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Being licensed to foster is like an endless audit

Updated: Jan 25, 2020

Yes, I know, that was a terrible association to make. Nobody loves the IRS. But let's face it - being licensed to foster by the state is a highly invasive and sometimes uncomfortable process. So kind of like an audit. Or a colonoscopy (except nothing ends up in your butt. Thank goodness!) They root around in your head and in your house instead, which can feel almost as invasive. (Sheesh! I said almost! Cool your jets.)

You do lots and lots of paperwork...

You fill out a lot of paperwork. A LOT. It's worse than taxes and insurance claims combined. Entire sections of the rainforest are cut down to make enough paper for just one family to get licensed, I swear. And what's on that paperwork, you wonder? Oh, just a million, billion questions about your life. About your own childhood, your current family, the disciplinary methods you use with your kids, the health of your marriage, etc...

I get it. It's important. They're giving you a person to take care of, so they have to be sure you're not violent, or psychologically unbalanced in some way, or a predator. And the only way to eliminate those people is to ask a lot of questions. (And even then, some of the creepies still slip through the cracks.) So it makes sense. I understand why they do it. It's just a very long, and very invasive process. And if you're considering becoming a foster parent, it doesn't hurt to know this in advance.

You answer a million questions about the type of child you're willing to take on...

For one thing, you're asked endless questions about the type of foster child you're willing to take on. They ask about everything. EVERYTHING. So it takes a while. And a lot of paper. And again, I get it. They want the placement to work. They want to know that when you get this kid you're not going to call them back after a week and say, "Nope, this one wets the bed and we specifically signed up for non-bedwetting, so this isn't going to work." (Sounds weird, I know, but you'd be amazed at the placement issues these agencies have. So they like to get alllllll the possibilities out on the table beforehand.)

It's crazy hard. (And let's be honest - terrifying!) You're going to have to read through the longest and most exhaustive list of possible kid-related issues on the planet, and consider each one as a possibility for your family. (Bed-wetting being the least of your concerns.) Are you willing to take in a kid who sets fire to stuff? Or a kid with violent tendencies? Or what about a kid with a criminal history, or a kid with a diagnosed mental disorder? Or how about a kid with a tube feed, or a colostomy bag, or maybe even a kid who's bed-ridden?

The truth is, most of the more severe medical issues aren't going to show up when you're fostering a refugee (as far as I know.) Most refugee and unaccompanied minors being placed as foster children don't come with tube-feeds and tracheotomies - those are much more likely to apply when you're dealing with domestic fostering because those are the kids coming out of abusive and neglectful homes, so severe medical conditions are more likely. But again, there's only one set of paperwork for all of it - domestic and refugee, so if you're applying to be a refugee foster paper, you go through the same list as the folks applying to be domestic foster parents.

I'm not going to lie - this part was really hard for me. Every item of the list presented a new and terrifying option I had to consider. Was I willing to take in a child with a history of stealing? What about a child with a personality disorder, or a serious behavioral problem? The prospect was scary. But everything I said 'no' to made me feel a little bit worse about myself. Then again, when you already have kids, you have to recognize that your decisions impact them too. So you have to choose wisely, which is really hard (for me, anyway.)

You may have to modify your home (for real)...

Oh, and let's not forget the modifications you may need to make to your home. Each state has their own housing code, which is essentially a set of minimums that all homes have to meet in order for someone to be able to legally live in them. But foster housing code is a different animal altogether. For example, here in Michigan, the housing code says that every bedroom is required to have two entry/exit points in case of a fire (so, a minimum of one unobstructed door and window). But if you have a finished basement, you're only required to have a second exit/entry point if there's a bedroom down there. Unfortunately, that doesn't apply to the foster housing code.

According to the policy for foster homes, if you have a finished basement that ANYONE spends ANY amount of time in, you're required to have a second entry/exit point into and out of the basement. This sounds great until you consider the fact that most Michigan basements only have one viable entry/exit point - the stairs going down into the basement from the house. But if you want to foster, you have to install an egress window which is NOT cheap (Ours cost us almost $3,000 and that was us doing the installation ourselves!)

All in all, it's a highly invasive and time-consuming process. All of which I totally understand. (And I'm not being facetious here - I really do get it.) They need to know that this kid is going to be safe in your home. That you're trustworthy, not some lunatic who's going to snap and do something terrible to a kid that's already suffered more than their fair share of trauma. In the end, they really have no other choice. It's just good to know ahead of time what you're up for. So now you know. You're welcome.

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