15 Key Questions to Ask Before Accepting a New Foster Placement

Placement calls are a whirlwind. They’re filled with heart-wrenching details, far too few facts, and are concluded with the mind-boggling question, “Will you give this child a home?”

It’s crazy to think about how much rides on our response to that question, considering how little time we have to decide. 

But the reality is that removals are sudden, and getting kids placed in “permanent” foster homes as quickly as possible gives them the best shot at success. 

So, when your worker calls and speed-talks her way through skimpy details, presenting a case that may or may not be within the parameters you’ve agreed upon, while praying you’ll say yes, know that it’s not because she’s trying to put you in a tough situation. 

It’s because there’s a child on the other end of the line needing a home, and getting them one as soon as possible is the department’s job. 

Understand that that’s where they’re coming from. 

But also remember that getting that child a home is not your job. 

Your job is to give a home to the child your family’s a good fit for.

And deciding whether your family is a good fit for this child or not should be your only priority. 

Easier said than done, I know! 

When the stories presented are heartbreaking and we became foster parents is because we want to help. After waiting for a placement call, it’s so easy to get swept up in the moment.

But I can’t emphasize enough how important it is not to.

Slow down. 

Take a deep breath. 

Separate yourself from all the emotions the story has stirred. 

Ask questions. Lots of questions!
(In addition to the questions below, I love having Iowa’s placement questions form on hand.)

Have predetermined the details that are non-negotiables for your family. 

Make a decision, and then stick to your guns!

These are the steps I did not take during our first two placement opportunities. And throughout the second, my lack of intentional questions and careful thought ended up putting both our case worker and us in a pretty tough situation.

It was from that “almost placement” that I learned the 15 questions I wished I’d asked (and 4 other critical lessons).

I hope they’ll help you avoid the mistakes I made and decide with confidence whether or not your family’s the right fit for the placement you’re being called about.

Here are 15 key questions to ask before accepting a new foster placement:
 

  1. The Basics: name, age, gender, and number of children

    A few things to keep in mind:
  • The number of bedrooms you have available, their square footage, and how many children your home’s approved for. 
  • How much space your car has for additional car seats. 
  • The birth order of your family and whether you’re comfortable disrupting it. 
  • Whether you can take time off work until daycare is arranged. 
  • Any upcoming family events that might be disrupted by this placement.

  1. How soon does this child need to be placed?

    If the child’s coming from a hotline home or were just removed that day, they’ll most likely need to be placed asap. On the other hand, there might be more flexibility if they’re coming from another foster home or from the NICU. Consider whether you family is ready for an immediate placement or whether you’ll need some time to prepare.

  1. What’s the reason the child is being placed in care? And what’s the child’s understanding of that reason?

    I’ve kept a record of every detail I’ve learned about our foster daughter’s background and why she came into care. Each tidbit has helped inform Micah and I, her early innervation specialist, her physical therapist, her doctors, and her daycare workers how to best help and support her.

    And yet, despite all we’ve learned, there are still times when her behavior is so baffling that I’d do anything to climb inside her head and see what memory is triggering her actions. I can’t encourage you enough to ask for as much information as your case worker or her ongoing worker deems appropriate.

    And if you choose to accept the placement, consider your investigation to have just begun. NOT so you have a good story to tell but so that you can help your foster child cope with the trauma of removal and the traumas they experienced before that day.

  1. What is the expected length of placement? What’s the child’s legal status and permanency plan. Has a hearing been set for a termination of parental rights?

    Suppose the placement is expected to be short. In that case, you might be open to a wider range of placements (keep in mind that no timing is ever definite). On the other hand, if this placement is already moving towards adoption, consider whether you’d be willing to be a pre-adoptive home.
     
  1. Has the child been placed previously? And if so, why are they being moved?

    There are many reasons children might be moved from one foster home to another, but if the child you’re being placed with falls into this category, it’s important to know why.

    Is the move due to changes in the foster family’s circumstances, or is it because of that specific child’s situation?

    Has the child or their parent made allegations of abuse against a previous caretaker?

    Were there behaviors the previous caretaker didn’t feel equipped to deal with (a child that’s a flight risk or a danger to other children or pets)?

  1. Family – does the child have involved parents and/or siblings?

    If so, what are their names, and where are they living? Are visitations planned with either parents or siblings? What’s the frequency of visits, where will they be held, and will help be provided with transportation? Are there safety concerns with any family members?

  1. Does the child have any particular health concerns?
    • Health insurance/medical card
    • Date of last physical
    • Allergies
    • Medications
    • Developmental delays
    • Physical disabilities
    • Dental concerns
    • Mental health concerns – are they seeing a professional, how often, and is transportation provided?

** Most department offices have a designated insurance rep who’ll help sign your foster child up for state benefits and help you find them new health providers if their previous providers are too far away.
  

  1. Does the child have any particular behavioral issues?
    • Does the child do any of the following – swear, hit, bite, kick, run away, soil pants, wet bed, set fires, sexually act out, use drugs, destroy property, fight, behave suicidally, instigate trouble, steal, hoard food, etc… 
    • Does the child have any services addressing any behavioral issues?

  1. Is the child sexually active?

    If so, are they on birth control? Are they pregnant? Do you have any concerns about their boyfriend/girlfriend/sexual activities?

  1. Does the child attend daycare or school? Where and what grade are they in?

    Children coming into care typically do best when kept in the same school system. If that school system isn’t in your town/county, is transportation to and from an option? Or are there other ways they could be kept connected with their friends/ after-school activities?

  1. What is the child’s ethnicity and religious background?

    Is there a church or religious gathering they’d like to continue attending? Are there foods or activities particular to their culture or ethnicity that could make them feel more at home or help them transition into care?

  1. If you are considering a newborn or infant…
    • Did they suffer from prenatal substance exposure?
    • If so, are they showing signs of withdrawal or NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome)? Will there be in-home medical care and/or regular checkups to monitor their progress?
    • Were they born prematurely?
    • If they’re still in the NICU, which hospital are they in, and when are they expected to be released? (If the hospital is far, and the child will be inpatient for a while, consider whether you can commit to spend time with them). 
    • If the infant was already living at home, were they co-sleeping with their parents prior to removal?
    • What’s the baby’s diaper size?
    • What type of formula do they drink? Do they have any sensitivities?

  1. What is the child’s ongoing worker’s name and number? What is their supervisor’s name and number?

  1. Is the child bringing anything with them?

    Often children come with what can fit in a trash bag or even less. Our foster daughter essentially came with two sets of pajamas, a couple extra diapers, and a baby doll. We requested an additional clothing stipend so that we could outfit her with everything else she needed (check your local second-hand store for inexpensive and often great finds).

  1. Is there anything else we should know before deciding whether to accept this placement?



A few extra questions to ask after accepting a placement…

  1. What does the child like to eat?

    If your worker doesn’t know, consider bringing your foster child grocery shopping with you and letting them pick out a few things they’re familiar with.

  1. And there any special toys the child’s bringing with them, a special blanket, or other sleep aids?

    If the child comes with a bag of miscellaneous clothes and toys, knowing which items are particularly special can be a life saver come naptime, bedtime, or any time the kiddo is looking for comfort.

  1. What does their daily routine look like? Habits, nap times, activities they’re used to?

  1. Does the child have any particular interests or fears we should be aware of?

    Knowing something you can connect on right away or should avoid right away can help start things off on the right foot!

  1. What’s their birthday?

    You’ll need this date right off the bat to make any appointments. But it’s also helpful to know if their birthday happens to be right around the corner.

The truth is that your home is not the best foster home for every child. But it can be the best foster home for the right child.

If the child you are being called about is not that child, it’s so important to know! 

And it’s even more important to acknowledge that and to say “no”.

Give this child the opportunity to find the right-fit-home for them. 

Fostering is hard under the best of circumstances. We don’t need to make it harder by trying to force a placement. 

I believe wholeheartedly that the little one we were placed with about a year ago was the right fit for us. At the time, Micah and I asked lots of questions, discussed the situation, and then made the best decision we could with the information we had.

And yet, there have been stretches, especially recently, that have made me wonder if we made a mistake. 

That’s normal. 

It’s part of the journey. 

But I can’t imagine facing those stretches without the assurance that we did everything we could to make the best decision for her and for us.

When you’re faced with your first or next placement call, have questions ready! 

Know the non-negotiables for your family, and allow the answers to your questions, not the emotions the child’s story has stirred, to dictate your response.

Always remember: Our job is not to foster every child we’re called about. Our job is to foster the child our family’s the right fit for.

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