19 July 2011

Change of Plans

So, most people don’t know this, but Michael and I have been seriously considering foster care/adoption. We haven’t really been talking about it to others yet (other than asking questions about the process to some family friends of ours who adopted their children through foster care), mostly because we knew it was a big decision to make and didn’t want to rush into it, and we wanted to make sure it was something we really wanted to do before letting others know about our plans. We didn’t even talk to our family members about it, just because we wanted to be confident in whatever decision we made before being influenced by others’ opinions.

So, we’ve been thinking about it for quite some time, and seriously considering it for about 6 months or so. I’ve spent some time trying to educate myself about foster care and adopting foster children by reading just about every online article I could find, and starting to read recommended books on the subject. It is a much longer and more involved process to get licensed for foster care or approved for adoption than I knew – involving home inspections, tons of paperwork, and months of waiting. And from what I’ve learned, lots of the kids in foster care can have some pretty serious issues since most foster children have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. But we were thinking about giving it a try – specifically thinking about ‘foster to adopt’ programs, where you may have a chance to foster the children before adoption (which might help get used to it a little more gradually, rather than having everything be permanent).

Another reason we hadn’t yet talked about this idea much with most people, is because many people already think that we are either amazing or crazy to have our 5 children, and to have had them all so close in age, and they can’t imagine us wanting to add more (especially not wanting to add more children who might be similar in age to our boys). We just didn’t need all the comments from acquaintances and strangers before we’d made a final decision. Plus, we knew that we couldn’t even start the process for en entire year at least, since we would start after moving to California, so we still had quite a while to think it all over.

But this is what we had been thinking so far: We’d like to foster/adopt a sibling group of either all boys, or possibly boys and girls (yes, we do actually like having our family of boys), who are similar in ages to our children. We had decided to stick with kids under Kolby’s age, so he would still be the oldest (Although it works out both ways for different families to either adopt children younger or older than the oldest biological child in the family, many people recommend adopting children younger than your oldest. And I actually casually asked the boys a few times if we ever had more kids in our family if they would want boys or girls, how many, and how old? And they all said boys, other than Camden who said girls, and they wanted 10 more kids, and several of them thought it would be fun to have a “twin” their same age, except Kolby was insistent that he’d still want to be the oldest kid in the family).

There are a lot of sibling groups in foster care, and sometimes they get split up because there aren’t enough families willing to foster or adopt larger groups, or they sometimes don’t get adopted for this reason, which is so sad. We were thinking that keeping a sibling group together would be really great. And I have a soft spot in my heart for groups of siblings who are close in age. You can look online for “adoption photolisting” sites, where you can see the pictures and read a little bit about some of the foster children who need families, and there are lots of sibling groups. And generally it seems that they are always looking for homes that have enough space and are willing to take sibling groups, because many people just take on the adoption of one child at a time.

The first time I actually started seriously thinking about all this, I asked Michael if we were ever to do it, what kinds of kids he would consider, and it was pretty cool to hear his answers because they were almost the same as mine: probably all boys, maybe 3 or 4, around the same ages as our kids, but he didn’t want any who were still young enough to be in diapers. I was thinking the same thing – 3 or 4 siblings (or maybe even 5, if the right group happened to be available and seem like a good fit). And I agreed, I think we’re past the baby stage at our house, so I’d like to have kids similar in age to our boys. Although I would consider a sibling group that happened to have a 1 or 2 year old (that’s not too many more years in diapers). :) Plus, in my reading, it seems that in many cases the older the children are, the more likely that they may have more serious issues to deal with from their past experiences, so we would have to be selective in what we think our family could handle.

In learning about foster care, I came across this series of movies about the whole process, including this clip of a man talking about his experience with his brother in the foster system. I think it is very moving. Both times I watched it, it made me cry (and I’m not one to cry easily).

So, that was the plan. It would take a lot of work, obviously, and would be very different from parenting our biological children because there are so many new things to deal with with kids who have been in the foster system, but I think we could make it work. And if we tried foster care first, before trying to adopt, then we could also get a feel for what we could handle and what was best for our family before anything became permanent. Besides the bigger issues of parenting children with difficult childhoods, there would be lots of details to figure out: finding the right agency to work with, the home study process, and all the paper work and red tape of the whole process. Plus we’d need to find a house that was big enough – in California the law is that there can be no more than 2 children in a bedroom when you have foster children or you adopt, including all children in the home, so either we’d have to happen to find a house with lots of bedrooms for a decent price (which could be tough), or we’d have to somehow add bedrooms after moving into a new house. But I was ready to get to work and do what needed to be done to make it work.

I’ve been thinking more and more about this plan lately, and continuing to try to educate myself as much as possible. I’ve been reading a couple of books with lots of really honest information called “Adopting the Hurt Child” and I just started the second one, “Parenting the Hurt Child.” I also even joined an online group of LDS adoptive and foster parents around the country, and have gotten some good advice from several of them.

The other day someone on that online group mentioned something about different states having different laws about limiting the number of foster children under the age of 5 in a home at a time. So I started looking online to see what the law was for California, (although I didn’t think it would effect our plans too much, because we probably wouldn’t have too many kids under the age of 5 by the time we actually got through the whole process of becoming licensed and to the point where we matched with a group of siblings, which could take up to a year or two, or longer depending on how selective you are about the children you will take).

In my search, though, I came across some information that I wasn’t expecting. I found an article on the website of a Sacramento newspaper from last year, telling a story about a single woman who had 9 children (biological and foster children) in her home, ranging from older teenagers to young children, and she would leave the young children with the older children when she would work. I guess something happened and there was a fire in the house and the 4 year old foster daughter died. And the article made it sound like there may have been other issues in the family too. So, apparently this caused them to rethink the laws about how many kids could be in a foster home. I guess that previously the California state law was that a family could have up to 6 foster children, without any specific rules about how many other children lived in the home. But in 2010 they changed the law so a foster home can only have up to 6 children total, including foster, biological, and guardianship children.

I looked up this law, thinking that it was terrible, because there are some sibling groups with more than 6 children, so that would make it impossible for anyone in California to foster or adopt those large sibling groups if they wanted to keep them all together. And I did find that the law states that the licensing agency can make a waiver (an exception) for a foster family to have up to 8 children in a home to allow for sibling groups, as long as they could show that they could adequately care for all the children and they had enough room, and could have a fire clearance for their house. (There’s also another law that allows an exception for more than 8 kids, when there is a sibling group of more than 8 siblings all to be living in the same home).

But from the legal wording that I found, it was hard for me to tell for sure whether that exception of up to 8 children was only for adopting a sibling group of 7 of 8, or if it could possibly apply to a family with 5 biological children wanting to foster and/or adopt a sibling group of 3. I also was unsure about if these limits also applied to just adopting foster children (if we wanted to consider straight adoption, rather than the foster to adopt route). So, I contacted several agencies in southern California, trying to find out the answers to these questions. I’ve heard back from a few of them so far, and they all give pretty similar answers: basically, that it might be possible to get the exception to have 8 kids, but it would be difficult if they would even allow it at all. One of the agencies that wrote me said that their agency has always had a 6-child limit, so there were no changes for them with this new law. And another told me that the exception for 8 children usually only applied to county foster homes, which are apparently different than private foster family homes. And if you got approved for a waiver, and got matched with a sibling group that you wanted to adopt, then you’d have to get another exception from the state in order to get the adoption approved. So, that changes our plans quite a bit. I think that the entire process of getting approved for foster care and adoption would be difficult enough, but to try to get around these new rules and get a special exception would be very difficult, especially once the agency knew how young our children are – I doubt they would even consider trying to make the exception for us. (Before I knew about this new rule, I was already thinking we might have to try around with a few different agencies before we found one who didn’t think that a large family was a negative thing). I wonder what our ancestors a few generations back would have thought if they’d been told that someday not too far off a family with 5 children would be considered very large? :)

It’s been a few days since I found out about the 6-child limit. At first I felt pretty disappointed. I know that we hadn’t even started into the process yet, so maybe it’s a little silly, but I I was kind of getting used to the idea of someday having a larger family. And, I know, some people might read this and think, ‘if she wants more kids, why not just have some more?’ But I don’t think so. I really, really enjoy having all of our boys so close in age. I love each new stage, as the boys are able to do more and more fun activities together. And we had a lot of years of babies right in a row – don’t get me wrong, I loved my baby boys, but I just feel like I’m past that stage. And I am content with our family how it is – I just thought it would be nice to add a few more, and to help allow a sibling group to grow up together.

But maybe this is God’s way of letting me know that it wouldn’t be the best thing for our family. Although I realize it would have been extremely difficult, I think that we could have made it work out in the end. Or maybe it wouldn’t have ended up being a good situation, who knows? Sometimes I try to take on more than I can really handle – not that I can’t accomplish my goal, but maybe just that it makes things harder than they needed to be. But when I set my mind on something, there’s no stopping me, so maybe God knew what was best for our family, and this was the way it needed to be.

We’ve had that happen before in our lives. Off the top of my head, I think back to when Michael applied to medical schools. He applied to several different schools, including some more prestigious schools that would have been more competitive for him to get into, and other good schools that were more likely to easily accept him with his grades and test scores. There were several that we thought he would be accepted to, and then we’d chose which one to attend. And he applied to the Medical College of Wisconsin, not really thinking we’d go there, but because the school sent a mass email out saying that he should apply there, and we knew MCW had a history of recruiting students from BYU. I was surprised when Michael got down to waiting to hear back from the final two schools on his list, and we accepted the offer from MCW before hearing back from the other school, so that was the only one that he ended up being accepted to, when his scores were competitive enough that he should have been accepted to several of the schools on his list. We didn’t know anything about Wisconsin. And now, looking back, it was the right place for us to be. Not only did Michael get a good education and we met some of our very best friends there, but in our final year there Isaac was born and needed surgery at 1 day old and then remained in the NICU for weeks. And we “just happened” to be living just minutes from the very best children’s hospital in the entire region, surrounded by friends who selflessly helped with our other children while we spent days going back and forth from the hospital. It was where we needed to be. And I think that Heavenly Father knew that if we’d had several schools to choose from, Wisconsin wouldn’t have been our first choice, just because we knew nothing about it (and who grows up thinking, “Boy, wouldn’t it be great to have a chance to live in Milwaukee some day?”). But luckily for us we’ve been blessed to have someone else watching out for our family. So I can only assume that that’s what’s going on now too. And I’m actually ok with it.

I’m blessed to have the good family that I have, and to have the opportunities that we have been blessed with. And I really hope that people out there who are also blessed with good families, will take some time to learn a little about foster care and adoption, and think about if it might be the right thing for their families. It just breaks my heart, to hear the stories of these kids, who don’t get to enjoy the blessings of a loving family, and I wish I could try to help.

1 comment:

Mindy said...

steph that is so cool! i hope all works out with this =)