You may have been told the risks of becoming a foster parent the first time you mentioned to someone that you were planning on fostering.
“Sure,” you might say, “it happens in foster care,” but inside you wonder if it will happen to you.
So what should you do when you’re considering the negatives of foster care? How should you respond when you hear difficult stories concerning struggling foster families?
The best place to begin is to find out why some of these challenges exist. Knowledge is power and it’s good to understand the challenges of foster care before you get involved in it. That way, you can be prepared for the risks and difficulties in the fostering world. If you’re looking into becoming a foster parent and want to know what the challenges are, here are 8 potential negatives of foster care.
The 8 Negatives of Foster Care
- Foster care is a legal risk placement.
The foster care system was designed to take children who need a temporary home and place them in the care of a family who could meet their daily needs. How long children stay in foster care varies; some children stay only a couple months, while others stay for years. Eventually, some of these kids become available for adoption when the rights of parents have been voluntarily or involuntarily relinquished. Other times, children will be reunited with their parents and may only be placed in foster care for a limited time.
Because the goal of foster care is reunification with parents, this creates a risk for families who may be interested in foster adoption or who find it difficult to let go of a child after bringing him or her into their home. Although foster care will always create uncertainty for the families it impacts, it is best to approach it with flexibility. If you struggle with the idea of sending a child back to his biological family, then this issue might be an ongoing challenge for you. In order to seek help, ask your caseworker how you can respond to the changing nature of foster parenting and how to best protect your emotional health in the process.
- Kids are impacted by the trauma they experience.
The reason children end up in foster care is related to abuse, neglect, or lack of safety.
Foster care provides a temporary home for a child when her parent cannot provide a safe place for her. As a result, the child usually suffers from some kind of trauma, which typically comes out through negative behaviors. She may need emotional or psychological help in order to work through it. Her behavior may be affected by both the trauma she’s experienced and the lack of stability in her life from moving from her home. Either way, it’s a significant adjustment for the child as well as the foster family. Because of her past trauma, the child needs to experience healing, safety, and love in a secure environment.
Foster parents also need to be prepared to help the child through the trauma she’s experienced. This may involve taking parenting classes or attending special conferences or training that address traumatic issues, behavioral problems, negative emotional reactions, and nonphysical punishment. For some parents, it can be hard to deal with a child’s trauma on top of normal parenting struggles, but getting the right tools to help foster children is a critical part of facing the negatives of foster care.
- Foster care usually involves older children and sibling groups.
For some parents, this might be a positive thing, especially if you’d rather have an older child who is out of diapers or you prefer several children who are biologically related. But for other families, taking a sibling group is not an option—they just don’t have the room in their home. Parents might feel like an older child could throw off the birth order of their current family, which might create more disunity in the family.
Older children often have more trauma, especially if it has been an ongoing issue. This means that foster families might deal with serious issues like drug abuse, mental health issues, anger management, and other serious problems. It’s best to keep in mind that although some families face these kinds of issues, it does not mean that all foster families will. Should you have a foster child that struggles, there is additional help that can address the root causes of these problems. Foster parents should not be left alone to deal with these struggles. Caseworkers can provide additional help when facing challenges related to trauma.
- Foster care can involve children with special needs.
Foster kids are a diverse population. They represent all ages, personalities, and abilities. Just like the general population, some foster children have special needs and will require additional assistance. Although this is not a negative, it may be an additional challenge for parents who do not feel equipped to handle a child with special needs.
Children with special needs will often require extra help to complete daily tasks. They may struggle with daily things like eating, talking, coordination, or going to the bathroom. They may need additional help with school work and might struggle to understand what they are learning. Many children with special needs also require outside help, whether they need an educational aid, tutor, physical therapist, occupational therapist, or speech therapist. Although these services might be available through the school system, sometimes they aren’t, leaving parents to schedule outside appointments in the evening or after school so a child can get the help they need. This can tax an already overburdened foster parent who is trying to keep up with the needs of their whole family, not just the child who has special needs. If you feel out of your league fostering a child with special needs, it’s important to let your caseworker know so they can help.
- Foster care can create instability in children’s lives.
Foster care is designed for the reunification of children with their parents once a safe home environment has been reestablished. But this is not a simple task. The time away spent moving from home to home leaves vulnerable kids in a state of uncertainty for long periods of time.
On top of that, biological parents also have their own issues to address, struggling through issues of homelessness, poverty, addictions, criminal behavior, abuse, and trauma from their past. In many cases, solving these problem behaviors is not easy and can take time. Some biological parents serve jail sentences or are involved in rehabilitation programs. Occasionally, children might return to their parent’s home and then end up in foster care again. This instability creates turmoil for children who thrive on routine and a stable home environment. This is especially true for children who have switched foster homes several times and have not had a secure attachment with a significant adult in their lives.
In order to build attachment, a child must have a loving and stable adult who consistently provides a secure base and a loving home environment where the child’s needs are met. Too many times, children go from one home to another, and the instability creates more trauma in their lives. This is one of the negatives of foster care that produces more issues in a vulnerable child. If a child is not given a secure and loving parent or environment, he will struggle to learn attachment, which can have a lifelong impact on his behavior and ability to form new relationships. Sadly, if this goes on throughout his childhood into adulthood, it can impact his relationships later in life. However, if a child is given a secure and loving family, then healing is possible.
- Sometimes the system fails foster children.
It’s tough to admit, but when looking at the negatives of foster care, you may come to the conclusion that the system sometimes fails children. Some kids, who should be adopted into a stable family, get passed around from family to family. Other times, the system fails biological families. However you see it, there may be times when a child does not get the outcome you feel that child deserves. As a result, it may seem like the system is not serving the child’s needs by providing what is best for the child. Legal systems try to provide consistent oversight for children in foster care, but like any system, it is not perfect. Foster care is a support net to serve broken families and provide temporary homes for children, but in some cases, the solution that is supposed to be helping families actually ends up hurting them.
This is further compounded by the fact that foster parents become personally involved in their foster child’s life. As such, there will be complex emotions tied to the situation. Although no legal system is perfect, foster care was designed to support children who find themselves in need of a home, rather than keep them in an unsafe situation. Unfortunately, not all children or families get the results they deserve.
- Interacting with biological parents can be challenging.
The purpose of foster care is to provide temporary homes until children can be reunited with their biological parents. While the child is in foster care, there will usually be visits with the child’s biological parents. Although these visits are meant to foster the relationship between biological parents and children while they’re in the care of someone else, sometimes biological parents will direct their frustration at the foster parents. This can lead to resentment among both families as they work through visitation and relational issues. Although it’s difficult to work with someone who is resistant, remember that it’s in the child’s best interest to work together with her biological parents as a team. Children often desire to have contact with biological family, and there can be long-term benefits to having ongoing contact.
- Foster parents aren’t given enough support.
Sometimes foster parents feel like they aren’t given enough support to deal with the many issues they face with their foster children. They may bring children into their homes who have emotional baggage, trauma-related issues, special needs, learning disabilities, or behavior problems. Sometimes they have several of these issues, which require much patience and resourcefulness as foster parents try to meet the needs of the child.
For struggling foster parents, they may not have adequate support to parent well. They can easily become overwhelmed and exhausted with the level of care they need to provide their children. The daily grind of parenting a difficult child can easily deplete parents who are doing their best to help a child. They may even consider quitting the foster care program.
In some cases, parents may need to utilize the resources of respite care, where foster parents act as temporary caregivers for a short time period. The respite care may be for an evening or a week to prevent burnout among the child’s regular foster parents. Sometimes this is necessary when foster parents feel overwhelmed or become depressed. Making time for yourself, getting adequate rest, nutrition, and physical activity can be an important step in helping you to become a better parent.
If you find yourself burned out from foster parenting, it’s important to contact your social worker. They can listen to your issues and help you find the support you need so that you can parent your children well. There are also forums to share your problems and discuss them with other parents.
When in doubt, remember the reason you started this journey in the first place. The foster system provides children in need with a loving and secure home because they’ve discovered this has better outcomes than putting children into group homes or orphanages. Even though there are many negatives in foster care, there are many positives too. If you’ve struggled with these challenges, know that you’re not alone. Understanding what you’re facing as a foster parent can help you counter the negatives by getting the support you need to help your family thrive.
Sara R. Ward is a writer, adoption advocate, and mom to three children through adoption. Her passion is helping adoptive parents and those who struggle with infertility and grief on her blog PoetsandSaints. Sara writes about parenting, marriage, and faith and has a book coming out in 2019. Follow Sara on Facebook or Instagram @SaraRWard.