Rebecca is foster parent, cognitive psychologist, and blogger who lives in Brooklyn, New York. Currently she has a two year-old foster daughter (referred to as "Jacket" on her blog) whom she hopes to adopt. In a quest to find other young, single, adventurous and urban foster parents she started a humorous blog about her journey at www.fosterhood.tumblr.com When not consumed with child welfare issues, Rebecca, works at a non-profit agency for folks with developmental disabilities in addition to being a Visiting Assistant Professor at Pratt Institute. Followe her on Twitter: @Fosterhood
1. What led you to becoming a foster parent? Was it a difficult decision to make?
This is always the most challenging question for me and I answer it differently every time. The easy response is that I'm an adoptee (from birth) and I grew-up around other kids who were adopted and in foster care. The more corny answer is that I got riled-up to “Be The Change”after Obama’s presidential campaign and to “Think Globally, Act Locally”after some frustrating work in West Africa.
2. When you received your first placement what were the first things you did when the child arrived? Was it hard for both of you to acclimate to the new situation?
Honestly? We went straight from the foster care agency to a bar. One of my closest friends had defended her doctoral dissertation a few hours earlier and we had planned the night for years. Who knew I'd be picking up a newborn that same day? In hindsight, I realize how cavalier this was, but having just spent the previous summer working in a West African refugee camp amidst malaria, typhoid, and peruses, a mosquito-free establishment with running water seemed downright sterile. The only infections I imagined being transmitted through the air of a New York City bar were greed and ambition. The next few days were unexpectedly emotional for me. I was scared to death and I thought my life was over. The baby cried and I cried. People told me that it would get better though and it did. At the time I found it more helpful to connect with new moms than with other foster parents.
3. How much background are you given on a child's situation? Do any of the details affect the way you handle certain situations/teach/discipline them?
Age and race is the only information I've ever been given and even then it is not always accurate. There are some situations I think I handle differently with my foster children than I expect to with my own biological children. Oftentimes foster children come from an environment where food availability swings between feast and famine. Keeping snacks constantly available has essentially extinguished my foster daughter's hoarding and overeating behaviors.
4. Can you take us through the foster parent process. What are the steps one goes through to apply? How long/short is it before a child is placed with you? How many people (that you deal with directly) are involved in each foster child's case?
Every state has a different process but an excellent one-page outline of the steps for New York City is here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/acs/html/become_parent/foster_care_process.shtml It took me approximately five months between making the call and having a child placed in my home. Depending on how open you are to those with special needs, older children and larger sibling sets, it can happen a lot faster.
I can’t even count how many people are directly involved in each foster child’s case. There are pediatricians, early intervention evaluators, mental health clinicians, the child’s attorney, school or daycare staff, and a dozen different foster care agency departments ringing and knocking at the door. It can be very hectic but the appointments slow down after a month or so.
5. What are some things you know now about being a foster parent that you wish someone would have told you when you first started?
That it’s totally doable! I wish someone had told me this 10 years ago. It wasn't until I saw a subway ad depicting a single man as a foster parent that I discovered unmarried people are accepted and even deemed valuable as foster parents. Also, did you know that you can have roommates? Pets? A criminal record (evaluated case by case)? Be unemployed? Taking anti-depressants? Every day someone emails me asking “Can I be a foster parent if _______?” and 99% of the time the answer is yes.
6. Is it difficult to parent a child who already has parents and learned behaviors/patterns? Is it hard to essential parent a child with a "village" of people watching you?
I don’t think that dealing with a child’s learned patterns and behaviors is much different for a foster parent than it might be for teachers, nannies and the like. If anything, as the primary caretaker, I think that it’s more within my control to help children develop healthier behaviors.
In terms of having a “village” of people watching me, I have found that those who are in a position to be critical have actually been nothing but supportive. The birth parents on the other hand are oftentimes struggling with the involuntary removal of their children and it’s been my experience that foster parent bears the brunt of their anger through false allegations of abuse and neglect.
7. After a child leaves your care, how do you deal with the transition?
I prefer to be alone for a few days. I create the children's “Lifebooks” which are essentially photo albums that foster parents are encouraged to make and pass on with the kids. It’s a creative outlet for me that provides a structure to sort of memorialize the time a child was with me. I make the books on my computer and then order copies for them and myself.
8. If we were to film a reality show of a typical day in your house, what would the camera see?
Food from floor to ceiling. My foster daughter, "Jacket," has recently learned how to climb into all of the cabinets and pull out snacks to 'feed her babies'. She also wants to feed real people. I dare a cameraman to come into our apartment for 5 minutes and not be talked into having pretzel sticks shoved down his throat.
For the most part I try to get us out of the house. On the weekends we go to a toddler collaborative art class, the farmer’s market and oftentimes the Brooklyn Flea Market. Also, as New Yorkers we eat most of our meals out in restaurants and spend a lot of time in parks and meeting up with friends.
9. Do you bring any rituals from your childhood into your home?
Everything about my life as a single, working parent in New York City is different from growing-up with my stay-at-home mom and working dad in the suburbs of Florida. However, we’ve created our own rituals. After I pick up my foster daughter from daycare we always go to the same store and she chooses a piece of fruit for an afternoon snack. At bath time I wrap her dolls in separate towels to her liking. And on Saturday mornings we go and get banana muffins from our favorite café.
10. What's your biggest challenge right now with "Jacket"?
This is a really hard confession for me to make, but I recently slipped up on Jacket's sleep routine. I was able to put her to bed at exactly 8pm throughout a phase affectionately referred to as “the murder scream month” and for a consecutive eight months. However, now she says WORDS which is so much different than crying. I broke down and pulled her out of her crib somewhere between yelps of "Help, please please help me out!” "I HUNGRY!" and "I WANNA SNUGGLE YOU!” Within two days we were up every single hour of the night rummaging through ten different flavors of yogurt and clinging to each other like we were on the sinking Titanic. The more tired I became the less resolve I had. A few days ago I managed to conjure up my Nanny Jo homunculus and ask myself what's going on inside of methat’s causing this. I realized that it had to do with my guilt over not spending enough time with her combined with my hang-ups regarding the idea that, as a foster child, she might feel particularly abandoned by me. Since spending a little time processing through this we're getting back on track.