Are you a foster parent? If so, you probably look back on your early days and think, “Oh, if I had known that before I started…” There is so much advice rolling around out in the world regarding foster care. A good portion of it comes from professionals working within the system, but a whole lot of it comes from foster parents who are knee-deep in the trenches.
So, what advice would you give to someone just starting out as a foster parent? Here are a few of my thoughts stemming from my own experience fostering, as well as from working within the child welfare system.
- Remember that you are entering the world of abused and neglected children. It won’t feel good all the time. For that matter, it may not feel good most of the time. Sure, there will be rewarding moments but most of those come after a tremendous amount of effort. The children and adults involved are hurting. There is trauma upon trauma. Don’t fear it, of course, but be realistic.
- You will feel as though you have no control. There will be moments when case situations are ‘up in the air.’ You may not be given or be privy to all the information all the time. Get comfortable with the answer, “We don’t know yet.” Big decisions are being made while you are loving on the children in your home. These decisions may not always go your way or have an outcome that you fully support. It can be hard to handle this in a professional manner, but never forget your role as a foster parent and as a member of the child’s support team.
- The children in your home love their biological family members and parents. Don’t forget that. For older children who have lived with their parents, they recognize that things weren’t perfect, but this does not take away from their feelings about their parents. Do what you can to celebrate their connections to their family members. Encourage them to talk about their family. Be willing to provide pictures. Show them that you also care.
- Reunification is the number one goal for most children when initially placed in the foster care system. It is a federal law that mandates states to provide efforts to rectify the reason a child was brought into care and to ensure their home of origin is safe for their return. What may seem like small and insignificant steps to you may be huge for the biological parents. Be an active member of the team so that you can show that you care and respect the process.
- Don’t be afraid to get attached! The children need it. There will be moments when you think, “I don’t know how I will survive if I lose this child.” This is normal! You will survive. One of the best ways to navigate your strong emotions is to participate in the team meetings, embrace your role as a foster parent, and never forget that what you are pouring into a child is worth your own heartbreak.
- Become trauma-informed. There is so much knowledge out there about how trauma affects the brain. From trauma in the womb to the effects of neglect and abuse, it really is imperative that you learn what you can in order to provide the best care to at-risk children.
Foster parenting is a journey unlike any other. Lean on others who understand. Seek out resources that will support and help. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find your voice in it, but also remember to advocate for kids and their biological families. Foster parenting is a hard but wonderful way of providing support, stability, healing, and love to the many children who need it the most.
Caroline Bailey is a mother of three children through adoption and a strong advocate for the needs of children and families involved in the child welfare system in the United States. At the age of eleven (1983), she underwent an emergency hysterectomy in order to save her life. Caroline is the youngest person to have a hysterectomy. Her life has been profoundly affected by infertility. In 2006, Caroline and her husband, Bruce, became licensed foster parents. They were blessed to adopt two of their children through foster care in 2008 and 2010. Their youngest child is a relative of Caroline, and they celebrated his adoption in 2013. Caroline works for a Christian child welfare agency in Missouri. She has been a guest speaker at churches and conferences regarding adoption and is currently working on a memoir about the impact of illness, faith, foster care, and adoption in her life. Caroline is also an avid cyclist and enjoys cheering her children on in their various sporting activities. She shares her experience about foster care, adoption, barrenness, parenting, and faith in her blog. She would love to hear from you! Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.