Story – When God Whispers – Part 1”
Fostering

Foster Care “Bounce” In and Out Again

Foster Bounce

My husband and I have been foster parents for 4 years now but the first 3 years were just fostering our 2 children that we adopted. It turns out…that isn’t the norm. Recently though, we experienced a heartbreaking “bounceback” with a more recent foster son…we’ll call him Clint (not his real name). Clint, age 5, lived with our family for 2 months. He had been in foster care for over a year and a half  but had been staying with us for just 2 of those months after a move from his previous placement. He was a tough little boy….cute…but really tough. If he didn’t get his way, he would drop to the floor in a ball, scream a piercing scream or on a truly delightful day…go pee on another child’s bed or toy. He was in rough shape despite our best attempts and despite a weekly visit with a counselor. We knew that with his impending move home, there was nothing we could really do to stabalize him.   We were thrilled when the phone call came…Clint was going home with his mom, her new husband and his siblings. Things were looking up for this little boy!

After Clint went home. We fell into an easier routine. I would think of him often hoping he was happy.

Fast forward 2 months.

The phone rings Friday evening (it’s always a Friday evening with us…no idea why). The worker on the end of the line is someone I know from way back. She knew my parents when I was in middle school. An upbeat lady, I immediately start chatting…until she cuts in and lets me know this is not a social call. “I’m calling about your foster son.” My eyes immediately glance over at the sweet little blonde 2 year old cherub living with us right now. I expect this call is to tell me that he is finally moving in with a family member. “Remember Clint” I’m jolted back as a sickening sensation hits my stomach. I know what she is going to say. ” He needs a place to stay this weekend. His mom decided she couldn’t do this and she is placing all the kids (5 of them) back in care. We are calling all their previous placements to see if they can stay for the weekend until we figure out what to do next week.”

My eyes locked with our adopted daughter. She was listening to my half of the phone call. Her eyes grew wide as she figured out that Clint was coming back under such heart breaking circumstances. I knew this would bring up painful memories of when she too arrived home from school to find police and social workers on the scene that would soon lead her to a new home. Part of me wanted to tell this worker “no” he couldn’t come. He had been a particularly difficult placement and my husband wasn’t home so I could run it by him. Also, when Children’s Services says “Can they come for the weekend,” you know it will be longer. It takes several days at least to get things in order and that is if they move fast. Sometimes it takes weeks or months.  But of course, I couldn’t say no…not to this little boy.  He was the first foster child we had to “catch and release.” At the time I thought that meant he would stay and go home. But now he was coming back and we needed to “catch” him again.

When the worker pulled in, it was after 9pm. Clint was in the back of a minivan clutching the strap of his seat belt. The worker tried to coax him out. I tried to talk to him and then he started wailing. “I don’t want to be here. I want to go home….” We coaxed. He cried. Eventually we had to carry him in the house together. The exhausted social worker brought in his small bag of belongings and left. Clint stood and moved rather mechanically.  He hadn’t eaten since lunch so he had some leftovers from dinner warmed up. He seemed like he was in a bit of a daze so we got him ready for bed and I tucked him in and said his prayers.

Feeling exhausted, I sank into the couch. Only a few minutes passed before the small little boy came walking out, dragging his blanket with tears streaming down his face. He climbed up on the couch next to me and just cried.

He did only stay with us a few days until he could be placed with a sibling in his old school district.  I felt a sense of loss when he left but even more a sense of the long road ahead of him. These kids…the ones that land in the system, are often such transient little people expected to move at a moments notice. I pray that the little things we do will let them know they are loved even while their world stands on its head.

 

Fostering · Fostering in Ohio

Easy 10 Step – Homeschooling Portfolio Review in Ohio

portfolioreview

If you have been homeschooling in Ohio, you are required to have your student’s work assessed to verify that you did indeed educate your little darling(s) in the previous school year.

The first option is to have Junior tested using a standardized test at the completion of your school year and give a copy of the results to your school district.The second option, and the one we have used for our 7 years of homeschooling, is to have a licensed teacher review a portfolio of your school materials to assess that they worked according to their ability this past year. The third option is to have your school superintendent agree to some alternative form of testing/assessment if your situation requires something more creative than the first two options.

It is September 13…and I just had my children’s work assessed by a teacher  a couple of days ago…for the 2013-2014 year!  Yes, it should have been turned in already and yes I’m running behind. Summer slipped between my fingers like some illusive dream and now here we are…almost fall, back to school…time to get it together.

When we first started homeschooling, I had no idea what one of these reviews should include…did I need several 3″ binders filled with coloring pages, handwriting worksheets and craft projects. Did I need actual projects…you know that volcano we made or leaves sandwiched between wax paper? What did I need exactly. Well I’m not super organized. I think I lose brain cells by the end of spring…I’m SO READY to be done with school. So my 1st…2nd..3rd…. portfolios were pretty much the same. I would throw all their half-finished notebooks, textbooks, folders etc into a tote and haul it off to the library or wherever I was meeting our teacher to “assess” our portfolio. All the while, I was saying a little prayer that they would find our pile of papers acceptable and “pass” us! Now thankfully, the teacher’s that have reviewed our portfolios have all been homeschool moms themselves..so they get it. They get the mess, disorganization, the whole learning curve that never ends with homeschooling.

That said, we have been having our “portfolio” reviewed for 6 years or so and here are a few tips for putting one together that you can feel confident showing your teacher and not break your back hauling every scrap of their work. I myself am going to refer back to my own list as I tend to start pitching things before I really think about whether I might need to show it to someone for our review.

Ten Tips for a Successful Homeschool Portfolio Review

  1. Make a list of every subject your child did for the year.
  2. Under each subject, list your textbooks or other books you used.
  3. Write down any field trips, museum and zoo visits and travel or vacations you took.
  4. Write down a list of literature or enjoyment books your student read or listened to.(This does not have to be a complete list and gives an idea your child’s reading level and interests)One of my sons loves audio books and listens to many so we include those too. (scroll down to find an example of what I wrote out for my son’s portfolio)**
  5. Add activities your child participated in: music lesson, co-op classes, sports, online classes….pretty much any learning experience not covered by the previous lists.
  6. Add a few notes about your child’s hobbies or current interests. (I’m always so blessed when someone takes the time to ask my kids about their interests and by adding these things in, it both keeps a memory for me and gives the reviewer something to jumpstart friendly conversation).
  7. Set aside your math workbook or a few pages of math done. We don’t test but you could add math tests or whatever you like here. (Our teacher was looking to see if they completed pages or if they skipped a lot etc)
  8.  Pull out a writing sample or two. (I had thrown away a lot of my kids things from last year before this review so I went ahead and had one or two of them do a page of copywork to include).
  9. Bring a book your child knows so your reviewer can hear them read aloud.
  10. Lastly but most important…DON’T STRESS! It’s really not worth it. You did your best. If it wasn’t a great year, let it go. If it was, enjoy your moment. Having an organized portfolio helps me feel less stressed since I have so many to get done but I’ve literally thrown each kids stuff in their own old milk crates and let the teachers flip through that too.

 

When you meet with your reviewing teacher, separate each child’s work and you are ready to go. At the completion of your review, he/she will give you a signed form to turn to your school. In case you need to bring a copy (because not all teachers are familiar with this), you can find a copy HERE.

 

**Below is a sample of the sheet I used to put together our basic portfolio for each child. I added their writing sample, math workbook and  reading book to this sheet and had a manageable overview of what we had done for each child for the year.

 Ian's Work 2013-2014 001

 

 

 

Blog · Fostering

Foster Care: It’s Not a Grocery Store

 

The phone rang. A quick glance at the caller ID said Children’s Services was calling. Not thinking it was one of  THOSE calls…where they ask you to step in on behalf of a child….I answered.

 

Phone

The worker on the other end told me a story of a boy who needed to be moved out of a home where his siblings would continue staying. Age 4. Trouble listening. Wets the bed. Poor speech. In Therapy and Counseling.  I asked a few questions trying to root out if this was a situation we could handle. And then the call was over. But in a house like ours, there are lots of ears. So the conversation wasn’t really over. There were lots of questions. “What’s his name?” ” Is he black or white?” “No, not a boy! Can’t we GET a girl?”  There were more questions but during the course of the conversation, I was hearing my kids say – “Why can’t we pick what we want about the next kid who might live here?” My response: “Foster Care is not a Grocery Store – You can’t pick.”

Don’t get me wrong, we filled out an enormous checklist for our license. It asked what kind of child our family would be willing to consider. It factored in age, gender, race, physical or learning disabilities, history of abuse or abusing. You name it, the survey covered it. But when the phone rings and a child needs a home for awhile, there aren’t choices. In that moment, you can’t pick like you do at the store with 10 brands of pasta sauce or fifty kinds of cereal. Each case must be accepted or passed over as is–and that is hard.

Like the conversation with the worker, my mind easily dwells on the worst “what ifs.” Can I handle this if we do this? Will I be able to sleep at night? My immediate concerns are usually for the safety or well being of my own kids and my own stress level. Initially I have trouble seeing the potential redemption. It is easy to get weighed down, become frozen with fear and do nothing.

But our family has been down this path before and Redemption is the most beautiful part of the equation. God can take the broken pieces of a troubled life and put them back together in a way that is surprising and truly beautiful.