Babies are universally adorable.
A couple weeks ago we found a baby kitten, no more than 6 weeks old, abandoned in our woods. He was trying desperately to hide, but a bright orange fluff ball sticks out like a sore thumb among the hues of green and brown of the forest. He was wild as they come, and it took us a few days to coax him out, a few more until he would come close enough to eat while we stood across the lawn, and another week until he would run towards us with his motor purring. My son named him Parizona, and while my husband really doesn’t like cats or pets in the house, no one could say no to that tiny ball of fur. Babies are adorable.
When it comes to fostering, babies are in high demand. There are many reasons for that: sometimes it comes down to maintaining birth order and not having children older than your oldest biological child, you might be a young couple without the tools or resources to parent a teen, or babies seem easier with less ingrained learned behaviors. I really can’t say any of those reasons are invalid, even if it’s you’re only choosing that age group because they’re cute. We need foster parents for babies too, and if you can provide a stable, loving home for that child, I guess I can deal with whatever initially prompted you to that age group.
I hear a lot of working parents express interest in newborns and infants, and they’re looking for advice on how to make it all work. I would never try to dissuade someone from the age group they feel comfortable with, but having gone through the difficulties of having an infant in the home while both of us worked, I can at least offer some food for thought. For some working parents, it might make more sense to at least consider school-aged placements. Let me tell you why.
Daycare is a bear. Try calling around sometime to ask for availability when you don’t know when you’ll be getting a placement, whether it’ll be one child or a sibling group, how old they’ll be (which is really important because daycares only have so much capacity for infants), or what kind of needs they’ll have. There’s only so far you can get when so much is up in the air, but it’s also unwise to leave it until after the child or children have arrived because you could really be up a crick without a paddle if you suddenly find yourself with newborn twins, and there’s no one in town with availability for two infants. And in case you’re wondering at this point, you do need a licensed provider for foster children, so the teenage neighbor next door is not going to cut it.
Before we got our first placement, my son was already in daycare. Unfortunately, she was at her max, so I was set with the task of finding a second daycare. A lot of daycares have wait lists for infants, so here I was calling all the daycares in my area with the little information I could give them- which was that I licensed for foster care. “No, I don’t know how old.” “Sorry, I can’t even give you an approximate start date.” And no, I don’t really want to pay $200 to hold an infant spot for two months when I’m not even sure we’ll be placed with an infant or if we’ll even get a call for a placement in the next two months.
We finally found someone who had actually been a foster parent through our agency and understood the struggle. When we got our first placement, I was able to take 2 unpaid weeks off of work, but soon it came time to start daycare. Our daycares had two different start times and they were across town from each other. I dropped off the first at 7 and had to book it to the other daycare for its start time at 7:30 and rush that child in the door with a hurried goodbye kiss to get to my job that started at 8. It was a headache, and there were days that my foster son’s daycare provider was on vacation or full. We had two providers but no backup, so I would have to switch days at work or use my sick days to stay home with the kids. And that was before the inevitable illness (as a side note, let me tell you that foster children often come with more medical needs than the average kid). It was exhausting.
You also have to ask ahead of time if daycare is covered for your foster children. In my county, it isn’t. Our caseworker told us the best she could do was a dollar or two extra a day to help with daycare costs. Our stipend was $18.50 a day, and daycare cost $28 a day. You can do the math there.
Then many daycares won’t take newborns until they’re at least 6 weeks old. If you get a child straight from the hospital, are you prepared to take off 6 weeks of work? Even if it falls under FMLA and you are entitled to the time off, we all know it’s sometimes just not realistic due to the demands of the job. I’m a teacher and could have taken 6 weeks of unpaid leave… but I honestly can’t afford to take 6 weeks of unpaid leave.
Finally, working and fostering babies does take its toll. It’s hard to balance both and feel like you’re doing both well. Babies are attention hogs, and they’re demanding. I would ask myself if this was in the best interests of the child to take him in and have him spend the majority of his time in daycare. For me, I figured it’d be better for me to find work with more flexible hours or take school-age placements who are at school during the hours I’m at work anyway.
If after considering everything you still feel like babies are the right fit, I have a few suggestions. See if a relative or someone close to you can sign up to be a substitute caregiver. They’ll have some training to do, but once they’re official, you can have them watch the kids for you (I hear grandmas are excellent candidates). You could also ask if there’s another foster mom in the area who would be willing to watch your children, swap babysitting favors, or maybe work out something that’ll beat the daycare rate. Finally, call around early. Find out who’s good and what openings they have. Then when you get the call, you’ll know if you can accept based on that availability.
The call will eventually come. It’s up to you to decide if it’s something that will work for your family.