Wow. It is overwhelming.
Except, as a Stepmom...I feel like I already have about 70% of it down.
I have not fostered a child before. I have had friends who have fostered and adopted, and I have fostered a lot of furbabies. But honestly, the fostering system is not all that unfamiliar to those of us stepmoms who have dealt with the classiest of biomoms (and their respective families).
Similarities I have learned thus far (and feel entirely more comfortable with than the rest of the people sitting in the training classes):
- Court. Court court courty court. Judges. Child advocates. Social Workers. Lots o' Social Workers, with temporary jobs along the cyclical path.
- Visitation. The reason is different, but the concept is the same. Making your life work around a court ordered visitation. Handing kids over to someone you fear (or know) will hurt them. Dealing with the aftermath of the visit and helping the child transition back.
- Kids who have been traumatized- and you're the home that will help them get over the hurdles, grow healthy, lead productive lives. (Some people don't believe that it is our obligation, but, yeah, often it is. The world will not get better if no one takes responsibility for kids living in their own household, even if they are not blood. Oh wait, did I just explain the purpose of the foster system in the first place? And connect it to stepparenting? Oh, snap!)
- Trying to understand kids that are not yours.
- Dealing with parents, even if only indirectly, who have really screwed up and may lose their children completely. Parents whom you need to attempt to make a decent communication line to, if just to help the child (and reduce false complaints against you...)
- Changing your home in a major way to accommodate a stranger, court orders, state law.
- Limited babysitting and travel options, as they must be approved by an outside force prior and not interfere with visitation
- High chance of the parent(s) filing a complaint against you
- An obligation (requirement, actually) to learn more about kids, development, parenting, and emotional abuse than any regular parent would ever bother with.
In the meantime, some other interesting observations...
I have occasionally mentioned my interest in adopting from the foster system to others, and have very rarely received this response:
<pure shock> "But, you've already been through so much. Why in the world would you want to put yourself through that, too?"That reaction is coming from someone who has really, really understood, seen, or experienced the pain of stepmothering themselves. (Yes, being specific to stepmothering, only.) On top of that, they also understand how hard adopting from the foster system can be. They are showing me a very emotional response. They are right.
I tell them, "Well, because, I figure it won't be worse than this." I really do see it that way. I figure that we did this messy, split home, crazy ex, manipulated angry kids, lost in court, etc. etc. thing already, and we are stronger for it. I felt so much pain for my husband, and I watched his pain. Everybody suffered, but fostering to adopt a child from another broken home that isn't anyone's ex spouse seems easier, frankly. We also learned we have a lot to offer kids and feel like there was a big hole during the vacancy of my stepkids' lives. We often thought of how we would parent, if we could.
It does seem harder in some ways, such as getting your house officially approved. That is a bit daunting, and I see why people would never be able to foster if they couldn't afford to pay for their pool to be surrounded by a specific type of gate. You also have to, by law, stop things such as smoking. We have to figure out how to lock up certain things, and have spaces and furniture specific to the age of the potential incoming child.
But that all makes me wonder: Boy, that's a lot of requirements for a foster house, which I understand but... Why aren't some of these same requirements for a home, living situation considered in contentious divorces? Why wouldn't some of these same expectations be used for determining the safety of a child when it is unclear to the court which home is best? Some states require classes prior to divorce or family court, but beyond that, we would have had to pay for a home study (around $2-4,000 here) in order for that to be used as court-decision-making factors (which you absolutely should do, if you can afford it). And did anyone over 18 living in the residences ever get "live scanned" and TB tested when you went through family court?
If some of these standards, applied by the state and followed by the courts, were used in family court.....
Maybe my friend's stepdaughter wouldn't have lived on a couch for a couple of years, wherever her mom could crash.
Maybe less child abusers would be allowed to live in the same home or have "regular contact" with your child at his/her mom's house.
Maybe we would have been able to actually talk to the kids on a phone, and the kids would have been told by someone else that they were able to talk to us by phone. At least.