When a child first enters foster care, he or she is almost always placed in the home of a relative or “fictive kin,” that is, a family friend who has a close relationship with either the birth family or the child. It is rare that a child is placed with a “traditional” foster parent as his/her first foster home.
However, many times the relative and fictive kin placements do not work out for one reason or another. This is where our pool of traditional foster parents comes in – those who step up and open their homes to a stranger in need.
From the time we know that a child needs a home, Caritas licensing specialists and case managers are working together to learn about the child and his or her family. We are gathering information about behaviors, special needs, placement of siblings, location of the birth family, reasons why the child cannot stay with his/her current foster parents, etc. We’re not just trying to find the child an empty bed where he/she can sleep; we’re looking at so much more.
Not every child will be successful in every home, and when we place a child in a foster home, we do it with the hope and intent that this placement will be the one and only placement the child has before returning home to his/her birth family or being adopted by his/her foster parent.
Many have asked why we need more foster homes when there are homes that never get a call to take a child. Again, the answer to that is not simple, but here are the most common reasons:
- AGE RANGE: The majority of foster parents have very specific criteria regarding the ages of children for which they are willing to care. Most are only interested in children between the ages of 0-5; yet, the number of children under the age of 5 who need a foster home is limited. If you have specified that you are only willing to take children between the ages of 0-5, we will not call you for a child over the age of 5. What we really need are homes that are willing to take children older than 5 – especially teenagers.
- CAPACITY: Most foster parents are only willing (or only have the capacity) to take one or two children into their home. So, if we need a home for three or more siblings, we will not call you unless we have first exhausted all possibilities for keeping children together and we have no choice but to split them up. Keep in mind that when children come into foster care, this is a traumatic event for them. In essence, they have lost everything. All they may have left is each other. We do everything we can to keep siblings together whenever possible.
- LICENSE: Some foster parents are willing (and maybe even have room) to take larger groups of siblings, but due to licensing restrictions, we cannot place children with them because that would put them over their licensed capacity. In some instances, we can request a waiver of licensing standards. However, a waiver can take up to a couple of months for approval, so it is not a quick solution. Bottom line – if you don’t have the capacity, we won’t call you until we have exhausted all other possibilities.
- BEHAVIORS/FIT: It’s not just about age and capacity. It’s also about behaviors, other children in the home, and your strengths and struggles as a foster parent. Often, the children for whom we need homes are more “high profile” – that is, they have had issues in other foster homes. It could be a child with a safety plan, e.g. one who has displayed serious acts of aggression either physically or sexually towards another child, and must be placed in a home with no other children; or it could be a child who has expressed physical aggression towards previous foster parents, adults and/or other children. It could be that you currently have a child doing very well in your home, and there are concerns that the addition of another child might disrupt that child’s placement. It could be that you have pets, and the child has displayed abusive behaviors towards animals. It could be any of a number of reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not you have an empty bed.
- STATUS: If you are under investigation for any reason, children cannot be placed in your home and so we will not call you to take a placement.
- SUPERVISING AGENCY: Even if you may know that there is a child who needs a home, you may not be called to take that child. As an agency, we cannot call you to take a placement for another agency unless that agency has asked us to help them find a placement for the child. Likewise, agencies (including DCFS) are not at liberty to ask you to take a child for placement without first getting the approval of the agency who supervises your license. So, for example, if DCFS wants to place a child in a foster home licensed through Caritas, DCFS must first contact us and ask about whether or not it is a possibility for them to take the placement. Keep in mind, that when we say “yes” or “no” to another agency, we are basing our decision on all of the things above – age range, capacity, other children placed in the home, strengths and challenges of the foster parent, status of any investigations, etc. Again, when a child is placed in your home, we want it to be a good plan for everyone – including you, as foster parents.
Hopefully by now you have a better understanding of what is involved in placing children in foster homes. Here are some examples of typical calls for placement we receive every week:
- 6-year-old male. Autistic and curses like a sailor. He is not potty-trained, smears his feces, bites anyone who tries to touch him. He is also cruel to animals and pinched the heads off of the family’s pet gold fish.
- 15-year-old male who is very charming and polite, but steals anything and everything. Recently stole his (previous) foster parent’s car.
- 17-year-old female who was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. She suffers from PTSD and borderline personality disorder. She is both physically and verbally aggressive to adults and children, and recently went after the foster mother with a brick. She just completed three months in a treatment facility for a methamphetamine addiction.
- 4-year-old female in heart failure who needs a heart and lung transplant. She must be placed in a home close to St. Louis as she has numerous doctor’s appointments every week and often requires hospitalization.
- 8-year-old male with terminal cancer requiring frequent hospitalization and doctor’s appointments. Youth has a safety plan as he has perpetrated sexual abuse on younger children.
- 12-year-old female in end stage kidney failure waiting for a double-kidney transplant – must be in a home near St. Louis to accommodate frequent hospitalizations and dialysis 5 times a week.
- Sibling group of three – 10-month old, 4-year old and 8-year old. No major behaviors. Eight year-old is described as a very sweet, easy-going kid. This should be an easy one, right? Sorry, it’s not! Simply because we don’t have a home that has room for three children that is also willing to take the 8-year old.
- Sibling group of six – two boys and four girls ranging in age from 3 months to 13 years. The youngest has cerebral palsy and has weekly medical appointments with specialists in St. Louis. Four year old male is autistic and throws terrible tantrums. 13 year old female propositions adult males in the neighborhood and it is suspected that she and her 9 and 10 year old sisters have been trafficked.
As you can see, it is no simple task to place a foster child in a foster home that will love and nurture them and help them grow into productive citizens. Yes, Caritas has lots of wonderful foster parents, and we thank God for them every day. However, we also need more – more foster parents who are willing to:
- Take children over the age of five;
- Take teens – especially teens – who have some pretty major issues due to the many traumas they have experienced throughout their short lives;
- Children with serious, life-compromising, medical issues;
- Children who are autistic or have other behavioral and developmental concerns;
- Sibling groups.
If you are willing to take children in any of the areas listed above, please reach out to your licensing specialist or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. We need to know you are there. Also, if you know others who would like to foster, please refer them to us.
Director of Licensing
Caritas Family Solutions