Many demands on foster parents; they must meet stringent criteria
Most children in foster care are considered "special needs," but that designation rarely stops potential parents, if they're already inclined to foster or adopt.
"You'd be surprised at the dedication and commitment, and their willingness to take on kids with ... ongoing health issues," said Debbie Stills, senior social worker with Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency.
Between April 2011 and March 2012, around 250 children left foster care in Shasta County, with approximately 70 of them being adopted.
Roxanne Burke, a spokeswoman for Health and Human Services, said it's difficult to break down the number of children who have severe physical and mental disabilities. Most children in foster care, due in part to physical and sexual abuse, are listed as special needs.
People looking to foster have to meet stringent criteria and successfully foster the child for at least six months, Wendy Dickens, Health and Human Services licensing program supervisor, said.
Stills said applicants must pass a criminal-background check and complete a 27-hour course on how to care for children who have come from a traumatic home. They also have to take a 35-hour course if they're adopting a child younger than 5 with a severe medical condition, she said. Foster parents then have to complete eight hours of training every year, usually provided by Health and Human Services. Once an adoption is complete, those eight hours are no longer necessary, Stills said.
Foster parents also have to prepare for check-ins from social workers, she said.
All parents who want to adopt a child have to foster the child for at least six months and must pass all the requirements of being a foster parent.
The 35-hour course also prepares parents for the medical realities of having a child with a severe medical condition. That includes the possibility of losing the child, Dickens said.
"You're asking someone to care for them in a way you would an infant," Dickens said. "When your child's no longer with you ... that's a heart-wrenching thing."
However, foster parents are rarely deterred by special-needs children, Dickens said. She said only a small fraction of potential parents say they don't want a child with medical issues. However, the few cases where potential parents back out, it's usually because the reality of such care is too much.
During that 35-hour class, potential parents also learn about other complications.
"When you have substance-exposed children ... many of (them) don't exhibit issues until school age," Dickens said.
The training allows parents to know what to expect, she said.
Parents who drop out after starting the adoption process usually do so because they're frustrated with the bureaucracy, not the work of taking care of a child. Health costs also rarely figure into the decision, because every foster and adopted child is automatically eligible for MediCal until they're 18. If the child has a disability listed with Social Security, that age limit rises to 21.
4 August 2012