Monday, June 11, 2012

Our Foster/Adoption Financial Story: Sofia's Family

This post is part of our new guest blogger series, "Our Foster Adoption Financial Story." As new posts are added to this series you will be able to find links to them at the bottom of this post.


In February three frightened little kids arrived on my doorstep. In the past four months I’ve watched them blossom into happy, healthy kids, but it has been a bumpy road getting here. I would like to say that my experience with Department of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) has been a good one, but largely it has been difficult and messy.

As a family friend I was able to take custody of the children almost immediately based on a presumption of eligibility. In other words, as long as I could pass a background check and demonstrate that I had enough room in my home, DYFS would let the kids move in right away and I would go through the training and the home study process after they were already in my care. While this is a great thing for the kids, the newly minted foster parent finds themselves suddenly expected to function as part of a system they know nothing about yet.

Here are some examples of things I wish I’d known sooner:
  • The monthly stipend a foster parent receives doesn’t kick-in until month #2 (as in, after I had already spent my entire monthly budget buying a crib, car seats, clothes, toys, diapers and daycare).
  • DYFS has handbooks and tons of pamphlets, publications and training materials– I only wish they wouldn’t have waited until PRIDE trainings* (three months after the kids arrived) to give them to me!
If I could give advice to another kinship foster caregiver as they embark on their journey it would be this:
  • Ask if you can get the handbook and training materials used in PRIDE as soon as you get the kids, if not sooner.
  • Be prepared for lots of conflicting emotions and have a plan in place for dealing with them. As family or friends, we often have lots of complicated feelings to work through about what has happened that regular foster parents don’t have to deal with, everything from anger, to grief to resentment, all of which can affect not only our mental health and our family relationships, but our parenting as well.
  • Network with other foster parents as soon as possible, they will be an invaluable source of advice and moral support.
  • Ask lots of questions about what your expenses are covered, how the stipend is calculated and what other financial assistance might be available, either through your agency or other county resources.

If you are a single-parent, like me, and funds are always tight, try the following:
  • Get a chest freezer, either full or half sized for your basement, or quarter sized for your kitchen. I bought mine new, but you can look for used on Craigslist or Freecycle.
  • Shop and cook in bulk for said freezer. I take one Saturday a month to make a couple batches of pizza dough, meatballs, chicken cutlets and casseroles to freeze.
  • Cooking ahead buys me precious down time on those busy weeknights when I’m too tired to cook without having to blow extra money on takeout. I even freeze half gallon cartons of milk so I’m never stuck having to get three kids into the car for an unexpected run to the corner store.
  • Keep a running grocery list hanging on the side of the fridge, then do one huge shop each month, preferably online. Shopping online really helps me stick to my list, save time and avoid impulse spending. I consider the $20 fee to have it delivered to my home to be money well spent.
The future outcome for my kids and their parents continues to be a defined by a question mark, so for now, we are all just taking things day-by-day. During the difficult moments I take comfort in knowing that my kids are with me, somebody they have known their whole lives, and that being here has helped them to feel as safe and secure as they possibly can during this difficult time in their young lives.

Bio: Sofia is a Central NJ single mom, writer, and graphic designer happy to be cruising through life in an 18 year old Honda. 

*Note: Many states use the PRIDE curriculum for training, while others use MAPP or other curricula.

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