Monday, April 27, 2009

On Anonymity, and Who We Are

With foster care, anonymity is of paramount importance.  If you figure out who I am, that is my fault, but please don't make it worse.  For the sake of anonymity, I live in Big City, attend My Shul and My Minyan1 and My Minyan2, work with The Agency, and so on.

Right now, it's just me, Foster Ima, in my home, along with six plants (but who's counting), all of which have names, but which will have to also remain anonymous.  I don't expect that too many tales will involve them.  Once I'm licensed, there will be kiddos.  Naming pattern to be decided upon when we get there.

My other family members--those who are most likely to make it into this blog--are:
  • My Sister and My Nephew.  They live a plane ride away.  My Nephew is a compatible age to my potential kiddos.  Since this is a blog about frum fostering, it is relevant to say that they belong to a Reform synagogue.  My Sister doesn't really "get" my frumness.
  • My Mom and My Dad.  An hour-plus away by car.  Not at all observant.  I grew up not celebrating any Jewish holidays.  
We're a pretty small clan, and my other relatives (My Grandma and My Grandpa (My Dad's parents), Paternal Aunt, Maternal Aunt, My Cousin) aren't too likely to make regular appearances.


I'm writing this blog for other Jewish foster parents/potential foster parents, so pepper it with terms specific to the more-or-less frum community. Such as that word "frum." Here's a running glossary for your reference:

Chag = holiday. The chaggim are: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot. Chanukah is a minor holiday and isn't technically a "chag." Neither is Purim.

Daven = pray.

Frum = orthodox, or at least observant. In certain contexts, which I anticipate won't arise in this blog, it means ultra-orthodox, as opposed to modern orthodox. But in the context in which I mean it, it can mean observant Conservative Jew as well, and refers to keeping kosher, keeping Shabbat, going to shul regularly, and the like.

Kashrut = noun form of "keeping kosher."  Keeping kosher basically means refraining from pork and shellfish, and keeping meat and dairy separate.  On the ground, however, keeping kosher is much more than that.  It involves having separate sets of dishes, flatware, pots and pans, and being careful even to use the correct sponge.  It involves being careful what food comes into the home and not eating in restaurants that aren't certified as being kosher.

Minyan = on a very technical level, the word "minyan" means "prayer quorum." In the orthodox world, this is 10 Jewish men, in the Conservative world, 10 Jews over the age of 12/13. In the world of this blog, the word "minyan" refers to a prayer community, usually one that is organized outside the auspices of a synagogue. I belong to two minyanim (the plural of minyan)--My Minyan1 and My Minyan2.

Negiyah = literally means "touching."  (The physical kind, not the "oh that's so sweet" kind.) The further to the right one goes on the orthodox spectrum, the more there are taboos around men and women touching each other.  

Shul = synagogue. In this blog, I attend My Shul which is a regular orthodox synagogue, and My Minyan1 and My Minyan2 which are smaller, lay-led communities. As long as the blog just talks about "shul" and not "My Shul," I'm intending a broad reading.

On Asking the Rabbi Questions

At just about the point in time when it seemed that the rabbi of My Shul was the only person in the synagogue who didn't know of my plans to foster, a discussion of adoption and foster care began in the sanctuary.

According to the rabbi, one should only foster/adopt girls, because the mom is the one who is home taking care of the kids, so there would be negiyah issues if she is taking care of a boy. Really, it's just problematic to be a foster parent, according to him.

Despite these dire warnings, I confessed my plans to foster during the walk to his home for a meal. His response? "I had a conversation last week with a woman who wants to 'solve the Jewish abortion crisis' by pairing single Jewish women with young pregnant Jews for adoption. That might be of interest to you." Clearly he doesn't have a clue.

All this is to say that I won't be going to the rabbi with any questions that arise from fostering.

Cautious Optimism: The Lead Saga Continues

Of course, since I only started this blog a week ago and this is only the fourth post, you don't know about the lead saga. Quick version of background: I moved into my lovely apartment last summer when friends moved out of it to move cross country for work. This apartment building is one of two with reasonable rents in this part of my Big City, meaning that a 2-bedroom apartment is approximately the same rent (or less) than 1-bedrooms nearby. Reason for the reasonable rent discovered during licensing process--lead-based hazards. No problem, just get it remediated, right? (No abatement, since that can only be done if the apartment is vacant.)

Easier said than done. And to this point, to their credit, the problem is NOT the landlord. And thus begins the saga. The problem is The Agency. The inspector comes, writes a report, I get it a month later, the inspector calls to come again, he writes a report... I talk to the Lead Person at The Agency, she says "but you passed the inspection." First of all, I didn't. I read the report and it clearly said that I failed. Second of all, if I had passed, shouldn't the licensing worker have called me? Or was I supposed to be psychic and called her to tell her? So after she looks back and discovers that "oh, you're right" she says that she will send me the report. Three weeks go by, nothing. (Yeah yeah, I know I should have followed up sooner. I'll take the blame there.) I email the Lead Person--"I haven't gotten the report yet, could you fax it or scan it and send by email?" No response. Another week goes by, "I'm coming to The Agency for a meeting this afternoon, can I stop by your desk to pick up a copy?" No response, so I decide to skip the meeting.* Another week goes by, I email the Lead Person. She calls, "You need to talk to the Licensing Worker." I call the Licensing Worker. "The Lead Person doesn't send those reports." Wha...? Me: "She said she'd mailed it to me, and it is supposed to contain the directions for my landlord." LW: "Let me call her." Finally an email: "You were supposed to give your landlord the first report. And by the way, here's the informal email from the lead inspector that says what needs to be done."

So I was nervous that the landlord wouldn't be receptive to making the repairs, since none of the paperwork went through the "official" channels that would start a clock running for legal enforceability of his responsibility to remediate the lead. But I spoke with him this morning, and while everything has to run through his boss, he sounded quite willing to get someone to come in and fix my windows. So again I am cautiously optimistic. Maybe I'll be licensed by Christmas.**

*I work for The Local Government and thus this was a meeting for work. I had other priorities that day, and my participation in the meetings isn't all that valuable. In my opinion.

**What does this post have to do with Frum Fostering, you ask? Here it is! I'm definitely inappropriately excited about decorating for Christmas. I went to my favoriate Big Box Store after Christmas and bought a bunch of decorations when they were on 75% off sale, and hope to be able to use them next year. Holidays (mine and the kids') are--and have been--an area of introspection for me as I move forward with the fostering process. Do the kids come to shul with me? Stay up late for sedarim? How to observe Easter? And so on. More to come.

Getting Started, With Thanks to Snarky Mom

Snarky Mom has a great post on The First Day. Really helpful recommendations for how to interact with the new child who has shown up on your doorstep. Welcome her in and let her go to the bathroom. Super important. She's probably nervous and you don't want her peeing on your floor.

She also has a post on questions to ask when you get The Call. I'd been meaning to start my own list, but she's done the work for me.

Also helpful--The Paperwork.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Here we go with probably the biggest issue of fostering while frum.  This is the first thing that all of my friends have asked me about when they've learned of my plans to foster.  So I don't think it's just me who thinks it's a big issue.

Let me just list a few of the obstacles related to Shabbat (and these are only the ones I've thought of so far, without kiddos and real-world experience):
  • Saturday bio-family visits
  • Weekend roadtrips 
  • Saturday classmate birthday parties
  • Friday night bedtime
  • Missed placement calls 
  • Needing Sundays for errands (or for church) means fewer Sunday day trips (museums! apple picking! My Mom and My Dad's house!)
  • No more "oops I don't have food for Shabbes, guess I'll have pita and grape juice tonight" Friday afternoons
  • To take the kiddo to shul, or not to take the kiddo to shul, and the consequences
  • Explaining why we can't watch TV one day a week
  • Explaining why "no, I can't make you [insert food item] today"
There's not one simple answer that makes all of the obstacles go away.  But the opportunity to think about them and strategize is part of what makes this a rich experience.  And thinking about it in advance will smooth the transition for the kiddos.  Now, if only I could remember to plan food for Shabbat in advance, I'll be well on my way...

Keeping Kosher

Kashrut is one of the first obstacles that I considered when I began trying to reconcile my long-standing desire to be a foster parent with my more recent Jewish observance. Some of the key questions: How to maintain kashrut in the house? Does the foster child eat treif at school? Will I buy treif for the child outside the home?

I can tell you the answers that I have come up with. Are they the only answers? No. But they are what I've decided, in the absence of the real world experience of having a child living with me. I'd love to hear your answers as well.

Maintaining my kitchen's kashrut: I don't even let my kosher-keeping friends in my kitchen. So what am I thinking inviting a child who doesn't have the same commitment to kashrut to live in my house and have open access (at least age-appropriate access) to my kitchen? It's that parenthetical that is the key to my response. I've decided to limit the age of children who I foster to those who shouldn't have unsupervised access to the kitchen--and who hopefully aren't used to having that kind of open access. I've decided that age is 7, maybe a few years older for kids with developmental delays. I'll work on labeling things better, and probably use parve implements less and less. House rule #4 (what are 1-3? not sure yet): blue goes with blue, red goes with red.

School: Any time the child isn't with me, he or she can eat what everyone else is eating. Kashrut isn't a value; it's merely a practical consideration in the home. The child living with me isn't Jewish (if the child is Jewish, that will change things...but the chances of that are infinitesimal in a system where "the vast majority of kids in the system are African-American, and a few are Latino") so there is no reason to separate him or her from his or her peers.

Eating out: In an ideal world, we'll only by kosher food. Will this work in reality? That remains to be seen.

B'ruchim ha-ba'im


I've created this blog to be a resource for other observant Jewish foster parents and those thinking of foster parenting. When I started poking around for frum foster parents on the web, I wasn't able to find any blogs or other resources. I don't claim to be an expert. Far from it. But I hope this lets others know that it is possible to be a foster parent--even in an urban area where 93% of the kids in care are African-American--and be more or less frum.

I have wanted to be a foster parent for pretty much all of my adult life. I have been pursuing licensure actively since September 2008, and strategizing the move to a suitable apartment for at least two years prior to that, so I have had plenty of time to ponder the various logistical issues that will arise in fostering as a result of my Jewish observance. My apartment has flaking lead paint which has stalled the licensing process for a number of months, so it will still be some time before I can post about real-world situations and their resolutions. In the meantime, I will post about some of the issues and my thoughts on them. Feel free to offer your own insights.