Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Foster Care Q&A: The Basics

Disclaimer: Each state has their own Foster Care rules and regulations.  I will try and answer questions as basic and broad as possible, but will be speaking from our experience as foster parents in Alabama.  I encourage you to research your state Department of Human Resources or independent Foster Care Agencies to learn more. 

Let's start with some of the basics! 

1. Who can become Foster Parents? 
  • Adults (In Alabama, it's 19 years old and up)
  • Married Couples
  • Singles

2.  What is required to become a Foster Parent? 
  • Background Checks
  • Child Abuse and Neglect Forms 
  • Home Study and Home Visit by the Social Worker
  • Classes (In AL you are required to complete a 10-week, 30 hour class)
  • Your home meets the state standards for eligibility to foster

3.  What are the types of Foster Parents? 
  • Respite Parents - Provide short-term care for foster children.  Respite trained foster parents can take emergency placements for a few days, weekend, or a week.  When full-time foster parents need a break, have an emergency, or need to leave the state and are unable to take the foster children, Respite Parents provide care for their foster children.  
  • Full-time Foster Parents - Licensed to provide care for foster children in their home.  The number of children allowed in the home is dependent on the size of the home and number of bedrooms. 

4. Why are children placed in Foster Care? 
  • Neglect - When Social Services investigates a family for neglect allegations and the children are not in imminent danger, then they will often try to put services in place to allow the biological family to continue raising the children.  If those services are not successful and there is no immediate or extended family available to care for them, then the children are removed from the home and put into foster care.
  • Abuse - Physical and sexual.  Allegations of abuse that have been confirmed result in the child being removed from the home. 
  • Drug or Alcohol Abuse - If the child is born to a mother addicted to drugs and tests positive for the drug, they are taken immediately from the mother and put into foster care. 
  • If a biological parent has all of their children currently in foster care and they become pregnant again, the child will immediately be placed into foster care upon their birth. (In the state of Alabama). 

Foster Care Q&A Part 2 coming soon! 

If you are a foster parent in another state and want to add or clarify anything, please email me at leslieharris77 (at) gmail (dot) com.  Would love to have your input. 

Have more questions after reading this?  Leave them in the comments below or send me an email! 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Reality of Aging Out

In 2009, nearly 40% of children in foster care were over the age of twelve.  Over one third of them were living in institutional foster care settings, as compared to less than 4% of children under the age of 12.  Estimations based on the national system indicate that a youth in foster care changes placements every six months.

Adolescence is one of the most difficult times in life. It's a period where we are desperately searching to find our place and to be accepted and loved.  We are trying to figure out who we are, what we believe in and whether we are worth something to anyone.  

Most kids today are working through all of that in a stable home environment.  Not our nation's foster children.  These children, who already have had their freedom and their voice taken away upon entering the foster care system, are often left to navigate the rough waters of adolescence alone.

It's inexcusable.

Over a third of our foster teens are living in an institution, not a family.  They do not have someone asking about their day, checking on their homework, consoling them through a break-up, or cheering them at their basketball game.

No one is praying for them, encouraging them, challenging them, or just plain doing life with them.

Teenagers in foster care who have not been adopted face an overwhelmingly bleak future.

Foster Care laws vary state by state, but most children "age out" of foster care between 18 and 21.

What does that mean?

Teens who "age out" are no longer provided with resources and services by the state.  Once they leave the system, they must find their own living arrangements, job, transportation, and meet their own daily needs.

Here is why that is troubling.

  • 50% of teens in foster care drop out of high school.
  • 60% of them will be homeless, go to jail, or die within one year of leaving the foster care system at age 18.
  • Girls in foster care are 600% more likely than the general population to become pregnant before the age of 21.
  • 3 in 10 of the nation's homeless are former foster children.
  • Only 7-13% of foster children enroll in higher education.
  • 1% of former foster children earn a college degree.


These are the forgotten children.

Most would agree that it is a whole lot easier to love a chubby-cheeked nine month-old baby who just came into foster care than a surly, brash teenage girl who has been in care for over a decade.  

But that surly, brash teenage girl was once nine months old.  She once lived with a biological family, and somewhere along the way, things went horribly wrong.  She has since suffered because of the decisions of those who were meant to protect her.  Years, memories, and dreams have been stolen from her.  And it's not her fault. 

Children in foster care do not have a voice.  They do not get to decide where they go and with which family they will be placed.

Once they hit adolescence, there are very few people left fighting for them.

And that's when they need it most.

So what can be done?

1.  Become a foster parent to teens.  It's not a job for everyone, but it's a job for someone.  Could that be your family? Contact your local Social Services department to inquire about the needs, requirements, and training required.

2.  Give, Donate, Encourage. There are great organizations that come alongside teens aging out of the foster care system.  Take a minute to check them out and see if you want to be a part.

The Camellia Network. Supporting specific former foster teens who have aged out by helping them with college, finding a job, and providing a gift registry to assist them in getting on their feet.

Do 1 Thing.  Foster Care and Homelessness often coincide. Do 1 Thing is an organization dedicated to helping out our nation's homeless youth, many of whom are former foster children.  You can find a listing of organizations by state that are doing something to help eradicate homelessness here.

3. Become a Mentor.  It's a disheartening reality, but adoption isn't going to happen for many adolescents in foster care.  That is all the more reason that we need to fight to make sure they are not  forgotten or ignored. 

Mentoring a foster child is where a relationship is built without the child living full-time in the home. There are many ways that it can look; time spent hanging out, going to eat, offering wisdom and guidance, a shoulder to cry on, or even just a sounding board for a teen who never has anyone that listens to them. This is a role that can be life-changing, for both the mentor and the teen. Everyone needs someone who has their back, is going to fight for them, and encourages them to dream about the future.  

Becoming a Mentor looks different in every state.  Contact your local Social Services, or faith-based Foster Care program in your county or state.  

In Alabama, you can contact the Department of Human Resources, Alabama Baptist Children's Homes, or United Methodist Children's Homes

If we start REALLY investing in our foster children, imagine the possibilities. . .

  • Education, college, and careers can become a reality for them, not just a pipe dream
  • Fewer inmates in our prison system
  • Fewer unwanted/unplanned pregnancies 
  • The generational cycle of abuse and neglect can stop 

By just CARING about a child and offering LOVE and TIME, it could impact our entire NATION.  


There are tangible ways to get involved WHEREVER you live in the United States.  

Someone needs to fight for them.  Will it be you? 

Statistics Found From the Following Sites: 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Conversation hearts, Hash Tags, and Disproportionate Heads

Well, it been raining here for the past five days which means a few things.  

1. Everyone is stuck in the house, including the dogs.  

2. Everyone is going crazy, including the dogs.  

It's been real fun. 

Knox and Bandit follow J-man around the house as he drop 75% percent of his snack on the floor.  While they are vacuuming the floor, he turns around, grabs their tails, and holds on for dear life.  They, thankfully, do nothing but look at me pleading with their eyes to be released from this horrible prison and let outside. 

I say no, because muddy dogs would require much more cleaning of my floors.  And I have priorities people, which lately have included eating candy conversation hearts (it's my last week to ingest their sugary goodness), updating the blog, and joining twitter. 

All of this, of course, is while my boys are napping, because momma ain't getting nothing else done when those two pipsqueaks are up and going.  Awake time is usually spent keeping J-man from either climbing into the fireplace, on top of his brother, or into very small crevices that all but his head are fitting into right now.  (I think God specifically planned that toddlers would have crazy disproportionate heads for that reason.)

In any case, in my small pieces of down-time, I've been gathering some thoughts for future blog topics and I'd like to follow up on this post from yesterday with one on the in's and out's of Foster Care. 

It's a scary topic for lots of folks and there are many preconceived notions associated with it.  I'd love to help dispel them and address some of the concerns. 

So, what questions do you have about foster care? Anything you've always wondered about, but felt weird asking? Now's your chance! 

I'd love to get your questions and answer them the best I can. Each state has their own foster care laws and system, but there are parts of the foster care that definitely apply nationwide. 

Please leave your questions in the comments or email me at leslieharris77 (at) gmail (dot) com. 

And. . . yes, I'm on Twitter.  

I'm a big proponent of not being anything close to cutting edge, so I like to wait a few years and see if something is really going to take off before I try it... (i.e. skinny jeans).  

It appears Twitter is starting to take off, so I joined. 
I have no idea what I'm doing yet on there, but... 




Ok, I'm done. 

Come follow me @waitingonaword

Anyone organization or person that you think I should follow?  Let me know! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Where Do I Start? Looking Into the Adoption Process.

Since starting this blog in December of 2010, I've had the privilege to be able to connect with many others who are interested in adoption and foster care.  

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE being able to help guide others to resources which assist them in deciding whether foster care or adoption is right for their family.  

The main reason I want to help others is because I believe this is the best way to research adoption.  When I was first starting out and looking into the various aspects of adoption, I found that the advice from current adoptive families was the biggest source of encouragement and education for our family as we decided on where to adopt from and how we were going to do it. 

And for those of you newcomers who have recently stumbled upon Waiting on a Word, you can check out our family story here. It will give you a little insight into how our family was formed and how it's possible to be married for less than four years and have an 18 year old son and two little boys eight months apart.  

If you are thinking that adoption or foster care may be in your future one day,  I want to share with you how I researched and what I think really allowed me to learn the most.  

When we first started thinking about adoption, I headed straight for the internet.  I'm a researcher by nature, and when I'm excited about something, I love finding out as much as I can about it.  

Nerd alert and proud of it. 

Brian and I had already decided which continent we were going to adopt from, (Africa), so I started out by googling adoption and which countries in Africa were open to adoption.  That led to specific agencies working in those countries.  Each agency website had their own adoption timeline, costs, and qualifications needed to adopt from a specific country. 

While it helped me narrow down our adoption options, it also led to being overwhelmed with information overload. The time frames and seemingly daunting costs to adopt all started running together and I ended up just being frustrated and confused. 

Plus, all these adoption websites looked very professional and ethical.  How would I know which one to choose? 

I started reading adoption agency reviews online, but found that I didn't really even know how to trust the people writing the reviews because they were strangers to me.  Some of them were anonymous opinions, so how did I know it wasn't the agency writing a great review about itself? 

That led me to blogs.  Prior to researching adoption, I had never been much of a blog reader.  But as I was looking up adoption, I found that there were MANY people who had lots to say about their adoption journeys. 

I found that families who shared their adoption journeys ended up being the most helpful to me as we decided on a country and path for our adoption.  I was able to see their faces and follow along on their personal timeline to complete their adoption.  When I located families who were using a specific agency that I was interested in learning more about, I would email them and ask for their personal opinion and whether they would recommend them.  Though I was happy to talk to anyone in the process, I found it was better to talk with families who had completed their adoptions, as they would have the most insight into the entire process.

If you followed our story from the beginning, you know our adoption had some bumps along the way and a couple of detours. (I would NOT recommend the route we took, but we are very happy with where we ended up!). 

It was because we had connected personally with so many families from our agency that we found how unethical it was after we were already in the process. We quickly severed our ties with them. Being connected to other families saved us a lot of money and heartache in the end. (If you want to see our adoption timeline, head over here.) 

"Things I Wish I Had Known From the Start of the Adoption Process"

*It's easy to be swayed by an agency's "quick" timelines. In most cases, the timelines given RARELY are accurate.  We were promised a 9-12 month process, start to finish with our first agency.  Twelve months later, we did not even have a referral, yet they were still promising that same timeline.  

*Many agencies claim to be "Christian" agencies.  That can be very appealing to prospective adoptive parents who would associate the word, "Christian," with ethical and honest. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. 

*You have the right to know exactly where your money is going.  The agency should be able to tell you a break-down of the fees, not just a generic explanation for thousands of dollars.

*If you find an agency you like, google blogs and families using that agency. Talk to as many people as you can and listen to what they are really saying.  If you can't find any families using an agency or willing to talk to you, head in the other direction.  Quickly. 

*Ask lots of questions to the agency.  If they are vague are aren't giving you answers, that is a red flag. If they aren't great on communication before you sign with them, it isn't going to get any better once you do. 

Hopefully, this isn't scaring the stink out of you.  Just being real, peeps, based on our experience.  It's easy to go into adoption with rose-colored glasses and assume that everyone has the child's best interest in mind and will be completely ethical and above board.  I learned a lot, and going back, we would have asked way more questions and made different choices! 

The more educated you are, the more the ethical your process will be! Connect with others and learn as much as you can! 

And since I've just scared you to death about adopting, you need to watch this video.  It will remind you why you were thinking about adoption in the first place. THIS is why ADOPTION IS NEEDED!  It's two minutes long. WELL worth your time.  Please, please watch. 

If you'd like a little more information on how to start researching the adoption process, please email me at leslieharris77 (at) gmail (dot) com. 

I'd love to hear from you! 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

This Week By the Numbers

7 - Nights I was up popping a pacifier back in someone's mouth

6 - Days the washing machine and dishwasher were in use

5  - Trips to see a doctor.  

- Rounds of antibiotics for three different members of the family. 

3  - Boxes of diapers sent to our house as gifts. 

2 - Nights where I had to cook, because every other evening a meal was made for us by friends. (AHH-mazing.)

1 - Very much-needed date night with my husband. 

0 - Pictures in which everyone was smiling during our family photo shoot today.  

Despite facing some major odds, (ahem. . . a 6 and a 15 month old), I think Suzanne Williams did an AMAZING job of getting all of us looking at the camera at the same time.  Sure wish we could share ALL our little ones faces with you.