Update: I fixed some spelling errors and added in a disclaimer. This post is not meant to discourage, but to encourage, to help you see a bit of the reality of foster care.
After reading the 2 part series mentioned below (Foster Parents: Who are they and what are their motivations?) I realized that my being silent on the blog about being a foster parent does nothing to help dispel some of the misconceptions. For that, I have been wrong and I apologize.
As I mentioned to my family this past weekend, “When it feels like everyone knows everything about you, sometimes you just want to withdraw … even when all they want to do is know what is going on in your life so they can celebrate with you. You don’t feel like announcing to the world what is going on and having the spot light put on you.” Going through the process of adopting, crossing the line from “Foster Mom” to plain, boring “Mom” I have come to realize that sometimes it is not all about me. Just because I feel like everyone knows everything, that does not mean they do. In reality, people know far less than I think they do. This is mainly because we have not told them anything. Interesting how it work like that, isn’t it?
Foster parenting is not for everyone. I completely understand that and do not judge anyone for that. There are times even current foster parents say, “This isn’t the right season for us to do it. Give us 6 months/a year/till after the move, etc. Then we will come back.” It is a very personal decision, one that only you can make. There are even times when I wonder why in the world we signed up for, if we are up to the task or if we are just helping perpetuate some stereotype. That last part would be my over analyzing nature, which not only second guesses every word I say and action I do, but triple and quadruple questions them usually. After a while I have to tell myself to be quiet and enjoy the scenery.
I have actually been reluctant to actively encourage anyone to become foster parents. It is a hard, emotionally trying thing to do. I’m not going to sugar coat it and say, “But it is so rewarding.” While it is true, that is a hard thing to remember in the middle of the storm. It can be hard on your marriage, on your friendships, and on your employment.
This isn’t said to discourage you from taking this step, if that is where you feel led. It is said only to keep it real, to make sure you know what you may be signing up for. While there are good times, many of them, there are also times of … personal growth.
People will give you looks when you are out and about and the child decides to act as if they have never been taught any manners, because, well, they may never have. Strangers and even people you know may not know that, though.
Yes, you will feel judged.
You may even feel guilty when in reality someone is trying to compliment you.
Try this on for size: you have had a long morning full of trails and tantrum, after all the normal schedule is a bit off because it is Sunday. You may have had a wrong thought or ten. There have been time-outs and toys taken away. Finally everyone is dressed, fed and wiped down. You make it to church, positioning yourself so you can make a quick exit when the usual disregard for the expectation of very basic manners. Then comes along the encouraging friend, “You are such a Saint for doing this.” The replay of this morning flashes through your mind and you feel like anything BUT a Saint and realize you will be spending all of church repenting … except you now have to keep the kid(s) from _______.
Even on good mornings the “Saint” thing gets me. I’m not perfect, but expect myself to be. This encouragement doesn’t help. Many other foster parents I know have said the same thing. It does give us an opportunity to extend grace, since many people mean well by it and don’t realize it comes across as anything else. If you have said such a thing without realizing this, again I’m not judging. Please, though, perhaps think of something else to say. One very encouraging comment an older lady at church told me, “I haven’t noticed you leaving as many times during the service as you used to. You must be doing something right.” She was right, but I didn’t know anyone else had noticed that the kids’ behaviors were improving. I almost cried. She didn’t expect me to be perfect, but did acknowledge that I had been doing something right in this one area. It allowed me to be less than perfect in the other areas I was still working on.
Each foster parent I have met or talked to has decided to take this journey for different reasons, all personal and unique to the person/couple. Some have known their whole lives that this was something they wanted to do, while others suddenly found themselves stepping up to help a family member or friend.
I don’t know you, your thoughts, your unique set of circumstances. I don’t feel qualified to tell you what you should do with your life. I can encourage you to learn more, to find a way to help. Even if the only help you can give is an encouraging word or post on Facebook. Sometimes it is the small things that can make someone’s day.
There are many individuals involved in foster care – foster families, the children in foster care, their parents, and group homes are a few of the different parties affected. What one group needs will differ from the next. There is no one right way to help, but being willing to do so and doing something is the first step.
2 part series from 2005 – Part 1: Foster Parents: Who Are They and What Are Their Motivations?, Part 2: Foster Parents: Who Are They and What Are Their Motivations? – Reality vs. Perception
“The Cost of Being a Foster Parent“, an article from 2013 discussing proposed rate increases in Idaho. I think the foster parents interviewed for the article gives a realistic view of how most people view the foster care payments they receive, which often is less than $15 per day.
Valerie at House Of Healing Tears wrote a post, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Goodbye Again“, that describes very well the anxiety associated with being the parent of foster kids. It was this very anxiety that usually results in me losing weight (and sleep) with each new kid who comes to our house. (not a recommended weight lose regime.) I had reached a similar point in learning to deal with these feelings – look at the here and now, don’t worry/think about tomorrow. God is in control. It was the absence of this anxiety at our recent adoption which left my shoulders feeling lighter.
Bessy at Young Single and Adopting shares a great way to organize all the information you get with a foster care placement – a foster care binder. She has created print-offs and gives some great suggestions. I thought I was pretty good at organizing these things, but found I have room to improve.
According to this link from the non-profit Children Uniting Nations, the number of kids in foster care in California has tripled over the past 20 years. This is a good page to answer some of the who, what, why questions about foster care if you are looking to get a better understanding of how things work.
VOICES is another group in California, put one who works with youth who are transitioning out of the foster care system and into adult life. These kids have unique challenges to face, many of whom find those challenges difficult to face on their own. Here are a few statistics concerning youth leaving foster care in California.
U.S. National Foster Care Statistics for 2012, taken from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). One statistic I was happy to read was, “From FY 2003 to FY 2012, the numbers of children in foster care on September 30 and the numbers of children who entered and who exited care during the year decreased (see Exhibit 1).”
The chart below comes from Statista.com
Find more statistics at Statista
Ways to Help
There are more ways to help kids in foster care than just by becoming a foster parent. Here are a few ideas.
Foster Care Duffel Bags – I would contact your local state or foster care agency office before doing something like this to make sure it is a need they have. It is an easy to do idea, though, that can make a kid’s bad day a bit easier.
Easy Ways To Bless Foster Parents – here are some ideas, most won’t even cost you anything beyond some time.