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What foster parents wish other people knew

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A collaborative discussion by a group of foster parents…

Foster parents do not see themselves as saints. We are doing this because it needs doing, we love kids, this is our thing. We feel we are doing something really ordinary and normal – that is, taking care of kids in need. If some children showed up on your doorstep, dirty and hungry and needing a safe place, you’d care for them, too – we just signed up to be the doorstep on which they arrive. If sainthood were a prerequisite, it would be impossible for ordinary people to do this – and the truth is the world needs more ordinary, human foster parents.

Please be careful what you say around the children. I can’t emphasize this enough. Our hearts ache for what is often asked in the hearing of children, from “Oh, is their Mom an addict?,” or “Well, they aren’t your real kids are they?,” or “Are you going to adopt them?,” or whatever.

It should not be surprising that our children are nice, smart, loving, well-behaved kids. One of the corollaries of #1 above is that there tends to be an implied assumption that foster kids are flawed – we must be saints because no one else would take these damaged, horrible kids. It’s true that kids in foster care have endured a lot of trauma, and sometimes that does come with behavioral challenges, but many of the brightest, nicest, best behaved, kindest, and most loving children I’ve ever met are foster kids.

The kids aren’t grateful to us, and we don’t expect them to be, or to feel lucky that they are with us. They were taken from everything they knew and had to give up parents, siblings, pets, extended family, neighborhood, toys, everything that was normal to them. No one asked them whether they wanted to come into care. We all have complex feelings and ambivalence about a lot of things, even things meant for our good. Our kids have those feelings, too, and moving into our home is not necessarily happily-ever-after for them. Please be careful not to tell them how lucky they are or how they should feel.

Please be sensitive about how hard it is when we have to give children back to their families. Letting kids go is really hard, but that’s what parents do for their children: put your children’s interests ahead of your own. Not all kids in care come from irredeemable families. Not everyone in a birth family is bad – in fact, many kin and parents are heroic, making unimaginable sacrifices to get their families back together through impossible odds.

Working out what’s best for foster children’s placement takes a long time…. Please refrain from asking if it’s final, even though we know you are simply curious and want to catch up with us. For the first year minimum, the goal is always for kids to return to their parents. Even if we hope to adopt, things could change, and it is just like any long journey – it isn’t helpful to ask “Are we there yet” every five minutes. Most kids will go home or to family, rather than being adopted. Not every foster parent wants to adopt and not every foster family that wants to adopt will be adopting/wants to adopt every kid. It isn’t appropriate to raise the possibility of adoption just because you know they are a foster family. And please don’t raise this issue in front of the kids.

Fostering is HARD. Take how hard you think it will be and multiply it by 10, and you are beginning to get the idea. Exhausting, gut-wrenching and stressful as heck. That said, it is also great and mostly utterly worth it. It is like what Tom Hanks’ character in League of Their Own says about baseball: “It is supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

You don’t have to be a foster parent to help support kids and families in crisis. If you want to foster, great! – the world needs more foster families. But we also need OTHER kinds of help.

HERE ARE SOME IDEAS ON HOW YOU CAN HELP…
Welcome foster parents and their family into your community warmly, and ask them what they need, and what you can do.

MEALS… Treat foster parents with a new placement the way you would a family that had a baby – it is just as exhausting and stressful. If you can offer to cook dinner, help out with the other kids, or lend a hand in some way, it would be most welcome.

CLOTHES… Offer your children’s outgrown stuff to pass on – foster parents who do short-term fostering send a lot of stuff home with the kids, and often could use more. Alternatively, many communities have a foster care closet or donation center that would be grateful for your pass-downs in good condition.

EQUIPMENT… If you’ve got extra, someone else can probably use it. Lots of foster families don’t have a lot of spare money for activities – offering your old hockey equipment or the use of your swim membership is a wonderful gift.

EXTENDED FAMILY… Be an honorary grandparent, aunt or uncle. Kids need as many people in their lives as possible, and relationships that say “you are special.”

MENTOR… Be a big brother, sister or mentor to older foster kids. Preteens and Teens need help imagining a future for themselves – be that help.

BABYSIT… Become a respite provider, taking foster children for a week or a weekend so their parents can go away or take a break. Offer to babysit. Foster parents have lives, plus they have to go to meetings and trainings, and could definitely use the help.

LEND A HAND… Be an extra pair of hands when foster families go somewhere challenging – offer to come along to the amusement park, to church, to the playground. A big family or one with special needs may really appreciate an extra adult or a mother’s helper along.

DONATE… Support local anti-poverty programs with your time and money. These are the resources that will hopefully keep my kids fed and safe in their communities when they go home.

INCLUSION… Make programs for kids friendly to kids with disabilities and challenges. You may not have thought about how hard it is to bring a disabled or behaviorally challenged kid to Sunday school, the pool, the local kids movie night – but think about it now, and encourage inclusion.

EDUCATE… Teach your children from the beginning to be welcoming, inclusive, kind, and non-judgmental. Teach them the value of having friends from different neighborhoods, communities, cultures, races, and levels of ability. Make it clear that bullying, unkindness and exclusion are never okay.

REACH OUT… Reach out to families in your community that are struggling – maybe you can help so that the children don’t ever have to come into foster care, or to make it easier if they do. Some families really need a ride, a sitter, some emotional support, some connection to local resources. Lack of community ties is a huge risk factor for children coming into care, so make the attempt.

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This essay is the result of a collaborative discussion on foster parenting and written in a blog post by Sharon Astyk. And edited by Santa Barbara Community Church.

 

May 6, 2015

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