Imagine you had to physically fight someone. It’s high stakes – the loser dies. So you prepare for it the best you know how. You hire a boxing coach. You train every single day. You analyze hundreds of hours of tapes from all the boxing greats. Then, the day of the fight, you show up to the ring and they blindfold you, tie one hand behind your back and tell you “give it your best shot”.
That’s pretty much how it feels to be a foster parent.
You do everything you can to prepare as best you can. This kid arrives at your door and you do everything you can to protect them. To keep them safe. To help them because they’re scared and traumatized. Yet, there’s rules, regulations and red tape in place that prevent you from doing what you know is “best” for this child.
Foster Kids & Education
Since Thomas and I both work, H is in a foster-approved daycare with twelve other 4-year olds. On Monday, the teacher sends a packet of homework home and it’s due on Friday. The kids practice coloring inside the lines, totaling objects on a bar graph and learning a new letter each week.
I leave work at 5:15 PM and pick him up by 5:30 PM. We get home at 5:45 PM and I immediately start dinner. Food is on the table by 6:30 PM, when Thomas gets home. By 7 PM we’ve finished eating. Then the whole bed/ bath/ book routine starts. H must be in bed by 8 in order to get 11 hours of sleep. Babycenter.com states 10-12 is the recommended sleep time for 4 year olds.
So, the first “choice” I have to make is do we do the homework or does H get enough sleep every night?
For a kid who’s not in the system, I’d easily pick sleep. Homework is just reiterating what they learned in class anyways, so they’re getting it at least one time, right?
For kids not in the system, this is correct. For kids in foster care, the choice is a little harder.
Foster Kids, Visitation with Parents & The Impact on Education
The other Thursday night, I got a text from a Case Supervisor. He wanted to give us a head’s up. Although H currently has one 2-hour supervised visit a week with his mom, it’ll increase to a 4-hour visit.
H’s mom lives 3 hours away. So once a week a 9-passenger van comes and picks him and 3 to 7 other kids up and drives them to see their parents. Consequently, H misses a day of school, because the county he happens to be from doesn’t do weekend visits.
Since it’s 6 hours round-trip and the visit is 2 hours, that’s an 8 hour day. So they can either add 2 extra hours on the same day for one 4-hour visit, which means H won’t be home until 8:15 PM (and not get enough sleep) OR he’s pulled out of school TWICE a week for visitation (thus missing another day of education).
In case you forgot, he’s 4.
Education: The Only Way Out for Foster Kids
I was very fortunate to come from a family who valued education. It was never a question of “if you go to college” but “when you go to college”.
In fact, my parents valued education so much that my mom didn’t take a traditional 8-5 job. Instead, she homeschooled us. Top educational programs is not what Alaska is famous for. But my parents wanted us to have the best possible chance in life, which meant the best possible educational opportunities.
So it physically pains me to know that this child who I am responsible for cannot get the best. In fact, he can’t even get the average. Because of a situation he did not create, he is forced to take the leftover scraps…whatever he can get. Everyone gets 180 days of school. H will be lucky to get 108.
In fact, he probably gets closer to 99 days. Remember, he’s also got twice the amount of doctor’s appointments than non-system kids. The speech therapy sessions and dentist appointments, court hearings and check-ins all are time out of school.
The Realities of Being a Foster Parent
We knew when we signed up for the foster parent thing it would be hard, so I don’t tell you all this for your sympathy.
And to be honest, telling you about it at all is kind of dangerous.
The reality is, at some point or another, as a foster parent, you may end up in court. As it generally goes in court, anything you say will be twisted against you in one way or another.
But I think foster parenting is one of those topics that no one really talks about. As a result, there’s all this mystery surrounding it, which is why I think it’s worth the risk to write about it.
If more people talked about it and knew what it was like, there’d be a better chance to improve the system.
If it were up to me, the first change would be to ensure these kids got a fair crack at an education.