May 29, 2014

Becoming a Foster Parent in Los Angeles County : What To Expect

My husband and I recently embarked on a new adventure and became certified Foster parents in Los Angeles County.  To say there is a huge need for good foster families in LA is a vast understatement and there are a couple of different ways to go about becoming foster parents here. You can either go directly through the county or choose a Foster Family Agency (FFA).  Even though we have a fantastic agency by our side and completed very informative training, upon getting our first child we had a lot of questions.  So I thought I would share some tips on what to expect, in hopes that I can help other families when they are just starting out.

*How long did it take you to get certified?
We started the process at the end of September, 2013 and we received our certification on February 3rd, 2014. Our advice to anyone who is beginning this process is to get your Live Scan fingerprinting  done right away. Many of the items on your foster certification to-do list are things that are in your control and are pretty easy to get done, but the background checks take an unpredictable amount of time.  We waited a couple weeks after we started our training to get ours done and it ended up taking a couple of months for the background checks to clear the system. 

*How long did it take you to get your first placement call?
We received our first placement call two days after we were certified by our agency. We are doing infants and we were told that because of the immense need, we would get a child very quickly. Even though the two days between getting certified and getting that first call felt like an eternity, it really was quick.

*What happened when your first baby arrived? 
After hearing from our agency in the late afternoon and accepting the placement, we heard from the County Social Worker (CSW) involved in baby J's case.  She told us he would be arriving within the next couple of hours. We then got a call from a transport worker from the county, to let us know that she was on her way. Our house is a little bit hard to find so we had multiple calls from her and ended up meeting her when she pulled up to the sidewalk in front of our place around 9:30pm.  She had the baby, a large bag of clothing and hospital blankets, and an open package of diapers.  She brought everything into our house and went upstairs to see where the baby would be sleeping. She was very encouraging and nice to us and had us sign some papers stating that we received the baby.  She left about 15 minutes after she arrived.

*How long did it take you to hear from the birth parents?
We received a call from mom on our google phone number the very next morning after getting baby J.  She really wanted to see him and asked us to set something up. We contacted our agency social worker who then arranged for us to have a visit at the agency a few days later. Though we definitely were surprised to hear from her so soon, it was a good reality check for us and helped us get right into foster parenting mode.

*Were there any special medical checkups required after you got the baby?
LA County has a system in place in which all foster children go to a centralized medical center called The Hub to get their first checkup and any tests they might need.  The hospital called us directly to let us know when J's appointment would be.  The Doctors there are great and very thorough.  They are open to any questions you might have about anything.  We also had already taken J to visit a pediatrician in our area. You are required to get a baby to the Dr. within 72 hours of placement, but the appointment at The Hub was more "official". 

*How long did it take for a visit from your Social Worker?
Since we are certified through a Foster Family Agency (FFA) our agency social worker showed up at our house the next day after we got J.  She asked us questions about how he seemed to be doing, how much he was eating, how we were doing, etc.  She's very sweet and reassured us that we were doing a good job. She also went through some paperwork with us and gave us some tips on keeping track of the clothing inventory, etc.  As far as the County goes, our County Social Worker (CSW) came for a visit about 3 weeks after we got J. She too was very encouraging and spent quite a while at our house discussing things.  We have since been assigned a new CSW which I've heard is pretty common.

*Who else visited your house?
We had visits from two people from the MAT team.  They called us to let us know they would be coming the next day to assess J.  We weren't sure what this was all about so I did some quick research and found out that in LA County there exists something called the "Multidisciplinary Assessment Team". It's a collaborative effort between DCFS, the Department of Mental Health, and other community providers.  The MAT assessment is designed to make sure that any kids in foster care are having their needs met. They deal with all facets of life including medical and mental health, development, and education and recommend special services based on their findings.  They ended up coming to our house twice. Once they finished their assessment, a meeting was held at DCFS with Mom and Dad, the County Social Worker, the MAT team and us.  The assessment was presented to all parties involved and the meeting itself took about 90 minutes.

*What are some things I can do as I wait and prepare to become a Foster Parent?
If you're doing infants, stock up on a few different sizes of diapers, lots of wipes, some PJ's, onesies, and outfits in a few different sizes, and many burp cloths.  Have a couple different kinds of pacifiers on hand, and a couple different types of bottles. We have found the Avent Naturals bottles to be great- especially when you get a baby who has been used to breastfeeding.  Spend some time making their room look peaceful, inviting and fun. If you're doing slightly older children, have special toys on hand including things like Pillow Pets that will be a comfort to a young child. Stock up on kid friendly foods and age appropriate plates and cups. No matter what age you are doing, arrange for some friends or family to be on call to run out for things you might need and to bring food.  (Especially the part about bringing food).  Even though you didn't give birth to this child, taking a new child into your home is a very similar experience and people showing up at your door with casseroles will be an extremely welcome sight. ;)


Amy, a redeemed sheep said...

Good for you!!! The children placed with you will be very blessed. =)

Shannon Wallace said...

Thank you for sharing this part of your life. We've contemplated becoming foster parents. It's good to hear from someone who is in the process, and has experience! May the Lord richly bless you all!