Foster care will fill your heart with joy and break it, all at the same time! Foster care will create feelings in you that you never knew you had. Foster care will cause you to reevaluate your priorities. Whatever the motivation to become a foster parent, there will be good days, there will be bad days. There will be days your child has meltdowns; there will be days when you have meltdowns! Let’s take a look at foster care from three points of view: the child, the parent and the foster parent.
Foster children are in care through no fault of their own. They are taken from the only family they have known, placed with strangers and reprimanded when their behaviors are out of control. A foster child’s feelings are out of control because they have no control of their situation. So, they try controlling those things within their control: their body. Whether it is toileting issues, feeding issues, or hygiene issues, their body is theirs. Also, they may not have been able to control their parents’ behaviors, but they don’t hate their parents, they just want their parents to get better and be a family again. Foster children need consistency, and they need to be able to trust their new caregivers. The only parents they ever knew did not provide this, so why should they trust the next set of parents? Healing is going to take time and it’s going to take strong, patient adults to stick with the child, regardless of the behavior. Foster children need not only permanency but also permanent relationships. Whether that child stays in care for one day or one year, it’s the new set of adults in their lives that now have an opportunity to make a real difference in this child’s life. To see not only what this child is, but what he can become.
THE BIRTH PARENT
It’s easy to be judgmental if we’ve never been in this position before. Having two active court cases: one in criminal court and the other in juvenile court is tough. Being arrested is one thing, but having a child removed from their custody is one of the worst things that could have happened to the birth parent. In many cases, it’s a wake-up call. In other cases, the work required to get that child back (eg. substance abuse classes, parenting classes, counseling, drug tests, searching for work and housing, etc.) can be overwhelming! Not to mention, the temptation to return to their former life, the stigma of “losing a child to the system,” and the possible drug withdrawals are more than many people can take. Most people visualize birth parents as drug dealers, gang members or prostitutes. The reality is that, in most cases, birth parents are young people who have made one poor decision after another because they did not have someone in their lives to guide them and root for them. Rather than judge them, foster parents have the opportunity to mentor birth parents and assist them in their recovery. Rather than a “Us vs. Them” mentality, foster parents should come alongside birth parents to co-parent, if possible. Birth parents need fewer enemies and more support.
THE FOSTER PARENT
Foster care is the hardest job you’ll ever love! You are opening your home, your family and your time to care for one child … or two, or three. Foster parents will have lots of people to interact with, who have all different types of personalities, motivations, and perspectives. Foster parents must be prepared for anyone to “drop in” for a visit including social workers, counselors, licensing agencies, home inspectors and many others. Foster parents must be prepared by getting trained and them implementing that training on the fly. Foster parents must have a consistent schedule for their kiddo, while at the same time, having the flexibility to respond to anything that life may throw them. Is it risky? Absolutely! But it’s worth the risk. Is it exhausting? Yes, but with proper support, you will get the rest you need. Is it life changing? No doubt. Whether it is changed for the better is up to you. Bottom line is that foster parents have the opportunity to change one little life at a time! It is an awesome responsibility that more people should take advantage of.
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have eight children, six of which are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption are his passions and callings for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.