Becoming a Foster Parent

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We’ll have a discussion on what it takes to become a foster parent in Arizona. Kris Jacober, president of the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents, and Margaret Soberg, a foster/adoptive family recruiter, will talk about what is needed to become a foster parent.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," a new rule goes into effect today that could impact the future of for-profit universities. Find out what it takes to become a foster parent in Arizona, and see how one company is providing employment for the developmentally disabled. Next on "Arizona Horizon." "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: A number of children in Arizona's foster care system is at a record high. That means among other things that more foster parents are needed. Here to talk about what it takes to be a foster parent is Kris Jacober, President of the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents, and Margaret Soberg, a Foster/Adoptive Family Recruiter. Good have you both here. Thanks for joining us.

Kris Jacober: Thank you.
Margaret Soberg: Thank you.

Ted Simons: What does it take to become a foster parent in Arizona?

Kris Jacober: So the big -- you know, the barrier to entry to become a foster parent is pretty low. You have to be 21 years old, I think that's the right age. You don't have to own a house -- I mean, it's pretty low. The process is pretty rigorous and it should be because you're going to have a child come into your home. There is 10 weeks of training, sometimes more, there's a home study and background check and a fingerprint card and all of that stuff. But anyone watching this who is thinking, I'm too old or too young or whatever, I don't own my house, well, the barrier to get started is pretty low.

Ted Simons: As far as those requirements, are there too many toos? Too old, too young, too this, too that?

Margaret Soberg: No, absolutely not. There's a myth that families who doesn't have children, they are just married, that's okay. Or a couple in their 60s and their children are all grown, hey, that's even better, they have got experience. So the biggest thing is just loving kids. If you love kids, and you have a little time and energy to spend, doesn't take the financial commitment really because the state pays an allowance while the child is in your home. It shouldn't be a financial burden.

Ted Simons: How much is that allowance?

Margaret Soberg: It's about $20 a day per child. It's not enough to make your car payment, it's not intended for that. But it is enough to cover the expenses of the child.

Ted Simons: Does that money change if it's an infant as opposed to a child as opposed to a teenager?

Margaret Soberg: A little change it's a little more than for infants because they need formula and that's expensive. A little more for teenagers because they eat a lot. Basically like I said, it's not a financial problem. It's just we need families that will consider it. Then there are foster care agencies. And our job is to walk families it is through that process. It's not like they are turned loose and this testify to try to figure it out. They have an agency that walks with them step by step.

Ted Simons: I want to get to that process in a second. Back to the screening process. How does that work? How long does it take, what's involved?

Kris Jacober: I think the average amount of time is probably about six months. You start your training weekly, three hours a week through this -- it's a pretty comprehensive look at foster care in Arizona, at kids in foster care, at behaviors, kind of what's expected of you as a foster parent. Then there is a home study. If you have children, your children are interviewed. If it's you and your husband, you and your husband are interviewed. Your home has to check out, you have to have a pool fence, just basic stuff so you can take care of kids in the way they need to be taken care of.

Ted Simons: Success rates? Any idea what kind of numbers is it? Most, few?

Kris Jacober: Who gets through the process? I don't know, maybe Margaret, you --

Margaret Soberg: Well, more than 50%. Typically if they don't get through the process it's because they got scared or they lost interest or they decided that they didn't have enough time. Part of the screening process is the agency who are professionals, and we work with families. Part of that process is for us to help you evaluate your family. And how would foster care look for your family. And is this the right time in your life and do you have enough time for this. Let me say, speaking of time, most of our families, mom and dad both work. That's not a barrier if mom says, well, I work. Kris is a foster parent and she and her husband also working full time.

Ted Simons: You're talking about taking them through the process of what to expect and these sorts of things.

Margaret Soberg: Well, there is training, and it's important because it helps you understand the effects of trauma and abuse on a developing child. So I have a degree in early childhood education. Does that prepare me to be a foster parent? No, because I didn't study trauma and the effects of abuse. So that's part of the training, to help families understand, these children are not the same as the child that you raised in your home.

Ted Simons: That is something that foster parents are surprised to hear? Or is that something that could be a road block for some?

Kris Jacober: You know, I think -- yeah, I think the -- again, the thought of it is scarier than the reality of it. Because ultimately you're the adult in the situation. You've been trained as a foster family and you have information about this is how kids in foster care can behave, these are some things you can do to deescalate the situation. We do zero to five. It's really exciting because, you know, we're -- like I think everything happens in a kid's brain between zero and five. So you just really have an opportunity, I think, to impact a child for the rest of their life, and their ability to, you know, care for other people and to get attached to other people. I think that's really pretty -- pretty awesome.

Ted Simons: And if people watching right now, thinking that does sound awesome, I think we're pretty interested. Can you choose the age, race, gender? How much choice do you have?

Margaret Soberg: Pretty much all of that, all of that. We have children coming into foster care anywhere from two days old to 17. We have kids of all ages, all races. And we want families to consider what's going to work with my family. Some families say we'll take anybody zero to 18. But really, we think you need to narrow it down. What is your favorite age growing up to work with? What is your house equipped to handle? Part of it is your physical home what, do you have room for.

Ted Simons: Indeed, and you mention ages but you know, children, oddly enough they grow, and they get older. So the difference between a foster family and an adoptive family.

Margaret Soberg: Foster families say I'm going to take this child and love them and care for them and do everything they need while the state is working with the biological parents to say, can you get your act together? Can you get clean and sober? Can you get cleaned up so you can be a good parent. And we don't know which of those parents will be successful. Some of them miss a wake-up call. They might have been on cocaine for 10 years, oh, my gosh, I want my kid back, they work really, really hard. Some of them don't have the desire or the where with all to do it. With foster care we don't know which children are going to go home in six months and which go home in a year and which children can't go home. So when they reach the point where the state says, the parent is not doing what's asked. We don't want this child in foster care forever, so we sever parental rights and look for an adoptive family.

Ted Simons: That must be difficult for a foster family. They have become accustomed to the kid. The kid becomes part of your family. When you are looking at foster parents and adoptive parents, do you look for different kinds of folks?

Kris Jacober: So I would say the dream for every child would be they go to a foster home and they get adopted by that family. So my husband and I are a foster family, that's our commitment. To your point, its brutal when kids leave. But for the time they are there we do what we can, and then we reunify them with their biological families or we transition them to their adoptive families and then we take a break and then we do it again.

Ted Simons: Well, you're doing great work and congratulations to both of you and good luck. Let's hope we get more kids into forever homes, too, right?

Margaret Soberg: Forever homes, right.

Ted Simons: Good to have you both here

Kris Jacober: Thank you very much.

Margaret Soberg: Thank you.

Kris Jacober: President of the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents, Margaret Soberg: a Foster/adoptive family recruiter

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