“To be, or not to be: that is the question…”

Only you can know whether being a foster parent is right for you or not. Everyone will have their own opinions and may offer you unsolicited advice on the topic, but the bottom line is it’s your life. You need to do what you know to be best for your family, whatever that might be. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into foster parenting if you are not truly on board with the idea or not in it for the right reasons because that would not be fair to anyone, especially the children. At the same time, don’t let anyone discourage you from fostering if you believe that is what you should be doing. If you are having doubts or still unsure, find out as much as you can about foster care so you can make an informed decision.

Am I Even Needed?

If you are debating becoming a foster parent because you are not sure if you are truly needed, rest assured, the need is great. Last year, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) Report was published based on data obtained from the 2015 fiscal year. This report estimates that the number of children in foster care in 2015 in the United States was 427,910 children. That is an astounding number of children in foster care. Many children will spend two or more years in foster care. These innocent children need safe and loving homes during those traumatic times in their lives.

The number of children in foster care is sure to increase with the rise of the heroin epidemic in America among other factors. In the county where I reside, the number of calls to Child Protective Services (CPS) has increased to approximately 600-800 calls a month in this one county alone. Not every call will result in a child entering the foster care system. Currently CPS estimates that 30-40 kids are being placed into foster care per week in this one county. There are 3,007 counties and 137 county equivalents in the United States. When there are not enough foster homes, children end up sleeping in the social workers’ offices or being placed in neighboring counties which could be hours away from their schools, physicians, family, and friends. As you can see, there is a tremendous need for more families willing to become foster parents.

Am I Choosing To Foster For The Right Reasons?

People decide to become foster parents for many different reasons. Some people choose foster parenting to help a friend or family member. Some people choose foster parenting because they have no biological children and want to open their home to children. Some families have children already and want to open their home to more children. Some foster parents are open to adopting the children if needed and some families continue to foster many children for years and years. Regardless of your motivation or intentions, your primary focus must be the children. Foster care is about loving these kids and keeping them safe while teaching them healthy attachments and helping them heal from their traumas. If you are not willing to provide that love or if the children are not your number one priority, than foster parenting might not be for you.

I Could Never Love A Child And Then Have To Say Goodbye

This is perhaps the most common concern people have about becoming a foster parent. People know there is a need for foster parents, and they want to help for the right reasons but then there is this fear of pain, heartache and loss. How do I love a child and then say goodbye to them? This certainly is something you should consider and be prepared for since it will most likely happen at some point during everyone’s foster care journey. According to the AFCARS Report in 2015, 55% of the children in foster care were reunified with their parent(s) or principal caretaker(s) while 25% of the children were adopted.

Typically, when a child is first placed in the foster care system, the goal is reunification. Foster parents’ role is to support this goal of reunification. As difficult as it is to fall in love and then say goodbye, it is a risk worth taking. It is beneficial for children to form healthy attachments with their foster families. Studies have shown that having healthy attachments at a young age, increases the chances of forming healthier relationships in the future. Therefore, the benefits of providing love and security to the children far outweighs the risk of having our hearts broken. You are not the only one who thinks they “could never love a child and then say goodbye.” No one wants to experience that grief and loss. All foster parents experience pain and heartbreak when their children leave but they do find a way to survive the pain. Most foster parents I’ve spoken with say that, as painful as the goodbyes are, they never regret loving the children and they would do it all again.

It’s Just Not The Right Time

Only you know for sure if you are meant to be a foster parent or not. If you believe fostering is right for you and your family then don’t let the excuse of poor timing hinder your decision. Sure, it might not be the best timing, but will it ever be? People often say that if you wait until you can afford to have a baby or until you are ready for kids then you will never have them. Perhaps this saying also applies to foster parenting. There may never be a great time to become a foster parent. Then again, it is never a great time for a child to become a foster child either, but they don’t get to decide. The children are there and waiting now.

What If I Choose Not To Be A Foster Parent?

After researching, discussing and considering everything about foster care, if you decide to not be a foster parent, that is okay. There are many ways you can still help foster children and foster families even if you cannot be a foster parent yourself. Check with foster agencies or other foster families in your community to see how you can help them. Some ways to offer assistance are to become an approved caregiver or babysitter for foster families or offer home cooked meals to families when they welcome a new child into their home. You can also donate children’s clothing, toys, diapers, beds, baby items, school supplies, money etc. to foster families or agencies that can distribute them to where they are most needed. There are many ways to get involved and help these children and families. Any amount of help is always appreciated.

Sherri Eppley is a wife and mother to two amazing children. As a foster and adoptive parent, she strives to raise awareness of all issues related to foster care and adoption. Her passions include her family, church, MOPS, and helping people in any ways she can.