What is Foster Care
According to Article 34A of the Child Protection Law: "Foster care is the upbringing and education in a family environment of a child who is placed in a family of relatives or in a foster family."
What is foster care?
Foster care is taking care of someone else's child in your own home.
Biological parents very often face serious difficulties in upbringing their children, such as:
• severe illness,
• crisis in family relations, etc.
At such times, the child is better to stay at a foster family until the problem of their family by birth is resolved and then they return to their natural environment. In Bulgaria, the practice is that when parents can not take care of their child for some reason, they should be immediately sent to a Social Home Care, where by no means they do not receive quality care, attention and love, which every кid needs to grow confident and calm.
Foster care is an opportunity for the child not to end up in a Social Home Care, but to go to the other people’s family that will give him all their love and support. Foster parents provide a safe, stable and secure environment for children and in most cases support the child and their family, and work to make them live together again.
The children from the Social homes very often have their living parents, who have not given them up. In these cases, they cannot be adopted and are dedicated to spend their lives at a children's institution. Respectively, it is best for them to live in a foster family that does not receive full parental rights, but can provide them with a real home and support.
Who are the children who need foster parents?
Such may be a child placed in an institution or one for whom it is not appropriate to stay with their parents for a certain period of time. Such can be a newborn that his mother is unable to care for, as well as a teenager who has spent his life in an institution or cannot return to his birth family. The age of the children who can be placed in foster families is from 0 to 18 years.
Types of accommodation:
URGENT - in cases when a child needs to be taken out of his birth family, as a matter of urgency
SHORT-TERM - to take care of a child until the difficulties in his family are resolved and they can return to their biological parents, or be adopted. This accommodation is undertaken within 1 year, in order to support the family and return the child to it. During the short-term placement, regular contacts are made between the child and his family, if such are in their interest.
LONG-TERM - to take care of a child until he reaches the adulthood age and is ready to take his own path and be an independent and responsible young person. This type of accommodation is provided for a period of more than 1 year for children whose parents have died, are unknown, deprived of parental rights, with limited rights or whose parents do not take care of them permanently, or are permanently unable to care for them and return in the birth family is difficult.
Replacement foster care.
Foster care can be VOLUNTARY - families take care of children free of charge, by receiving only monthly funds for their upbringing and education, and PROFESSIONAL - people who accept child care as their professional vocation in which they can develop. In this type of care, the foster parent receives a monthly salary for their work.
Who can become a foster parent?
To be a foster parent you need:
• to be confident in your decision;
• your family and relatives accept the idea of becoming a foster parent;
• to show that you are willing to care for children and take part in foster care training;
• to have enough space in your home and time to care for and to communicate with the child;
• to show understanding of the foster child’s needs;
• to be willing to work in partnership with social workers;
• not to be convicted, not to be in poor health or to have problems with alcohol and drugs or any other addictions.
Steps of foster care:
Step 1. Information meeting.
It all starts with the information meeting. During it, the candidates for foster parents get acquainted with what foster care is and what are the requirements for becoming a foster parent. It does not engage the candidate foster parent with anything. They can get the information they need to decide if they want to move forward in the process.
Step 2. Submit an application.
Candidates for foster parents are due to submit an application.
Step 3. Training of candidates for foster families.
Depending on the program on which the respective trainers work, the duration and number of sessions are determined.
Step 4. Evaluation of the candidates for foster families.
After submitting the application, the evaluation of the candidates for foster parents begins:
• Meetings are held with the candidates and the other members of the household.
• Individual meetings are held with each of the candidates to discuss issues related to their childhood, education, work, family, relatives and friends.
• Meetings are held with the guarantors of the family.
• Visits are made at the candidate's home.
After the individual and family meetings and after the completion of the training and evaluation of the candidates for foster parents, the family’s social worker prepares a report, which the candidates get acquainted with and sign, after approval. The report is submitted to the Child Commission through Department “Child Protection”.
Step 5. Approval.
After the preliminary approval, a Commission for the child is convened by the respective municipality for approval of the candidates. The commission is composed of various specialists with knowledge in the field of child welfare - paediatricians, psychologists, lawyers, social workers, foster parents, foster care experts, etc.
The Commission gets acquainted with the evaluation report. In case of ambiguities and questions regarding the evaluation, the commission shall listen to the social worker of the candidate, and if necessary the candidate himself.
What are the possible decisions and outcomes of the meetings for approval of candidate foster families?
• The commission decides on the approval of the respective application, minutes of the meeting are prepared and by order of the director of the Social Assistance Directorate, it is entered in the register of approved foster parents.
• The Commission finds that it needs additional information on the application and requests an additional assessment from the social worker.
• The Commission decides that the family does not have the necessary capacity to accept a child from an institution or at risk.
Step 6. Getting to know and matching.
Once the family is approved, the search begins for which specific child the family is suitable for. When a child in need of foster care is identified, their history is told to the foster family. A photo of them is also displayed. Candidates are given the opportunity to ask their questions, after which they are given time to think and give their consent or refusal to care for the particular child.
If the family expresses a desire to take care of the child, preparations for its placement begin. It is planned how many times the foster family will meet the child before he/she starts living with them, how many times the child will visit their home to get to know the environment and the people he/she will live with.
The purpose of this type of adjustment is to move the child more smoothly to the foster parents' home in order to avoid the shock of a sudden change in his life. During this process, the foster parents tell the child about their family, about their children /if they have any/, show their photos and photos of their home. This is how the child prepares for the change.
In case of urgent accommodation, there is no process of adjustment, because it is associated with a rapid response and urgent action.
Throughout the process of getting to know and adapting, social workers support the foster parents.
Step 7. Accommodation.
After the adjustment process, the child is placed in the foster parents' home. The first day is usually full of anticipation and some anxiety, but thanks to the introductory meetings, the foster child and the foster parents are prepared for this moment. After placement, social workers continue to support the family through face-to-face meetings or telephone consultations.
As foster parents, you have the right to receive support from your social workers, but you will also be checked by relevant institutions to make sure you take good care of the child and that the agreements are followed.
Sometimes children are afraid of the familiar. Not only afraid of the unknown and the new.
Children placed in foster care have different fears related to the specific life situation in which they find themselves.
They experience fears at every stage of the foster care process - when they are about to be placed in a foster family, when they are already placed in a foster family, and when they are about to leave the foster family.
Fear of strangers and the new place
Upon placement in a foster family, the child leaves the place where he/she lived until then and gets separated from the people who took care of him/her. These people may be his parents, relatives, a team from the orphanage where he/she was raised, and the children in that home.
The child who will be placed in a foster family has concerns about moving to an unfamiliar place. He may not express these feelings in words, but he/she definitely feels quite worried, even if his/her life in an institution has not been happy. The child does not know whether he/she will feel better, in the same way or worse in the foster family.
When moving to foster homes, children and young people ask themselves different questions, such as:
• What are the names of the people I go to?
• Why do I go to them?
• How should I call them?
• What will the family I go to know about me?
• How many children does this family have? Are they girls or boys? How old are they? Do they have a dog? Does it bite?
• How does the place look like, where does the family live, that I go to?
• Why do I have to move from where I have lived so far?
• What did I do wrong?
• Will my parents know where I am? How can I contact them if I need to? When will I see my parents / previous caregivers again?
• Where will my brothers or sisters be? What will happen to them?
• Will I have to go to school / a different school /? What will happen to the things I have owned so far?
The fears of the placed child
After the placement of the child in the foster family, the process of his adaptation to the family continues.
The child experiences fears such as:
• Will they like me?
• Will I be approved?
• Will they love me?
• Will they leave me?
• Will I get along with the children in the family?
• How long will I stay in the foster family?
Foster children also have worries about unfamiliar things in the foster family's home, which at first glance seem quite normal.
These can be different appliances - most often household; furniture; facilities such as toilet cisterns, and other items that are typical of an ordinary home.
In many cases, they are unknown and strange to foster children, especially if the children have been raised in an institution. They need a period of adaptation and acquisition of new knowledge and habits. In the beginning, everything in the foster family home is new to them.
If the foster family has pets, the foster child may be afraid of them at first. This often happens when pets are dogs or cats. It is then necessary for the foster parents to calm the child's fears so that he/she can gradually overcome them and establish a positive relationship with the pet, when possible.
The fear of separation
The reasons for the separation between the child and the foster family are different.
Some of them are:
• return of the child to his biological family;
• adoption of the child;
• reaching the age of majority of the child and / or their desire to live independently;
• if the child moves from short-term to long-term foster care with another foster family;
• the situation in the life of the foster family has changed and they can no longer take care of the child;
• conflicts between the foster child / young person and the foster parents, and other reasons.
In such various situations, the child experiences different fears, such as:
• What will my life be like from now on?
• Will I be able to get used to it without my foster parents?
• Will I keep in touch with them? Am I to blame for having to separate from my foster family?
• Separation caused by a misunderstanding between the child and the family is very difficult for both of them.
• Therefore both parties feel guilty.
• It is important for foster parents to confess to the child or adolescent that the separation is not only due to his/her behaviour, but also that they have made mistakes.
• Both parties need the support of professionals to be able to gradually overcome their fears and guilt.
Feelings - the main reason of serious problems of foster children
One of the most common causes of behavioural problems is the expression of deep-seated feelings in an inappropriate way. Although it is often thought that a child who expresses his feelings through unacceptable behaviour is angry and confused, he/she is more likely to be sad, lonely or afraid. Sometimes a child may behave this way because he/she is excited or happy.
Separation from the biological parents / people from the Social home.
The behaviour of children living with foster parents often reflects their feelings of separation from the biological family. Children who experience separation from one or both parents are sensitive to these separations. In many cases, children cannot define their feelings, much less express them adequately. These feelings do not remain hidden; they manifest in different ways, often inappropriate.
What can you do?
When dealing with behavioural problems that stem from a child's inappropriate feelings, the goal is to help the child learn new ways to express their feelings. This is one of the functions of all educational moments between the parent and the child. The child should be allowed to feel strong feelings. Some children deal with their strong feelings by denying them. These children may need permission to express their feelings in a structured situation as a therapy session. Sometimes social workers or parents can use a situation in which children openly express their irritation to reveal their strong feelings.
Expression of feelings
Importantly, families not only help children understand their feelings, but also model appropriate ways to express them. It is possible to support deep-seated feelings in children without supporting their behaviour. For example, a child tears a picture of one of the biological parents after being a guest. If the foster parent says, "You shouldn't do this because it is rude," the child gets the message that his feelings are bad. This can lead to self-centered ideas that it is bad and that it is his fault to live with a foster family.
On the other hand, if the adoptive parent accepts the child's feelings but not the behaviour, he or she may respond, "I know you are unhappy that you can't live at home with your parents. That is understandable. I would, too. Tearing the picture is not the best way to show that you are annoyed. What else can you do?
This answer allows the child to have strong feelings, but indicates that there are other much more acceptable ways to express these feelings.
Useful practices from the experience of a social worker
• The foster family can make a book for themselves, which to present to the child. This book includes photos of family members, photos of pets, a description of their home and family members, details of family hobbies, how they spend time together, what things they like, celebrating important events for them, and more. The book can be given to the child by a social worker before meeting the family. The information in it can be discussed with the child. It should allay some of his fears.
• Even for a very short time, for example in the car, on the way to the place of accommodation, the social worker can do something to prepare the child. The social worker and the foster parents must expect the child's basic questions and be sure that they can answer them. Quick lists are very useful at a time when so many things are happening fast.
• The preparation of the child and the family starts before the actual transfer of the child to the family, except for urgent placements. At this preliminary stage, many of the child's questions receive their answers and calm his fears to a great extent.
• Arranging meetings between the foster family and the child: The first visit takes place at the place where the child lives. A few visits to this place follow. The child then visits the foster home. Gradually, the child's visits to the foster family become more frequent and for a longer period of time until he is placed permanently.
• Meeting the people /person/ who took care of the child: They should provide the most complete information about the child - character, habits, favourite activities, reactions and actions of the child while living in the current environment, etc. The child should feel reassured that the person caring for him now and his future successor care for him and respect each other. The person(s) who cared for the child may give some recommendations to the successors regarding the care of the child. It is also important for the successors to have met this person(s) who will be important to the child and will be someone to talk to and worry about.
• Arranging meetings between the social worker and the foster child: during these meetings the social worker consults with the child about his/her opinions and feelings. In such cases, the child feels as if he/she has no power or control over what is being done for him. Giving him time to think and ask questions strengthens his self-confidence and makes him feel that he is being consulted and listened to. He needs to know that adults are in control and will make the final decision, because leaving that to the child is a too scary task for him. During the meetings with the family, the social worker discusses with all family members their opinions and whether the child is adapting well to them.