Safety in your home refers to every sphere of life: physical safety, emotional safety, psychological safety, etc. Physical safety should be pretty common sense but I will lay out the basic GA policies (that I imagine are similar in other states as well):
- Firearms and ammunition must be locked separately. If using a key lock, the key must be kept in the possession of parents at all times.
- Medications must be kept out of the reach of children. For many, this will mean putting them in a high shelf in the kitchen or master bathroom. If you choose to put the medications up high, make sure you consolidate them in a bin with a lid and that you put them on the highest shelf in a cabinet. If the individual bottles are left out in the shelf they are likely to fall. If there are prescription medications in the family that are used frequently, I highly recommend buying a digital or combination lock box that you can keep them in. Just be sure to hide from others when you type in the passcode. If you want to foster teens, you will absolutely need to buy a lock box of some kind for your meds.
- Put cleaning supplies out of the reach of children. Many people put their cleaning supplies under their kitchen sink. This is fine, as long as this cabinet is secured with a child lock that is age appropriate. As the children in your home grow and develop, just be aware that you may need to upgrade to a magnetic child lock or something else more secure. You can also put cleaning supplies on a high shelf.
- Make sure you have the appropriate amount of smoke detectors according to your square footage and your local building codes. For any homes built in the last ten years, you shouldn’t have to worry. Many of the new builds also have smoke detectors that double as carbon monoxide detectors, which is handy because having a carbon monoxide detector is also a requirement! Even if you have central heating and air, at least in GA you still have to have a carbon monoxide detector.
- There has to be a fire extinguisher in the home.
- If you have any fish tanks, make sure you have a child proof latch on the lid of the tank.
- Exotic animals require a letter from a veterinarian stating that they are not aggressive or violent, and/or the circumstances under which they may become aggressive or violent.
- Pools must be fenced all the way around, and be secured with gates that lock (like with an actual lock). The fence surrounding a pool must be at least 4 ft high. A Pool should be covered when not in use. Above ground pools must be emptied/covered when not in use and when there are no adults around to supervise pool activity, the pool ladder must be removed restricting access. Foster homes that have pools must start training all of the children in their home to swim at the age of 3. Flotation devices must be close at hand.
- Trampolines must have a net surrounding them.
- If your home is a waterfront property, you must have a way of securing all of the exits to your home. So in other words, the external doors must be locked when all of the children are inside or must be equipped with door alarms so you can hear when someone exits. Many families do both. If there is a fenced in yard that with a locked gate would prevent a child from getting to the water from the back door of the home, this could also suffice.
- Make sure there are no areas of your home that are hazardous, in ill repair or under construction. One example may be nails sticking up out of boards, mold being found in air ducts, etc. Other mechanisms of safety may need to be put in place depending on your context (like living close to a major roadway).
- All caregivers must be certified in CPR/First aid. Caregivers must also participate in a basic water safety course.
- All cats/dogs must be up to date on rabies vaccinations.
These physical requirements are fairly manageable. What may not be as manageable is the requirement for emotional and psychological safety. Ask yourself, do you feel emotionally and psychologically safe in your own home? Is there a person in your home that is constantly keeping everyone else on edge? Do you and your spouse often engage in shouting matches? Is there a particular issue that is a constant point of contention? Do you already have a child that is hard to manage due to extreme behaviors? Do you already have a child that desperately seeks your attention through maladaptive behaviors? If another child were to enter your home that required more of your attention, how do you think your children would respond?
Are there any other adults who live in your home? If so, what is there view on fostering/adopting? Will they be expected to babysit or assist in any way? Is it possible they may say hurtful or unhelpful things to the children that are placed in your home? Have you ever had a concern about that individual’s treatment of children? Or have you ever even witnessed them interact with children? One example of this may be that a potential foster parent may have a parent or in-law that lives with them. Even though they had concerns about the way that parent raised them, they expect that parent to also be a caregiver in the home. This is a concern, considering that children that have endured abuse and neglect require a higher level of care, and can be deeply affected by even the smallest of gestures. If that parent raised you in a negative authoritarian style, by talking down to you or through punitive discipline, you have to assume that they are going to continue that style of parenting with a child in your home. For neuro-typical children, this may not be a trauma/issue that they can’t overcome. But for foster children, this style of parenting can be extremely damaging. This is just an example of one scenario in which the emotional/psychological safety of your home could be compromised.
Again, I hope you realize this does not mean you have to be a part of a perfect family. NO SUCH THING. But rather it means that you don’t walk into this process knowing that there are emotional/social issues in your family that have not been dealt with or addressed. Even if you are in the process of addressing them, that is great! And that probably means you can still move forward in the approval process. For example, if there is a spouse in the family that struggles with yelling and saying hurtful things in anger, and they don’t recognize this as a problem or care when they are confronted about it, that is a major problem that probably needs you aren’t ready to foster. On the other hand, if that same spouse recognizes that they have a problem with yelling and saying harsh words in their anger and 1) frequently apologizes to family members (even children) after they have calmed down and 2) are working on a plan of how to change this behavior, great! Self-reflection, repentance, and reconciliation are all valuable and necessary qualities. We all make mistakes and have problems in relationships. Its how we respond to them that makes us exceptional.
There are going to be new interpersonal issues that pop up in your family and in your heart in the process of fostering. If you have already conquered other similar issues within your family and are practiced in self-reflection and reconciliation, these new issues will bend you, but won’t break you. You will face them with your spouse and other family members as a well-practiced sports team who knows which play needs to be run, instead of like a team that doesn’t understand the game doesn’t work when each player goes for the ball 100% of the time (I have flashbacks of my little brothers toddler soccer league lol).
I think it is safe to assume that most of us, if we are being honest, reach a place in our families or in our marriages where there is a need to go to counseling. That could be due to an issue within the family or a pressure coming at the family from the outside, but if we are healthy we can see the signs of strain and seek help. I can almost promise you that point will come for your family if you foster a wide range of ages for more than a few months. I sometimes joke that foster families should just go ahead and identify a therapist before approval. Are you comfortable with that? As I have said with previous posts, asking for help and realizing you need help is like 70% of the battle when fostering/adopting. De-stigmatize the mental health conversation in your family. If you can do that, you are well on your way to success.
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