Tag Archive: foster parenting

That’s not how any of this works

I recently posted about things you SHOULD say to foster parents, and I definitely don’t want to fall into the “you’d better never say this” trend, but I feel like a PSA is necessary to clarify something.

It’s not uncommon for foster parents to be told “I could never foster.” It’s actually a fairly popular refrain. Most foster parents have a few pat responses just because we’ve heard it so many times.

Depending on who’s saying it, when they say it, and the kind of day the foster parent is having, responses can vary from grace-filled to aggressively sarcastic (^I bet you can guess where my responses usually fall in that range^)

But what I really want to talk about is a sentiment that occasionally follows that comment – sometimes immediately, sometimes days, months or even years later – and frequently from people who should know better.

If Susie “comes up for adoption”, I’d like to adopt her.

No. 

Just. No. 

That’s not how it works. 

That’s not how any of this works!!

First of all, let’s just strike the phrase “up for adoption” from our vocabularies, okay? I’m not going to get into it, but just trust me when I say the phrase is offensive and should NEVER be applied to children.
Secondly, this is MY CHILD you are so cavalierly offering to take off my hands. For whatever reason, you’ve decided that foster parenting isn’t for you – you couldn’t let them go or you don’t want to deal with the system or whatever. Fine. But after I have risked the heartbreak and endured the torment that is the foster care system, please don’t presume that MY CHILD needs someone to just swoop in and rescue them from certain orphan-hood.

Just. No. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Hint:
It has recently come to my attention that not all of my readers can easily tell when I’m being sarcastic. That is truly unfortunate, so finding a solution was imperative. ^Obviously, the easiest answer is to assume that if something can be read with sarcasm, it should be;^; but that’s not really workable, I guess. After reviewing several options for a “sarcasm font”, I’ve come up up with my own system. Whenever you see italics inside carrots (^snark^), that is my “sarcasm font”.

If you like what you just read please click to send a quick vote for me on Top Mommy Blogs- The best mommy blog directory featuring top mom bloggers

Who did you encourage today?

A few weeks ago I posted Speak Life by Toby Mac as a Monday Inspiration, but I’ve been thinking that I want to do more than just drop off the video and lyrics and carry on my way.

It’s such an amazing and important message that I want to challenge you to really listen to it and think about how you can incorporate it into your life ~TODAY~.
Yes, it’s performed by a Christian artist, but the principle is universal.

I promise I’m going somewhere – just humor me  and let your heart and mind marinate in this for a minute

 
Some days, life feels perfect. Other days it just ain’t workin’…
 
…we can turn a heart with the words we say…
 
…hope can live or die…
 
…look into the eyes of the brokenhearted; 
watch them come alive as you speak hope, you speak love
 
… it’s crazy to imagine words from our lips as the arms of compassion… 
 
…hope can live or die…
 
…lift your head a little higher…
 
…use your words to inspire…
 
…hope will fall like rain when you speak life with the words you say….
 
 
I know what you’re thinking: “Okay Jamie, that’s a great song, and you’re so wise that we know that you have a point here somewhere…. But… what is it?”
 
I’m so glad you asked! Here’s where we’re going…

What have YOU done today to encourage and support your fellow foster parents? That’s right, foster parents, I’m looking at YOU! 

 
I’ve posted before about the importance of building your foster parent sisterhood (or brotherhood, because there are foster dads who are JUST as involved), and I probably will again. But today I’m talking to those who can say, “I have a wonderful support system in place – my family is local and wonderful (or my church family is amazing, or my neighbors all look out for me, or whatever), and I don’t need to reach out to other foster parents.” 

That’s wonderful! (I really do mean that – I know it always seems that I’m being sarcastic (and I usually am, just not this time), but I sincerely think it’s great that you already have a strong support system). I wasn’t so lucky, and I’ve heard from many, many foster parents who just don’t have a family/friend network available for the support that is so critical to our sanity.

Your existing support system is all the more reason that you should be reaching out to support and encourage other foster parents who maybe don’t have family local or haven’t been able to just lean on their church family or neighbors or co-workers.

To be blunt (which I know is totally unexpected from me):

Get thee to thou local foster parent support meetings!!

Because YOU, of all people, know best how much foster parents need that (sometimes daily) support and encouragement, right?
YOU, of all people, know how much more a pat on the back means when it comes from someone beside you in “the trenches”.
 
YOU, of all people, know how much more comforting it is when they shoulder you’re crying on has been there – and isn’t judging or spouting meaningless platitudes.
 
And when a foster parent desperately needs to escape for a half hour and vent about a behavior or a case manager or the brokenness of the system; YOU, of all people, know that it’s just venting and we wouldn’t trade what we do for the world.
 
And I’m not talking about a grand, sweeping gesture. I realize you need a babysitter just as bad at the next foster parent. I’m talking about a phone call, or a facebook message, or even a text. Just a little reminder to someone who needs to know that they are not alone.
So… what’s the best way to connect with and know which foster parents need your support today? By attending your local support meetings. Facebook groups are great – I’m in a few. But some days nothing can replace a real-life face-to-face hug.
 
If your area doesn’t have a local support, see what needs to happen to get one started. Because we NEED each other. No one knows better than us how hard ~and how very necessary~ it is to do what we do.
 
By the same token, if you run or co-run or lead or facilitate or take coffee orders for YOUR local group – please give us any tips you have for getting the whole thing off the ground.

TobyMac – Speak Life (Official Lyric Video) from tobymac on GodTube.

Can I Claim My Foster Child on My Tax Return?

Update: In a continuing effort to combat some of the confusion surrounding taxes and who can claim what and when, QPI Florida invited me to the Just In Time Webshow to discuss some Foster Parent Tax Tips (and some helpful tips for Adoptive Parents, as well).
 

So it’s that time of year and on every foster parent facebook group I belong to, this question is asked at least daily. Many, many, people will answer, but most of them are just repeating what they’ve been told and don’t actually know the tax code….

I don’t have the time or patience to keep reposting the answer and correcting misconceptions, so I’m only going to say this one more time.


Full disclosure: Yes, I am a practicing CPA. Yes, I would be happy to do your taxes; our firm’s minimum fee is $450. No, I won’t do it for free. No, I won’t double-check the mistakes made by H&R Blech. And no, I won’t help your cousin Danny figure out to claim his cats. My goal is to tell you the law, not how to get around it, but as with all internet advice, YMMV, please consult your tax preparer.


So…

Q: How long must my foster child live with me in order to be claimed on my tax return?
A: More than half the year, or more than half their life, if they were born during the tax year in question. Note that I didn’t say 6 months + 1 day, this is the most common misconception I’ve seen. There are 365 days/nights in a non-leap year, so more than half of a non-leap year would be 183 days/nights.

Key points:

  • The 183 days (184 for a leap year) need not be consecutive. 
  • A recent clarification for divorced/separated parent uses “night overs” as the measure of custody/residency. Therefore, the conservative approach would be to count nights rather than days.
  • If the child is temporarily away from your home – at camp, in the hospital, at a sleep-over, etc – but is still technically in your care, those nights count toward your total. 

EX: A foster child lives with you from January 1 through February 15 (45 nights), then goes to a relative placement for 5 months, but returns to your home on August 15 and stays through the end of the year (139 nights), as long as the other “qualifying child” tests are met, you may claim the child.

Q: So that’s it? If a child lives with me at least 183 nights, I can claim them?

A: Eh, not so fast. That’s the most misunderstood requirement, but it’s not the only one. The four tests for a qualifying child are:
  • Relationship: the child must be your child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, half-sibling, step-sibling or a descendant of any of these (i.e., your grandchild, niece or nephew).
    • A foster child is defined as an individual who is placed with you by an authorized placement agency or by court order.

      • In other words, if you take in your cousin’s kid (or a neighbor kid) out of the kindness of your heart, you fail the qualifying child relationship test.
  • Age: the child must be 
    • under age 19 at the end of the year and younger than you (or your spouse if filing jointly), 
    • a student under age 24 at the end of the year and younger than you (or your spouse if filing jointly), or 
    • permanently and totally disabled at any time during the year, regardless of age.
  • Residency: the child must have lived with you for more than half the year.
  • Support: the child must not have provided more than half of his or her own support. 
    • Note that board payments provided by state or county are considered support provided by the state or county, and NOT support provided by the child.
  • Joint Return: the child cannot file a joint return for the year.

 

Q: What if the child lived with me for 3/4 of the year, but was reunified or moved to a different placement before the end of the year?

A: It doesn’t matter where the child lived on 12/31. If the child was in your care for more than half the year, and meets the other qualifying child tests, he/she is YOUR qualifying child and no one else is eligible to claim them.
 
 

Q: What happens if I claim a child and the bio-parents (or another foster parent, or grandma, or Jacob Marley) also claim them?

A: If the qualifying child tests are met, no one else is eligible to claim the child. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t try. How you are affected if someone else claims the child depends on whether you or the other person files first.
  • A1: If you e-file your return, but someone else has already claimed the child, your e-file will be kicked back. This is a headache, but not a migraine.
    • Contact the agency who placed the child with you and ask them to provide documentation of the dates the child was in your care.
    • Make a copy of this documentation for your files.
    • Submit the documentation with a paper-filed return.
    • Wait FOREVER for your refund.
  • A2: If you file before whoever else tries to claim the child, their return will get kicked back and they will have to provide proof that they can claim the child. Obviously they can’t because no one else is eligible to claim your qualifying child.
    • However, it is possible that whoever tried to claim the child will attempt to convince the IRS to give them the exemption. If this happens, the IRS may request that you prove your right to claim the child. 

 

Q: My foster daughter was removed from her bio parents on May 1, spent 4 months in a different foster home and then came to my home on Sept 1 and stayed with me through the end of the year. Who gets to claim her?

A: Probably not you. If a child is not a qualifying child of anyone, he/she may be a qualifying relative for someone. However, due to the different support test, it is unlikely that a foster parent who fails the qualifying child residency test will meet the qualifying relative requirements. Therefore, qualifying relative is outside the scope of this post, but you can see the IRS explanation here.
 
 
Q: What information do I need to claim my foster child?
A: You’ll need the child’s name, social security number and birth date.
 
 

Q: Florida recently increased the foster care age limit to 21. Can I claim my 20-year-old foster son?

A: Maybe. If your foster son is a full-time student, and meets the other qualifying child tests, he is your qualifying child. If he is not a full-time student, you may still meet the qualifying relative requirements.
 
 

Q: So you’re saying that if my cousin’s child lives with me the whole year, I can’t claim them?

A: No. That’s not what I said. If you care for your cousin’s child without DCF or court involvement, the child is not your qualifying child. However, you may still meet the qualifying relative requirements.
 
 
Q: I’ve been using the same dry-cleaner/tax-preparer for years and she says I can claim any child that lived in my home for even one day.
A: Is there a question there? Are you asking what we’d charge to represent you in an audit? A lot.
 
 
Q: Earned Income Credit.
A: Yeah, I’m not going to get into that here. Here’s a link, but I recommend you talk to your tax preparer.
 
Q: Adoption Tax Credit.
A: This is a VERY heavily audited credit, and beyond the scope of this blog. PLEASE discuss this with a qualified tax preparer.
 
 
Q: I have always done my own taxes, and you are completely wrong.
A: Okay… Thanks so much for your valuable input. And yes, I’d like fries with that.
 
 

Additional disclaimer: I’ve tried to speak plain English, and not make this post a gobbledygook, textbook-ish, technical treatise, but, yes, I really talk like this. Please feel free to let me know in the comments if you need any terms clarified. You’re also welcome to ask additional questions in the comments, but understand that I can’t give  advice about your specific situation without a lot more details than you should be leaving in a public comment.

Building Your Foster Parenting Sisterhood

It may take a village to raise a child. Some days it takes a sisterhood to keep a foster mom sane.
 
But we’re not born with foster parenting sisterhoods – we have to build our own. I actually live several states away from both my family and my in-laws (not entirely by accident), so I didn’t really have a built-in village the way most new moms do. But I still expected to be able to call my mom or sister when the baby wouldn’t stop crying in the middle of the night, or I couldn’t figure out how to get gum out of the toddler’s hair.
 
But it turned out that the most urgent questions I had couldn’t have been answered by my mom or sister anyway. Here are some actual questions with which I called my mentor in my first 3 months of fostering:
 
Foster mom dilemmas that a phone call to YOUR mom won’t resolve:
1.   “So I went to pick up Johnny at day care, and he wasn’t there! The case manager had picked him up for a visit and didn’t think I needed to know ahead of time.”
(this happened three times)
2.   “Susie fell off the couch onto her head. There’s no bruise and she barely cried, but do I have to go to the emergency room?”
3.   “Jasmine has a fever and is really miserable. Should I cancel the visit? Do I have that authority?”
4.   “Should I go to court Tuesday? The case manager said I can, but that I don’t have to. How does it work? Do I have to say anything? How should I introduce myself?”
5.   “Do you know anything about Sally Casemanager? She seemed nice but a little flighty. And some of the stuff she said was kind of confusing.”

 

Foster mentor responses:
1.   “Let me call the Foster Care Liaison. That’s not okay.” (the third time) “Here, let me introduce you to her supervisor’s supervisor. That’s not okay.”
2.   “Would you take your biological child? Then, no. You’re the mommy, trust your instincts.”
3.   “Would you let your biological child go? Then cancel it. You’re the mommy, trust your instincts.”
4.   “Yes. You go up and stand next to the G.A.L. You probably won’t have to say anything, but you will need to introduce yourself. Which judge do you have? Here’s what she’s like… Do you need me to go with you?”
5.   “Yes, I had her once before (or so-and-so had her before). Here is my experience with her….”
 
That’s not to say I haven’t called my sister in the middle of the night to get her advice on a child that won’t stay asleep when you get out of the rocking chair, but I cannot stress enough the value of my foster parenting sisterhood!
 
As much as my sister loves me and cares about my foster kids, she just doesn’t understand when I’m excited for a baby that’s being reunified, but sad for me because he’s leaving. But my foster mom sisterhood gets it. Not only do they understand that sometimes I just need to vent about how horribly, heart-breakingly volatile foster parenting is; they’ve been where I am and they feel the same pull that I do to keep doing it.
 
That is perhaps the most crucial element of my friendships with veteran foster moms: they’ve been where I am. They don’t always know the right thing to say – sometimes there IS no right thing to say – but I know that they’re coming from a place of understanding and support, because they’ve been where I am.
I’m sure I don’t tell them enough, but I couldn’t do this without my foster mom sisterhood.
 
And to my sisterhood (you know who you are): Thank you!

Solomon’s Wisdom (OR: how do I keep them from destroying my baby?)

Two women petitioned King Solomon, asking him to determine which of the two of them should be awarded a disputed infant. Both mothers claimed that the child was her’s. Since they couldn’t decide, Solomon came up with a compromise.

He suggested that the baby be cut in two and split between the two women. When one of the women immediately understood that the beloved child would be killed, she no longer cared whether she got to raise him. All she wanted was that he be safe. The other woman didn’t care – if she couldn’t have a living child, she was satisfied that the other woman wouldn’t either. 

Solomon decreed that the real mother was the one who would rather give up her child than see it be destroyed.

Lady Bug will be leaving us soon.

I think I was prepared for the grief of losing her (as prepared as you can be, I think). This isn’t terribly shocking – the CM has been moving this direction for a few months. I will be okay, and I will be able to open my home and my heart to the next child that needs me.

I’m just really struggling with what they’re doing to HER.

I truly do believe in reunification – I was the biggest advocate for Squish being reunified with his bio-dad.

But she has been with us for 17 months (20 by the time she’s reunified). I’m her Mommy and SuperDad is Daddy. She recognizes her bio-dad, but only as an occasional playmate – she was taken from them when she was 4 months old. She’s not even comfortable enough around him to be herself. At school, they call her Miss Independent, and the child has an *att-i-tude*. He’s never even seen a tantrum! According to him, she has said no to him exactly ONE time!!

I don’t see how they can think she won’t be scarred by this. I know that everyone thinks his parental rights trump all. But I just wish somebody (with the power to affect the decision) was thinking about HER.

And that’s the part that’s really breaking my heart. Not that they’re taking my baby, but that they’re HURTING my baby.

And I don’t know how to make them stop.