If you're asking, "Should I foster?"... Let me be clear, I can by no means be the end-all, be-all deciding factor for someone who is considering becoming a foster parent. But I can share some things I would encourage you to consider.
Are you fostering to grow your family or fostering because you have love to give to a child in your community? There was a narrative built decades ago that has led some people to believe that fostering is an automatic path to adoption. Maybe it was more likely at one point, but now, the primary goal of fostering is reunification with the foster child’s biological family. That is HARD. I knew it would be hard before I started fostering but now that I’m in it I am fairly certain it will be gut-wrenching. But we'll continue doing it because our goal isn’t to foster to grow our family, our goal is to support a kid who needs it.
Are you willing to learn about trauma?
Kids in foster care have experienced trauma. Many have experienced trauma from abuse and neglect. They have all experienced trauma from being pulled out of their home (even if it wasn’t the best environment). You cannot expect to apply the same discipline or affection to foster kids that you would biological kids and get the same results. They will have hearts that need to be mended and trust that needs to be built-–no matter the age of the foster child (yes, even newborns).
Do you understand the importance of bio families? I often see well-meaning foster parents or adoptive parents who mistakenly think that if they cut ties with bio families, the child will then be free to adjust into their “new” family. Honestly, I had this misconception before we really got into things. But I've learned it doesn’t work that way. Think of a tree: If you cut a tree down and leave the roots behind, it’s very unlikely it’s ever going to grow no matter how much you nurture it. If you are able to carefully and lovingly remove it, roots intact--and THEN nurture it--you have a much better chance of growing a strong tree. In cases where it's impossible to have direct access to bio families, you'll still want to do your best to lift them up with your words and actions. Talk about how much their bio parent's love them. Ask them to share fun memories they had of their time with their bio family. You should be prepared to never talk negatively about bios, no matter the circumstances that put the child in care. If the bio parents are in jail, you can say things like, "Your parent made a bad choice but it's okay if you love and miss them."
Are you willing to learn about cultures, traditions etc. other than your own? Children in foster care come from all different races, cultures and backgrounds. Even if they happen to look like you, they may have religious traditions or other identities that are different from yours that you should honor. (While I'm sure it would be ideal for every foster child to be with a family that looked like them and came from the same cultural background, please don't shun a child just because they don't look like you.) It’s okay if you’re different than them, as long as you’re willing to learn about them and help them embrace all aspects of their identity.
Can you provide financial support for a child? Foster kids typically come with a stipend, but it does not typically cover 100% of their costs for food, clothes, school supplies, utility increases, special activities, etc. You need to be sure your budget isn't so tight that going over your stipend by a few hundred dollars here and there would put you and your family in financial ruin.
Can you provide the child with structure for their development? I often worry if my husband and I have enough time to give to our fosters between our full-time jobs, biological son, and other roles and responsibilities. But I remind myself it’s not just about the quantity of time, it's about quality. As long as we’re providing time for bonding, access to needed health resources, access to food, consistent schedules, opportunities for socialization, opportunities for learning, and love (more on this next), that is much more important than quantity of time.
Do you have love to give to a child with trauma? While you don’t have to be perfect to be a foster parent, you should be able to freely love others and have the mental stability to be able to help a child with trauma get through their challenges. Sure, hugs go a long way, but what children in foster care ultimately needs is someone to be their rock in a sea of change in their life.
I'm a foster mom, bio mom, working mom, special needs mom, busy mom. I'm also married to my high school sweetheart, I'm a proud 23-year childhood cancer survivor, and I'm passionate about serving my community.
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