I've always been a list person. My computer desk in college was covered in post-it notes containing quotes, lists, random numbers for different accounts and passwords. My life was altered forever when I got my first iPhone. The Notes app became my most-used app. I have everything from recipes, meal plans, gift ideas and, my most recent addition, pre-placement questions to ask the case worker before we commit to bringing a new child into our home.
When we were in PRIDE classes, our amazing instructors helped us create a list of helpful and even necessary questions to ask the case worker whenever we receive placement calls. Our agency also helped us in further curating the list to fit the demographics of the children they assist in placing. The result is a list of twenty or so questions that I keep on my phone so that it is with me at all times. I also keep a notebook in an easy to get to spot at home where I write down all the answers I get to the questions I ask.
Another important tip we received from our PRIDE instructors is to invest in a stack of notebooks. We should have a notebook for each child in our care that contains pertinent information. This notebook not only aides in providing information for the child's case, but it helps when foster parents go to create the Lifebooks for their kids. We were told to write down everything from developmental milestones, injuries, thoughts/memories, and information relayed to you by the child. Every entry should be dated, as well!
Back to the questions. This isn't a complete list. And be sure to know and understand that the case worker will more than likely not have even a fraction of the answers you desire. When a child comes into care, the process is often hurried and rushed because of the immediate nature of removal. This leaves a lot left to be figured out by you and the case worker.
Here are my twenty questions:
What is the child's physical health?
-Any known medical conditions?
-Any known allergies?
-Any known medications?
What is the child's emotional health?
-What are their coping mechanisms and strategies?
-Are they harmful to themselves, others or animals?
What is their developmental status?
-What is their sexual development?
What is their level of education?
-Current grade in school?
-What is their cognitive ability?
-What is their attendance record like?
What is their history of abuse/neglect & placement history?
What is their daily life & cultural issues?
-What are their routines?
-What are their likes/dislikes?
-What is their hair/skin care routine?
What is the child's legal status & permanency plan?
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are probably more questions that could be added (and if you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments!). And remember, the likelihood of you getting the answers to all these questions is slim. But the more you know, the better you are equipped to care for the child. The more you know, the better you can prepare to welcome that child into your home. The more you know, the better you do.
In my experience, we have received very little information. We are with a specialized agency meaning they place children with extensive medical needs. So the questions we ask are based mainly around the need to know what level of care the child will need. Based on the answers to those questions, the husband and I usually get an immediate gut reaction that lets us know which ones we can offer the best care to and which ones would be over our heads.
This brings up another very important point: It's okay to say no!
When you are presented with a placement, you have to know your limits and boundaries. You should know your non-negotiables. For us, our non-negotiables are harm to others and animals and acting out sexually. We also know what we can and cannot handle medically, but that's specific to each case. If the placement you and the case worker are talking about falls into your non-negotiables, it is OKAY and even preferred that you say no. For one, you want to protect your family. Secondly, saying yes to a placement that requires care above and beyond your capabilities not only does harm to your well-being, it does the already traumatized child a great disservice.
The husband and I have had to say no. If the level of care goes above and beyond what I can handle physically and emotionally, we don't commit. I know my body. I know what it can handle, and if committing to a placement that puts my well-being at risk, then we have to walk away, confident that there is a more suitable home for that child.
I hope this list helps you curate your own list of questions to ask your case workers during the fateful placement phone calls. It is not perfect and may be lacking, but it is hopefully a great start to knowing more and doing better!