Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster Love

Unsung Heroes: The Paxson’s

Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster LoveToday is the first feature in a four week series I am hosting called Unsung Heroes. Each Monday I am featuring a foster mom and her family that has stood out for her devotion, dedication, and advocacy for all foster children. These women and their families are the Robin Hoods, the Dark Nights of our time–average people like you and me daring to change the world. I interviewed each foster mom about the ins and outs of foster care from the most commonly asked questions to the most sensitive. I’m confident that you’ll not only be inspired by each woman but may have some of your own questions answered and possibly leave with a new perspective!

Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster LoveOur first feature family is Chelsey and Ty Paxson a sweet couple from Boerne, Texas. They are first time foster parents who decided to start their family through foster care. Chelsey works in investments and her husband Ty is an electrician by day and races his cars in his spare time. They enjoy traveling, finding great new restaurants, rodeos. Chelsey and Ty are first time foster parents to a sweet two month old baby girl who goes by Baby L.

Maegan: Chelsey, I am so honored to have you as my first feature family. Let’s jump right in: What made you and Ty decide foster care was for your family?

Chelsey: My dad was adopted, and my husband’s mom worked for an adoption agency most of his life, so adoption has always been part of our lives. We always say that we are so blessed with wonderful friends and family and wanted to share our blessings with children who might night have been so fortunate. With so many children in need, we wanted to make a difference in one of their lives before we created a new life.

Maegan: Timing is a topic that always comes up in foster care. When did y’all know it was ‘time’?

Chelsey: My husband and I have both had baby fever many times in our marriage, but every time we prayed about starting our family we felt like God shut that door for us and took the desire away. One day we prayed about starting our family through foster care and we felt that he immediately answered our prayers that it was time, so we pushed forward full steam ahead.

Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster LoveMaegan: In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge as a foster parent?

Chelsey: Knowing that your heart is going to get broken. We really want to adopt a child so we know that our hearts are going to break if/when the child returns to family, or if we get to adopt the child we know our hearts are going to break for them and their family that the situation didn’t work out for their family to be together. These children deserve for their families to fight for them. If we win and get to adopt, it means someone else has to lose.

Maegan: I have a lot of people ask for advice. What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a foster parent?

Chelsey: Do your research and find the right agency. Even if you have a great support system and resources fostering is difficult, you don’t need to add to the challenges with an agency whose main focus isn’t the children and Jesus.

Maegan: If you could give one piece of advice to a new foster parent what would it be?

Chelsey: Don’t worry about what the world expects of you. You obviously have felt called by the Lord to help these children and lean into Him more than ever.

Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster LoveMaegan: What is your goal as a foster parent?

Chelsey: To love these children as Christ loves us. I want them to never doubt the love we have for them and that they have a safe and healthy place to stay.

Maegan: Fostering is not sustainable lifestyle and it’s important to have a plan before beginning. Does your family have a set of goals or a specific end date?

Chelsey: Once we adopt we would probably take a break and focus on trying to have a biological child and raising our family. Once our children are a little older we would like to foster again and help as many children as we can.

Maegan: What in your opinion is the best thing about being a foster parent?

Chelsey: Getting to love on these children.

Maegan: Attachment to a foster child is one of, if not the biggest, concern most non-foster parents have about becoming a foster parent themselves. What are your thoughts on attachment?

Chelsey: Not having someone attach to them is detrimental to these children’s development. Getting attached to them is actually the best thing you can do for them.

Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster LoveMaegan: Why are you passionate about foster care?

Chelsey: I sound like a broken record, but these children deserve families.

Maegan: If you could only use three words to describe the certification process, what would they be? Why those words?

Chelsey: Paperwork, Invasive, Worthwhile

  • Paperwork – because there is a ton
  • Invasive – because they get all up in your business
  • Worthwhile – because even though it’s a lot of paperwork and it’s invasive, I would do it over and over again if it meant I got to have this time with Baby L.

Maegan: There is a great need for foster parents all across America. Could you list some of the statistics for your area?

Chelsey:

  • 8 children get removed from their homes every night in San Antonio
  • Almost half of the children in foster care will need to find new forever families
  • 80% of children are removed due to neglect
  • After the age of 6 a child only has a 5% chance of being adopted

Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster LoveMaegan: Thank you so Chelsey for letting me interview you today. And thank you so very much for all the hard work you and Ty do as a foster parents. And thank you for being a shining light to all foster children.

I hoped you enjoyed hearing from Chelsey and that you learned something new today. Please leave her some love here in the comments and Instagram— Foster parents need lots of encouragement and support! If you personally know Chelsey and Ty I’m asking that you to support them with your hands this week. Call and ask when you can come over and do some laundry and/or wash some dishes or bring them dinner. Don’t call and ask what you can do–call and say your coming over to help or bring a meal. And then pray for them! It takes a community to foster–it takes lots of help. So, show Ty and Chelsey how much you appreciate all they do by lending a helping hand. Have a great week everyone!

Maegan — xx

The Dreaded Home Study: It’s Nothing to Dread

acs_0175We had a wonderful home study experience. It was intense and our interviewer did ask many probing questions. But it wasn’t scary. The interviewer was never inappropriate and he never made any ugly remarks.

Exactly why does everyone dread the home study and why does is have such a negative connotation? What exactly is so horrific that the word ‘home study’ is whispered in hushed tones like the name Voldemort?

I think the general population has the expectation that a home study is to have their private life and home broken into and swarmed like a SWAT team on a drug bust. Glass breaking, wood splintering they kick down the front door and crash through the windows with automatic rifles flashing, screaming for everyone to get down on the ground–GET DOWN ON THE GROUND AND PUT YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD–as they shoot the family dog.  This is what people imagine about a home study because it is the kind of experience that has been described to them. There is a lot of bad and untrue information about foster care–especially the home study. It has to be one of the top three that gets lied about and/or blown out of proportion within the topic of foster care. Please always consider the merit of the person who is regaling you with stories or information about foster care–that includes me.

Most people– including myself before we became certified–know absolutely nothing about foster care or what the certification process looks like. When you are ignorant about a subject then you are completely vulnerable to misinformation. That’s how rumors and nonfactual information root themselves in the populous. When you get educated on a topic you can spot misinformation a mile a way. If you want an education on foster care, seek out several foster care agencies and attend their orientations. While you’re there ask the people who have careers in foster care what a home study is like. Never rely on just mine or anyone else’s second hand information. Always go straight to a credible source for credible information.

What most people are unaware of is that months prior to the actual home study everything you’ve ever done wrong; your darkest secret; the past you’ve only shared with your spouse or close family; all of it has already been written down and divulged to your agency. Remember all that paperwork you have to fill out–yeah, all that stuff about your past is part of it. There is almost nothing that your home study interviewer asks you or talks to you about that you haven’t already answered in your paperwork packet questionnaire or written in your autobiography. You will have already submitted your budget, bank statement, taxes, medical records, FBI background checks, autobiographies, house rules, job history, marriages, children, rabbies vaccination records for your pets, baby sitters, and the four different people who you asked to be your references(who submitted their own stack of paperwork of questions all about you asking very personal, honest and harsh questions about your integrity, your social standings, your finances, your personality, etc), you’ve submitted pictures of every room in your house, pictures of yourself, and your pets, and children. They have background checks on your cleaning lady and yard person and your nanny and babysitter(nannies have to complete a certain amount of foster care training in order to remain your nanny). They’ve already requested a lot of personal information from you. They already know EVERYTHING. There is almost NOTHING that the government doesn’t know about you by the time you have that home study. You have willingly made your life an open book and your home study interviewer has already read your ENTIRE file before they ever come to your house.

If you have been honest and upfront on all your paperwork you have nothing to hide or be afraid of at your home study. A home study is another way for the state and your agency to get to know you and all the members of your family–to better assess everyone. It’s the same reason companies have phone and then in-person interviews with job applicants. The in-person meeting helps to complete the already extensive picture that has been painted for them. That’s one of the big reasons why they have home studies.

So, there is no reason, NO reason to be afraid of a home study. None. And if that’s the one thing keeping you from pursuing foster care or adoption through foster care you have no more excuses. If you have nothing to hide then there is nothing to fear. It’s just part of the process to ensure the safety of the already abused children coming into foster care.

This foster care thing isn’t about you. And if you stop and think about this whole process from the perspective of what is best for the child then this process will stop looking like a governmental SWAT raid and more like good people trying their best to ensure that they are taking the very very best initiative to protect children coming into foster care. Wouldn’t you do the same if the roles where reversed?

Maegan

 

 

FROM ORIENTATION TO LICENSING—THE COMPLETE STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO BECOMING A FOSTER PARENT

Baby E Update

We are now a little over three months into fostering Baby E and, though I have not posted any updates lately, there has been a lot going on behind the scenes. Sometimes, I get so frustrated because there is so much going on that I believe is really worth sharing but I can’t because it is not my right to share. I believe the longer we foster the better I will be at sharing without breaking the rules. Y’all should know that there is always a lot going on that I can’t share and if it gets a little quiet on the ‘update front’ there is a high likelihood that there is a lot going on I can’t talk about.

For example, February was nuts–it was not a great month. There was a lot going on with the foster care side of our lives that was not positive and unfortunately none of it is shareable. I can say that Sam and I learned a lot of valuable lessons and appreciate our foster care agency more than ever. I’ve talked before about how important it is to foster with an agency and I cannot emphasize the importance of that enough. If we did not have such an amazing agency I don’t know if we would have survived February. I think my takeaway from February could be summed up in the words ‘appropriate communication’. Once the appropriate communication started flowing things got much much better.

On the personal side of things, I had to have a cracked molar pulled in February and that was miserable and complicated. I hate the dentist(as most people do) and it was just the worst timing for it to fall in the middle of everything that was going on. The infection was starting to spread down into my neck and ear so we had to bump up the extraction date and it just so happened that Sam was supposed to go out of town that same day for work. I was freaking out because I wasn’t sure how I was going to have my tooth pulled and take care of an infant at the same time. I was freaking out. But Sam has such an amazing and flexible job (and boss) who allowed him to move his out of town trip to the next week and he stayed home with me. It was a good thing too because they ended up having to give me laughing gas and I was so out of it afterwards. There was no way I could have driven home. I was glad to see February go. March was a much much better month. A lot of the foster care things got smoothed out and both sides of our family came to visit. It was a relief to have family here.

One of the things I am most proud of Sam and I for is our willingness to take on the responsibility of foster care despite both our families living far away. That is probably one of the most taxing parts of foster care for us. When we need a sitter, we have to have a certified sitter and all but one of our certified sitters(family) don’t live nearby. So Sam and I had not really been able to take a break until our families got to town. We got to go on our first date since baby E! And just having someone else to hold and bounce the baby so we could take a break or wash some clothes was much needed relief. I’d say that this is another lesson we have learned on this journey–have at least four babysitters certified and scheduled before you get certified. Seriously. By the end of February Sam and I were both exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When our families came to visit it was like taking a swim in a cool spring–refreshing and renewing. I also learned that I have to reach out to people and tell them I need help. In the middle of February I started reaching out to friends asking if they would become certified sitters for us because we were drowning. By the end of April I think we will have several babysitters certified! I’m so very grateful for all our friend who are pitching in to help us out. SO So much.At the beginning of April we found out there will not be another hearing until the middle of the summer. That means we will definitely have Baby E until then. We are loving her, and really enjoying being her foster parents. As I have said before, I don’t know how this will turn out for her or us but I do still believe that God has a plan. We pray everyday for God’s will for her life. Our plan is just to enjoy all the time we have with her and take it one day at a time like we always have. Foster care is a waiting game and while we wait we have fun plans ahead! Sam and I have so many fun activities planned for E in the upcoming months!

Baby E is doing really great and I’m so proud of her! She has made HUGE progress with the OT and just the other day she rolled over for the first time! I am so proud of her! She might have been a bit behind but she is really making strides and catching up developmentally. She has also turned into a really bubbly and vivacious baby! She really really craves social interaction and has started a lot of ‘play’ behavior. She is definitely relationship motivated. She is starting to have interest in Lemon now and watches her every chance she gets. She is sleeping really well–almost through the night now–and Sam and I could not be more grateful. Conversely, she is staying awake more and more during the day. She still has a really gentle and easy disposition and she smiles all the time now. E has already started identifying Sam and I as her parents. We weren’t sure when that would happen. All babies are different and some don’t form that attachment until much later on. She still struggles after every visitation–though she does better now than in the beginning–and now when she comes home she wont look at me for several hours because she is mad at me. I try so hard not to take that personally. I put myself in her shoes and I can see that I would be mad too. Even at three months she is so aware of what is going on. It is so surprising to see how much she understands and that she is trying to regain some control over her world. I can only imagine how confusing it must be for her. I have said it before and I will say it again; no matter how young a child is visitation is still hard for every child.Aside from visitation day, she is a happy baby! We live a normal life six days a week–Sam and I make sure of it. I take so many pictures of her and us together. Right now she is definitely going through a growth spurt and she is growing like a weed right in front of my eyes! I wake up and something about her changes every day. I honestly don’t know how she is growing up so fast or where the last three months went. I am excited to see her growing though–that is a really great sign that she is going to be a healthy, happy, little girl. We only want the very best for her even if that means she wont stay a sweet snuggly baby forever.

We appreciate every single one of you who read our posts, and pray for us, and invest time in our lives. We feel your love and prayers. We are so grateful to have such an amazing support group like you!

Maegan

Westbrook Family Visit

My parents came to visit last weekend and it was heavenly! I haven’t seen them in months and months and I was so glad they were finally able to meet “E”–as my mom calls her. We had the best time and they fell in love with Baby E! They brought her a chocolate Easter bunny that was almost as big as her, clothes, and the cutest little books! It was just a perfect visit! E recognized my mom’s voice as soon as they arrived!–she Facetimes with E and I quite a bit! That was so special to me that she recognized my mom’s voice. My heart was so full for E because she has been touched and handled by so many people for her whole life that it is really important that she has people she can anchor to besides myself and Sam. Like every child, she needs to know she has family who loves her and who she can recognize–even though, for now, we are her foster family. It is always such a range of emotions for me when E meets a family member for the first time. I’m excited for her to meet them but, at the same time, I worry it will be overwhelming for her and cause her to have a meltdown after they leave. I want her to know she has so many people who love her outside her foster care experience but I also want her to not be inundated with new people. Thankfully with both sides of our family she has been so comfortable! She laughs and plays and loves being with our families–and she has never had a meltdown during or after.On Saturday the weather was beautiful! We sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather by the pool, ate some Fuzzy’s Tacos, bounced the Baby and generally had the greatest time. Baby E loves being outside and I am so so happy because as the weather gets warmer we will definitely be spending more and more time out of doors! For me, the experience as a daughter and mother was really special because I get to see my foster child bond with my parents and my parents with her. This is my parents first grandchild too and that made it even more special. It is such an interesting experience to watch my parents from the perspective of parent and child. I understand now how important it is to have children because the experience makes you a more rounded person. It grows and matures you and your perspective on life in its entirety changes, and in a lot of ways becomes more realistic. A lot of things I believed were so important before we began fostering are not important as I believed them to be–and some of those things no longer matter at all.My Pop(my mom’s dad) also got to meet Baby E for the first time too! It was so sweet to see her so comfortable with him. Pop was all about her. It was adorable. Also, isn’t the family resemblance in the photo above striking? The Walker genes run strong! I took so many more pictures than I’m showing here but most of them have E’s face so I can’t show those. Boo! But seriously, it was so good to see my parents and for them to spend time with E. They are so attached to her that I think it will be just as hard on them if she is returned to her bio parent as it will be on us. I hope they get to visit again soon!

I am so proud of our families for embracing this sweet child like she was Sam and I’s biological child. So. Proud. So, so, proud. Not every foster family can boast that and I don’t take it for granted. She really does have two big families who love her so much. I don’t know many foster parents who can boast that! We are truly blessed!

Maegan

Our First Month as Foster Parents

I struggled with how to begin this blog post. How do I even begin to describe the whirlwind of life-changing events that was the last thirty days? Being first-time parents and foster parents has been a dream come true and overwhelming at the same time. It has involved all the emotions, struggles, and triumphs of being a first-time parent with the added stress of meeting the demands of foster care.

The Takeaway

I would have to say what I have learned the most from my first month as a foster parent is that the stress of foster care doesn’t come from actually taking care of the children. It’s not the crying, or the sleep deprivation, or the fact that I sometimes have nothing clean to wear and I haven’t taken a shower in three days–though those things pose their own challenges. The stress and the ‘negative’ that is the dark cloud hovering over foster care stems from meeting the demands of the actual foster care ‘system’.

Baby E

In the first month of Baby E’s life, she went to four doctors visits, four visitations with her bio parents, one visit from her lawyer, a court hearing (she did not attend), two visits from our agency, and a home visit from her CPS case worker. That is so so much to do for a regular adult–much less an infant. It’s taxing on her and it’s taxing on us–not that we are complaining. Our agency properly prepared us for what was ahead and it is a responsibility we gladly accept. It is hard to watch her struggle with such a demanding schedule, and though there is only so much that an infant can take, it doesn’t matter if she is having a rough day or if it would probably be in her best interest to stay at home and rest, she is obligated by the state to be at whatever visit or appointment they say she has to be.

I’ve also learned that is doesn’t matter what age a child is when they come into foster care, they ALL struggle to cope. I can only imagine how much harder it is for children who are old enough to understand what is happening around them. For Baby E, we all hope this is just a blip in her life–no matter what the outcome–and that she never remembers any of her foster care experience. On the other hand, just because she will most likely not remember, she still experiences the effects of going through the process of foster care. It doesn’t exempt her from how hard it is.

If I could get each person reading this post to come to the CPS office just one time with me and you could see the brokenness, the darkness, the sadness, and the hopelessness of that place, you would all be lining up to be foster parents. Not to mention, it is physically one of the filthiest places I have darkened the doorway of in my life–and I have been on mission trips to impoverished countries where people were grateful to have cardboard boxes to live in. Dropping Baby E off at the visitation office is the most gut-wrenching, stress-inducing, heartbreaking experience. I’m not going to sugar coat it for anyone. It is miserable. I’m not allowed to stay during the visit so I have to occupy myself for two hours until she can be picked up again–and we do this once every week. It is important for her to see her bio parents every week and I know this.  But, it doesn’t make it any easier on me to hand her to CPS and walk away. Each time, I have to remind myself that this is not about me and that no matter how afraid I am, God is in control. Sam and I are here to help Baby E because she needs someone to help her. If she didn’t have us, who else would be able to take care of her?

There are hundreds of kids who come into foster care every month just like Baby E. It is not some far-off distant imaginary thing that happens to someone else. Can you see how much these kids need you to help them? If Sam and I hadn’t decided to be foster parents, who would Baby E have right now? If not us, then who? It just breaks my heart to know how many children right this minute–not tomorrow, not ten years from now–have no one. Are you hearing me? They have NO ONE to be there for them. And guess what? That doesn’t mean that they still don’t have to do EVERY. SINGLE. THING. Baby E is having to do. Are you hearing me? These kids still have to go to every visitation, every court hearing (children four years and up have to attend hearings), every CPS visit, and every doctor appointment on their own. ON. THEIR. OWN. Are you hearing me? There is not one excuse for why every person reading this is not involved directly with a child in foster care. If you’re a Christian, then you really have no excuse. James 1: 27.

As the Foster Parents

I would say for us the struggle has been watching Baby E cope with her situation. She is a really easy baby with a sweet disposition and is not really prone to crying or fussing. And in the beginning, when she would come back from visitation, it was like they handed me a totally different child. She was a total emotional wreck when she would come home from visitation. Hours of crying and whimpering and needing to be held constantly. Constantly. Once I could get her calmed and soothed, she would be OK until I would try to lay her in her bassinet so she could get some rest or so I could go to the bathroom. Instantly emotional eruption. She would cry so hard all day long that she would make herself hoarse. The first month, I was the only one at home with her after a visitation and I was really just winging it on my own. A few weeks ago, Sam was able to be home with me on a visitation day and he was really blown away by how rough it is on her. It is rough for many reasons and thankfully it is getting better as we have figured out how to help her transition, but is it still something no child should have to deal with on her own.

Sam and I have had to learn how to manage her schedule in a way that takes some of the burden of this whole process off her too. She is definitely the victim of her circumstances and even though she didn’t put herself in foster care, she still has to abide by all the state rules and do as she is told. So, we have learned that there are just certain pre-visitation and post-visitation activities that we do or do not do. This has helped to reduce a lot of stress for her and us. We are learning there are just certain things that trigger her and certain things that soothe her.

I have also learned that our agency is an invaluable resource and support. I have no idea how anyone is fostering without the help of an agency. I really don’t. They have really guided us and helped in ways that I never could have anticipated. To me this is such a big deal I’ve written an entire blog post dedicated to this topic. If you are considering becoming a foster parent please, please, please find a great agency. Your experience will be so much better. I promise.

People’s reactions to Sam and my new life has been quite educational. People have one of two very distinct reactions–they either think what we are doing is amazing and inspirational and they are in turn very supportive, or they are very negative and distrustful of our decision. For example, the supportive person uses words like, what a blessing, thank you, I’ve always wanted to know more, how can I help, I’m so glad you can help Baby E. The negative person uses words like, I don’t know how you do it, don’t get too close, it is probably not going to work out, foster care is such a broken system, I have a friend (usually quite distant and removed and this person is truly ignorant and has no first-hand knowledge of the actual foster child or their situation) and it was a nightmare for them, just don’t get your hopes up.

Surprisingly, I haven’t been upset, but rather enlightened, by people’s opinions. And it’s very telling about what kind of person I’m dealing with. The person that uses supportive words unconsciously tells me that they look at foster care from a selfless place seeing the needs of others before themselves. The person who uses negative words unconsciously tells me how selfish they are. Foster care is about them and what they can get out of it. If it is too hard, or painful, and not all about them in the end, they have nothing positive to say.  So just know that I know who really supports Baby E and what Sam and I are trying to do, and who doesn’t as soon as they open your mouth.

And even after all the hard stuff I just shared–and I have just mentioned a lot of hard things–we have gotten to take care of Baby E and that has made it ALL worth it. Seriously. It is worth it. Sam and I get to take care of this precious sweet child who God knew before she was born and called her by name. We have already made so many wonderful memories with her. So many wonderful memories! And, it feels good knowing that I am making a positive life-changing impact on another person’s life, and in turn, on the world.

Foster care has also been a balm to my mama soul because it has allowed me to be a mother–despite all the hardships. I feel better now than I have in several years. I’m in the middle of writing a big blog post about this topic because I want people–especially women–to know how being a foster mom has changed me and empowered me and given life to my bones. I want you to know my experiences. So more coming on that soon!

I’m excited to see what the next month holds. Baby E is growing like a weed and is the sweetest, cutest little girl ever! If you would like to know exactly how to become a foster parent,this blog post has everything you need to know. If you missed her latest hearing update, you can find ithere.

Maegan

Over the Weekend

As Baby E has gotten a little bit older we’ve been able to get out and about a bit more, though with it being flu season we are extra careful and we don’t get her out of the car seat while we are out if it can be helped. This was our first big weekend to venture out of the house together as a family and we had quite a bit of fun. On Saturday we decided to have an impromptu lunch at Five Guys, which as some of you may know is a lot easier to manage when you have another set of hands to help you out. I tried to get Sam to take a few pictures for me and with me at Five Guys but all I got was his hungry face–and I was really hungry too–so this was as good as it got.I had my hamburger bun-less for the first time here and it was really good. Some places you go and get a bun-less burger and its a soggy mess but this burger still had a crisp bite to its lettuce and the burger was nice and hot! It was good all around!

Once we finished eating we decided that since we were out we should take advantage and run a few errands but we only made it to the Target parking lot before Baby E got hungry and we had to feed her in the backseat. We have been having a lot of back seat feedings and I am curious if this is the plight of a lot of first time moms. To me it makes more sense to feed them where you are then to force yourself to go home just so they can eat–and scream all the way there mind you.Once we were done with errands Sam and I thought a sweet treat might be nice so we drove to Sprinkles! Oh my sweet sugar overload. I LOVE Sprinkles! I particularly like their Salted Corn Flake Cookie Sundae with Captain Crunch ice cream. You guys, it’s drool worthy. My mouth is salivating just writing about it. So we drove to Sprinkles and split my favorite cookie sundae and it was scrumptious! Poor Baby E did not get to have any.

Sam was such a good Sport and let me take his picture. There are no pictures of me because I looked like a hot mess but as we get more and more used to our routine I’ll be able to better prepare myself for impromptu outings.Then on Sunday, Baby E attended her very first Sunday morning church service! I am so mad at myself because we forgot to ask someone to take our picture! We had so many people stop us and want to meet Baby E and express their excitement over her. She has so many people who love her and are praying for her–it is so humbling. I did manage to snap a picture outside before we got home. We also had out first Sunday after church lunch with some friends from church. Did I get a picture of that either? No. We also attended Sunday evening services and then went to dinner afterwards with more church friends. Sunday was a very full and joyous day. I’m so sad I didn’t get more picture taken but I know I will have those moments in my memory forever. I just wish I had more photos for Baby E’s scrapbook. Whatever God’s plans are for her I always want her to have good memories of her infant-hood to look back on.

In the next few days Baby E will be one month old! It’s so hard to believe! I look forward to sharing her milestone pictures here on the blog as best I can!

Maegan

From Orientation to Licensing—The Complete Step by Step Guide to Becoming a Foster Parent

acs_0004Since Sam and I have started this journey I have had so many people say to me, “I’ve always wanted to become a foster parent but I have no idea how to get started. What do you have to do to become a foster parent or foster to adopt?” Well, if you’ve ever had that question I’m answering it for you today. This is a lengthy post and for good reason. I go into detail about each step of the process and include tips and tricks Sam and I learned along the way. I want to note to that we are licensed in the state of Texas so if you live in another state some of these steps and protocols might look different for you but the basic bones of the process are the same. Ok, here we go!

First things first:

Choose an Agency

You need to choose an agency. You don’t have to use an agency but I’m NEVER going to suggest you try to go it alone. Fostering through an agency is an INFINITELY better experience for you and your placement. Why is an agency so important? The agency trains you for free (that CPR class you need would run you $200 and up if you were going it alone. And that’s just one of many many certifications you will have to have in order to be licensed.) An agency prepares you for every inspection and the home study and helps walk you through the certification process. But that’s not why fostering with an agency is so important. No, the most important part comes AFTER certification when you actually have a placement. They are your guide and liaison between you, CPS, the State, and the child’s bio family. They are your support people. If you have any issue, you vent to them and not CPS, or your CASA volunteer, or the child’s therapist, or a random stranger, or the internet(Ah-hem). They are there to support you and help guide you through court appointments, placement paperwork(that initial placement comes with over two hours of paperwork with CPS)–I could go on and on and on. Fostering through an agency is very important to the success of you and your placement’s experience. If you know someone who is currently fostering, ask them who their agency is. (We are with Upbring the largest agency in Texas) If you don’t know any foster families, Google: (Insert your city name here) Foster Agencies”. This will pull up all the agencies in your area. Go to their websites and and find out when their next orientation is. If it’s not listed on their website, call and ask!

Attend Orientations

Do your research about each agency and then attend their orientation. The following suggestions are personal preference of course, but there are some main factors I would never overlook such as; Does this agency like to follow ALL the rules? Do they expect you as the potential foster parent to follow the rules? Do they have strict guidelines and standards for certification qualification? Are they adamant about supporting their families? (In-depth blog post coming on this soon) Do they have a good relationship with CPS? Do they require you to have all the state mandated equipment in your home BEFORE an environmental inspection, BEFORE your home-study, and BEFORE your first placement? What’s their attitude towards the State? What is their motivation as an Agency? What are their spiritual beliefs? Obviously, you will want to spend a lot of time praying about this decision. Orientation is also a good time to talk to other people who are fostering with that agency. What is their attitude towards their agency? If you hear things like, “our previous agency never expected us to comply with “x” but your agency does?” multiple time from different people with different agencies you’re probably in the right place. A good agency will expect you to follow ALL the rules–and boy are there a lot of them.

Pray about it some more

 

Sign Up for Training

After you choose an agency you will receive a schedule of their next round of foster care training. Your agency will give you the schedule of when all your classes will be and you will be responsible for signing up for them in advance. Our agency didn’t offer all the trainings every month so knowing your schedule and keeping track of what trainings you’ve completed is important. With Upbring a person has three months to complete their trainings and receive their certification or they have to start the entire process over again. So look 3 months ahead in your calendar and decide if the next training round will be a good time for you, and know that soon beyond that point you will be receiving a placement upon receiving your license.

Fill Out the Preliminary Paperwork

At this point you will have some preliminary paperwork that you will need to fill out and submit before you begin training. This paperwork is pretty basic(and not scary)and it’s purpose is to determine whether you are a good candidate for going on to training. These factors are very practical factors like your Name, address, date of birth, etc. They are also going to ask to see your finances and tax records to determine whether you can you financially afford to take on another child or children. They are going to do background checks to see if you have gone to jail for murdering anyone or for abusing/molesting children(good things to look into I think); etc. They will complete a regular background check on you and then an FBI background check(we had to pay for our FBI background check). These processes are not about failing you, but about making sure the children’s best interest is ALWAYS put first. Should the government trust you to take care of the children in their custody? Are you realistically capable of taking on this commitment? These are all responsible, necessary questions your agency should be asking you because CPS and the State of Texas is going to ask them.

Training Begins

Print out your training schedule and put it up where everyone in the family can see it. Put in in your planner, and phone, and on your calendar. Hold on to your hats. Training is rigorous and emotional and mentally exhausting. It’s not that it’s too hard to understand–it’s just a very large amount of information at once. Be prepared to discuss, hear, see, and listen to difficult and upsetting topics and scenarios. There is a reason why foster care exists–and it’s ugly. That’s why children in foster care NEED good, loving, families to take refuge in. There’s a very valid reason.

Keep praying

Take your training in order. Trust me.

Pray some more–your getting in good practice for when you actually have that child or children come into your family

 

The Mountain of Paperwork

Your training will guide through the entire process including the paperwork you need to fill out. I can’t speak for other agencies but Upbring had our paperwork broken into phases so as you complete certain training you turn in the paperwork designated for that phase. This is why it’s important to take your classes in order! Sam and I took our classes out of order and that made keeping up with submitted paperwork much more difficult. During this time you will have some paperwork in your folder that is specifically for your references to fill out and mail in. As soon as you get your paperwork be thinking about who you would like to be your references. There are specific groups of people your agency wants to hear from including; clergy(or a boss), a family member, a friend, and a coworker. You will also be responsible for asking close friends or family to become certified babysitters and respite. Start this process as soon as you begin training because your babysitters and respite will all be required to have CPR/First Aid training and, regular and FBI background checks, plus the appropriate paperwork and government ID submitted. This can take a while to get all completed so don’t put this of until the last minute. You MUST have babysitters certified before you can be licensed so don’t put it off. It’s also rude and unkind to wait until the last minute. Offer to pay for your baby sitter and respite FBI background checks. This is the least you can do for all the hoops they are about to jump through for you. Your respite people will be required to complete all the requirements for your babysitters plus half of all the trainings you will take. Be gracious and kind to your babysitters and respite people. You will also be asked to submit photos of every room in your house plus pictures of yourself and all your family. These go in your file and are part of what your agency and CPS will look at when determining the best family for each child who enters the foster system needing a home.

You still praying? I bet your becoming a pro at it by now.

 

The Inevitable Doubt

I wanted to add this section because throughout our entire certification process Sam and I had plenty of doubts about becoming certified. This is completely normal. I would never want anyone to ever think that Sam and I just breezed through this LIFE ALTERING proccess without our fair share of doubts. Doubts mean you’re understanding and considering with seriousness the commitment you’re about to make. It also means you care. Just keep praying and be brave!

Complete Your Inspections

This the final phase of the training process. This includes all your inspections like the Fire Marshal, environmental, and(the not to be dreaded)home study. If you have a good agency then they will have held your hand and prepped you extensively and you should have no surprises or failed inspections. Both the fire marshal and environmental inspection checklists came in our paperwork and we knew exactly what each inspection would require of our home. There are no surprises here. They simply check the boxes on the check list and your done.

The Home Study

This is the most over hyped, demonized, horror storied part of the entire certification process. The home study is the final inspection you will complete and it’s not scary at all. Since you’ve had a fire marshal inspection and an environmental inspection(our agency pre-inspected our house to make double sure our environmental inspection would pass with flying colors) you will be extremely prepared for that portion of the home-study. If you’re with a good agency they will already have asked you a dozen times all the questions and topics that will be asked in your home study inspection. Have you lied about something from the beginning? Are you hiding something you don’t want anyone to know? Have you done something bad and are covering it up? if the answer to any of the question is ‘yes’ then you should be very worried about your home-study and I would just go ahead and tell you not to bother trying to get certified to foster–we don’t need your kind here. If you answered ‘no’ to all those questions then you don’t have anything to fear. When you decided to become a foster parent I hope you came into this with the right mindset; that mindset being that the government was going to go through every part of your life with a fine tooth comb. They are not going to bust down the doors of your life like a SWAT team, but they are going to find out all they can about you because–this whole process is not about you. This process is about the children and making sure their wellbeing is ALWAYS the first priority. I think most people’s aversion to the whole idea of foster care is because they have some skeleton in their closet they don’t want anyone knowing about–even if that skeleton is harmless. Embrace the home-study.

The Final Leg

Once your homestudy has been conducted you wait for it to be submitted to your agency, looked at, and filed into the system. It’s written by hand so it could take several weeks for your home study to be submitted. Now is the time to do bust out the confetti canon and celebrate the fact you made it to the end! Have fun and don’t sit around waiting to hear from your agency because you will drive yourself crazy. Celebrate all that you have accomplished!

Licensing Appointment

Your agency will call or email you that you have passed your inspection and schedule your licensing appointment. At this appointment you sign the final paperwork and file for your foster care licencing number. We received a giant binder full of pertinent paperwork our signed license, and other important information. You also go over all the burning questions you might have been itching to ask but just haven’t been relevant like; how does wic work, how long does it take to receive my placements Medicare number, how do I take them for their initial dr visits without their Medicare number, etc. You also get to meet your agency “case worker” who is assigned to you and is the person who works with you on every single one of your placements. It takes a couple of days for your liscnesing number to come back and be “live” in the system so again go and celebrate and have fun.

IT’S OFFICIAL YOU’RE FOSTER PARENTS IN WATING FOR A PLACEMENT

Once your licensing number is live in the system your family will be placed on the CPS vacancy list and now you are OFFICIALLY licensed foster parents. Once your family is live you will wait to be matched to a child who has come into the system via CPS. Your agency will call you as soon as they have a placement that needs you. For us, waiting for our first placement call was the most nerve wracking part so definitely fill up your calendar with things to keep yourself busy!

You made it all the way to the end of this blog post! Whew. That is pretty much the process in it’s entirety. Please remember that each agency and each state is different so a few of these processes and procedures might vary but overall the process will most likely be the same. I hope you are more educated and confident about how to start and complete the foster-care certification process. Please comment bellow with all your questions! I know there are bound to be a few!

Maegan

 

UP NEXT:

The Dreaded Home Study: It’s Nothing to Dread

Waiting

So, it’s been six days since we were placed on the vacancy list with our foster-care agency and we are still waiting on that phone call. Seriously. When we found out Thursday that we were officially on the vacancy list I freaked out a little and cried. I think it was just my being completely overwhelmed with the whole situation and also overjoyed at finally reaching a huge milestone after everything we have been through. It was a ‘nervous–cited’ cry. lol.

The next couple of days were the worst because every time the phone rang or pinged or chimed we both jumped like two feet. I’ve been constantly glued to my phone because I’m the contact person and I’ve been so worried I will miss that very important phone call. It’s important because if we don’t answer they immediately hangup and call the next family on the list. These kids need home like yesterday and they don’t have the luxury of waiting for you to call them back. After those first couple of days we have kind of gotten into a rhythm of keeping busy and waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. We are getting good practice at patience.

While we are waiting I thought I would kind of introduce our placement and answer some questions about what we do know about them. I shared our story here but I haven’t shared what we do know about our future placement.

These are some of the most frequent questions we get asked when people find out we are fostering to adopt:

How many children will you be fostering? 

One child at a time

What age will they be?

Newborn to Eighteen Months

Will you know the gender?

No.

Do you know what ethnicity the child will be?*

No.

*Sam and I honestly had no preferences about race or gender and that worked out great for us because specifying either of those in the state of Texas is not an option for infants.

Will the child have his clothes and toys from home?

No. Most children, if not all, come into foster care with nothing but the clothes they have on–and in our case that might be a diaper and nothing else. No clothes, toys, memorabilia, diapers, formula, wipes, bottles, pacifiers, blankets, car seats, bouncers, strollers, swaddles, nothing. none, zip, zero. They might have never had any of the things on this short list of items.

Will you know a lot about the child’s past, bio parents, family?

No. We will probably know very little about the child when they first come to us. A name, an estimated age, gender, race–that’s probably it since they will be so young and there’s nothing to add like what grade they are in, their favorite school subject, things like that. Bio parents information and the child’s past situation is not something by law we can know much about. And what we do know we cannot share with anyone because it’s against the law and violates the parent’s and child’s rights of privacy.

Will you be able to adopt your first placement?

There is no guarantee we will be able to adopt any placement we receive. It just depends on how everything plays out and that will take a while to figure out. It’s all in God’s hands.

How long will you have your first placement?

We don’t know. Maybe a couple of weeks? Maybe a few months or a year? Maybe forever! Each placement’s situation is unique and completely unpredictable. We will trust God and cherish each day we get to love and cuddle and spoil them.

Will they be adorable, perfect, squeezable, and basically the best baby ever?

YES! YES! YES! AND OF COURSE!!!!!! This we do know for sure!

I do want to touch on how the age and gender of placements is decided for each family because I think it’s pertinent. A lot of people think you get to choose the age/number/gender of children when you become licensed foster parents but this is an ignorant misconception–one that often sets people who desire to be foster parents up for disappointment. In almost every case you do not get to choose what age of child or gender of child you will be able to foster. There are actually several key factors and a complicated mathematical equation that determines those specifics. And those specifics are set in place by the State. Factors like available space in your home, number of licensed foster parents in the home, number of biological children in the home–their age and gender, foster parents working/not working or working from home, and what county a person lives in all play a role in what age and gender of children you will be eligible to foster.

For instance, because Sam and I live in a one bedroom town-home we can only legally foster children that can sleep in our bedroom. The state of Texas says that children who can sleep in our bedroom must be 3 and under. Because the foster and adoption process can take a year a to a year and half or longer to complete that means the child can be no more than eighteen months at the time of placement with us before they age out of our room. I stay at home full-time, we have no  biological children, and we also happen to live in a county that has an urgent need for EVERY age group. Because of these factors we happened to be good candidates to foster infants.

That’s the latest update and a little about our expected first placement. Please pray for us to have patience as we wait for that special phone call. We appreciate prayers so much!!

Maegan