You’ve just been licensed and you’re waiting for the call. You know where your phone is at all times and have the ringer set on high to an obnoxious tone so you won’t miss it. So what now? What happens when you get the call? What kinds of questions should you ask?
I find that all brain processing goes out the window when on the phone with a case worker, so I have a list of questions written down that I can refer to when I get the call about a placement. Of course I probably won’t end up asking all of these, so I’ve prioritized them from the essentials to “it’d be nice to know” questions. Without further ado, here is my ultimate list of questions to ask before accepting a placement.
- How many? What ages? What gender(s)? You can read this post on why we choose to stick to birth order, but we don’t accept placements that are older than our biological child. It’s a firm, non-negotiable right now. We’ll still get calls for children older than our son, so this is my first question. We also want to know how many are in a sibling group because we only have one extra bedroom. Our first placement call was for a sibling group of 3. I thought about it for a hot second before realizing we simply didn’t have enough bedroom space or anywhere to put 4 kids in my tiny car and my husband’s truck. And we certainly didn’t have available daycare for all of them. We had to turn it down for the logistical reasons alone.
- When is the child’s birthday? Going along with age, a 4 year old child could have just turned 4 or about to be 5 in a few days. That’s a big difference!
- Are there any dangers? i.e. any history of physical or sexual abuse or other reported behaviors. Since we have a young child in the home, we aren’t willing to accept placements with certain behaviors at this time. It’s a deal breaker for us.
- Where is the case at? Is this a short term or long term placement? Is there an idea how long the child might be staying with you?
- When did the child enter foster care and why? You can learn a lot from this question alone. Has the child been bouncing from home to home or have they just been removed? Were they removed because of physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or addiction?
- What is the child’s ethnicity? The city I live in neighbors an Indian reservation. ICWA governs all Native American children in foster care, and the cases are handled a little differently. If I have a Native American child placed in my home, I’ll need to be prepared and work harder to address cultural needs.
- Does the child have siblings? Sometimes sibling groups are split. If they are, what’s the reason for that and do they have regular visits with the siblings?
- Is there contact with parents? What is the visitation schedule like? Is it supervised or unsupervised? Where are the visits and how often? Sometimes you’ll run into a case where you’re driving a good distance every week for visits. Is there transportation or is that up to you?
- Do you have any information on family background? Is there any known gang activity? Are the parents working on their case plan? Are there involved family members?
- Is the child coming with anything? Is it the clothes on his back and you need to do some shopping, or is the child coming with some basic necessities? For younger kids you can ask if they have a car seat or booster.
- Babies: What size diapers do they wear? What type of formula and bottles do they use? Were they drug exposed?
- Does the child have any diagnoses? This could include any disability, mental illness, or if the child is on an IEP for educational needs. Does the child have scheduled therapy or other appointments?
- What is the child’s health? Are they on any medications, have chronic illnesses, current on vaccinations, or have any allergies?
- Does the child have lice? I know some foster parents that treat every child coming into their home, and that’s a good way to go too. Better safe than sorry!
- What are the child’s likes/dislikes? What do you know about their personality and tendencies?
- Can you do a trial overnight? Do you have an option of doing a pre-placement visit to meet the child and see how it goes?
A lot of the time, the case worker will have very limited information and won’t be able to answer all these questions. Even then, the information they’ll have might be entirely wrong. Instead of a 4 year old boy, it might actually be a 2 year old girl. But don’t let that stop you from asking the questions or insisting on knowing a particular answer before accepting a placement. It’s better to be a little persistent if it means you’ll have a clearer picture of what you’re getting into.