In physics, force is defined as “any interaction that, when unopposed, will change the motion of an object.” Pop culture has reinvented the term “force” to refer to the good (light side) and the bad (dark side) influences that vie for control of a person’s life. The characters in the “Star Wars” movie series were always trying to find balance in the force, as either side was fighting for control within them. This is a real struggle in actual life and not just the movies. Finding a good balance is often a challenge for any family on any given day. Add in the high demands of foster care, and you have the potential for a disruption, or imbalance, in the force. Not only must the foster parent provide for their own families, but they must also take care of the needs of any child they foster, whether short or long term. The goal of foster care is reunification with the child’s biological family, and therefore, it is intended to only be a temporary measure; however, many families depend on one or two incomes to survive daily life. Foster families are not paid a lot, so many families find it necessary to continue to work outside the home while they foster. The trick is finding a balance between work and providing care. If you are considering foster care, you are indeed able to work full or part-time; however, there are several things that you need to keep in mind as you determine what kind of placements you are willing to accept and seek to retain balance in your universe.
Strong Support System
A support system is “a network of people who provide an individual with practical or emotional support.” Everyone needs help at some point in time. Foster families are faced with unique challenges that necessitate having a strong support system that they can lean on when things get tough. This support can be in the form of family, friends, church, and community groups. Having a predetermined list of approved and background-checked people that can help you out with childcare, meals, or respite is crucial when providing foster care. These people are aware of the potential needs of foster families and make themselves available to those families. The trick here is that a foster family must actually ask for help and asking for help is hard.
There is an old song from the 1970s called Lean On Me that admonishes, “Please swallow your pride if I have things you need to borrow. For no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show. You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand. We all need somebody to lean on. I just might have a problem that you’ll understand. We all need somebody to lean on. Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.” Foster families are tough people, but even tough people need help from time to time. If you are not afraid to ask for help, you will be able to find a bit of a balance to help you retain your sanity.
Have a plan for childcare.
Finding help with childcare is a must for every parent, whether you care for your family or foster; but if you are working, it is even more so. You may need to work but it may tear your heart to leave your kids and foster kids; however, schools have cancellations/days off, work has over time, and sick days happen. It can be tricky and frustrating.
Adoption.org addresses the issue stating, “You can work … while fostering, but be aware that it won’t be as simple as dropping your foster child off at the sitter’s while you go to work. Daycare centers, babysitters, and preschools all need to be approved through your agencies. … Just like parents who care for biological kids, there are many working pieces to figure out when balancing a career and parenting. You need to have a plan — sometimes a written one — to show your social worker for approval on how you will handle the appointments and meetings you need to attend with your foster child and on her behalf.
“In addition, you will need a plan for how you are going to juggle your schedule [if] the child becomes sick at school or daycare, or on holidays when school is out of session. On top of all of the meetings, classes, doctor visits, and social worker visits you may also need to find time in your schedule for reunification meetings where your foster child visits with his biological parents, and for court visits.”
If the foster placement is not school-aged, you may need to consider childcare options. Most states offer assistance with childcare costs, but there are specifications that must be met. According to Adoption.org, “Reimbursement is offered to cover the cost of daycare up to a state-allotted rate. This rate is typically what a daycare provider would earn if a child comes from a family who receives income-based assistance. However, child care assistance is provided for foster families and their foster children regardless of the family’s income.” The childcare provider must be approved by your agency and the state. They also must sign a form that states that they will accept the foster care childcare waiver as payment for services rendered. Sometimes the entire cost of childcare is covered by the waiver, but there may be some daycares that charge more than the allocated daycare waiver makes available. In those instances, you may personally be required to make up the difference in cost. It is also important to note that there are a few states that do not offer childcare compensation in any form. If the foster placement is school-aged, they are usually eligible for after school care while they wait for you to arrive. Finding help with childcare is a must whether you are a single parent or not. In the event that professional childcare is unavailable for some reason, it is helpful to have private care options in your toolbox of resources. Other foster families and approved individuals can be excellent “tools” to help you with the kiddos as you endeavor to balance kids and work.
Sometimes you just need a babysitter. Each state may have its own set of regulations on what kind of clearance babysitters may need. Many agencies require a background check of anyone who is left alone with a foster child. Other states are pretty lenient on this matter. Some agencies or states may set an age restriction on babysitters; it could be age 18 or a trusted high school neighbor. It is prudent to make sure that whomever you choose is equipped to handle some of the emotional issues that can come along with foster care. It is okay to be a bit picky with your choice of childcare. Picking a person with whom you would not mind leaving your own children will go a long way to help ease your mind and help add a sense of balance to your work and home life.
Help for transportation.
According to the blog, No Bohns About It, “One of the hardest things about getting a new placement is scheduling all the things. Depending on the age of the child and their circumstances you will likely need to schedule pediatrician visits, dental examinations, and eye appointments. It’s not uncommon to need to see the pediatrician or dentist fairly regularly when a placement first arrives. There are lots of reasons for this, two common ones in foster care are children needing to make up missed immunizations or needing dental work due to poor nutrition or neglect. Search out doctors with evening and weekend hours whenever possible. Kids in foster care get medicaid, so while searching around you also need to make sure you select doctors who take medicaid.”
Unfortunately, the majority of doctor appointments must happen during work and school hours. This can become a major hurdle for working foster parents. Some agencies have people who act as a transporter. It sounds a little sci fi-esque, but their job is to literally transport children in care to their appointments and mandated visits in lieu of the foster parents.
Ms. Bohn, the author of the aforementioned blog, refers to her experience with transporters: “They pick up kids, and drive them to the agency for a weekly visit with their parents. Since there is nowhere for foster parents to park or wait, our agency actually prefers this. Most agencies have some kind of transportation available to working parents, so ask ask ask for it. Visits will be cancelled, changed to a different time, or rescheduled to a different day constantly. As a working parent you will give yourself (and your boss) a headache if you try to take off work for visits. If there is absolutely no one from the agency to drive, ask about evening or weekend visits. Still a no-go? I’d seriously suggest hiring a babysitter to do the transportation for visits. You and your job security will thank me later.” Finding help with “all the things” related to transporting an additional child or children will help ease your mind and help you balance your force.
Finding time to provide care.
One matter of concern for foster parents who work full-time is finding time to spend with and care for your foster child. This is a valid fear; however, working parents juggle life, children, and work all the time. Fostercare.net states that “while this fear is valid, it is important to note that it is better for a child to have some time within a home than be without a safe home. Foster children may come from situations where they require more attention, however, they should be treated like other children.” Working to live is a part of life. You may have to reprioritize your life outside of work to enable you to spend the quality time that the foster child needs and that you long to give.
The article “Fostering while Working Full-Time” gently reminds foster parents that if you want to find fond balance bad enough “you can make time for anything in your life if you love it enough.” They admonish foster parents to think about their lives. “You’re busy with work, have a family, and a bill to pay, a house to clean, and yet chances are you still make time to watch your favorite tv show. There are … [opportunities] for you to open up space in your life- you simply have to rearrange your priorities. “
Have a plan. Maximize your time at work. Swallow your pride and ask for assistance. Prioritize your time outside of work. Remember that the most important work you do is not what you do, but who you pour your life into. All children need the constant nurturing of a loving adult to help them begin to thrive. Balancing work and childcare is tough, no doubt. Add in the special situations that can arise when caring for children in foster care and life can seem pretty chaotic and unbalanced. When you manage the seemingly impossible task of organizing your daily requirements and appointments, you should start to feel the shift in the force and find a balance with it.
Finding Time for YOU!
Self-care is the seemingly unattainable prize that every parent seeks but never seems to find. So much of our time and energy are invested in the lives of the children in our care. Foster families often have the added burden of caring for children who come to them with traumas and hurts that require more patience and care. I know many foster families who have their own children and willingly take on the task of foster caring. No matter how you look at it, parenting and foster parenting are emotionally draining, physically challenging, and spiritually depleting. It is imperative that foster parents make time for themselves to take a break to rejuvenate, revive, and refresh.
For some, a simple splurge of a latte and coffee on a drive to work may make them feel pampered. For others, it may be a mani-pedi, a massage, or a haircut/style. Still others may need to get away in the evening or on a weekend, alone or with a friend/spouse. Other ideas may be reading a book or watching a favorite movie with a big bowl of popcorn that they don’t have to share. Or taking an early morning run or practicing yoga before the kids get up, or after they go to bed. Bubble baths, treadmills, or church activities. Every person is different and requires different things to relax and feel normal again. YOU DO YOU! It is going to be hard to make it happen, but you cannot adequately care for others until you take care of yourself.
This article emphasizes rest when they refer to the fact that “the great thinker [Thomas] Aquinas spoke on the appropriateness of rest, even giving his inimitable Thomistic ‘thumbs up’ to ‘sports’ and ‘entertainments.’ Of course, in the Middle Ages, St. Thomas wasn’t speaking of the NFL or ESPN. But even then, there was the question of whether or not it was OK for Christians to play games or do things just for pure fun.
“…Aquinas said that because rest and ‘fun’ activities can leave us refreshed and prepared … such things were appropriate.” If one of the greatest thinkers of all times recognized the need for a break and some fun, how much more should we as caregivers find the time to take to care for ourselves. For in doing so, the balance between work and fostering may come into perspective. May the Force be with you.