Becoming a Foster Parent…
What made you decide to become a foster parent? What made you decide to finally take the leap? Do you have a ‘Savior Complex’ or something?’ You know this is a huge responsibility! Why don’t you just adopt a baby? Was it a calling from God? Are you crazy?
These along with so, so many more are typical questions and statements we were faced with before becoming foster parents(and still today). I would love to say I had better answers or reactions to most of them, but honestly, I don’t. The why was simple, I’ve wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. A story all too familiar to many couples. I can’t carry a child full term, and nor should I. With a host of autoimmune illnesses, as well as PCOS, throw in a few other things and there’s your answer.
We originally looked into other options, but just couldn’t see the justification in paying for a child when there were children that already needed homes. I am certainly not frowning upon adoption in any way, but people line up to adopt babies. Adoptable babies will always get homes, and being a foster parent is NOT for everyone. More important, children in foster care WILL NOT always find a place, whether it be a temporary home or a forever family.
As far as the rest goes yes, we knew it was a huge responsibility, no I don’t have a Savior Complex, although I am slightly codependent. Not in the way that I hide a fifth of Jack Daniels in my purse or can’t live alone, but I have an overwhelming need to help people.
I justify this because most nurses, teachers, doctors, you know the do gooders of the world, are also codependent. I don’t think I was called to do this by anyone except DCFS, and YES, I am absolutely crazy.
We finally took the leap because of an ad we saw on our local access channel that simply said something along the lines of We need foster parents, classes start soon. Call 1-888-LAHELPU (1-888-524-3578). So, we did it. We took 7-8 weeks of classes for just 1 day a week, watched training videos, met some new people, some of whom are now my very close friends and even family (this I will have to explain in another part of this series), and we became foster parents. The reality though, is, foster parenting is nothing like class. I wish I had realized more before becoming a foster parent.
Fostering is NOT a Form of Adoption
While it is a possibility to adopt a child out of state’s custody, do not use foster care as a form of adoption. There is nothing about being at the mercy of the state that is 100%. The state will ALWAYS push for reunification of a child to their birth parents!
Also keep in mind if biological great Aunt Felicia from Tucson steps up and wants the child in your care, she has more rights to that child than you do. Even if they have been in your care 2 years. Be prepared.
Your Schedule Will Be Full- ALWAYS
Being a foster parent is extremely time consuming, especially the first few weeks. You will have to get the child to the doctor, dentist, any specialist if needed, sometimes a first visitation with parents, social workers, possibly CASA workers, a 72 hour court hearing and sometimes more.
Monthly you visit with your child’s social worker in your home, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly parent visits, monthly CASA visits and possibly weekly, bi-weekly or monthly sibling visits, depending on what is court ordered. This does not include family team meetings, court dates and any other court appointed dates.
They will ask you to specify what kind of child you will accept into your home, and you can do so, right down to their race, eye color and disposition if you choose. If you are even close to being on the fence about any attribute a child may have, just say no! Hey, the state does it, we went through the most extensive background check known to man. Definitely have your great grandmother’s bra size on file, they’ll ask(bwahahaha). It sounds harsh, but what’s worse is when you didn’t want look bad, a child comes to live with you and only then do you decide you should have put no on the paper. In the end, the child has to be removed from your home. Fostering is about the children, so keep it as easy as possible for them.
If you have a child that isn’t a good fit for your home, for whatever reason, it’s ok. Through no fault of their own, social workers usually aren’t very informed about the kids placed in your home. Call the worker and try to let the child have a smooth transition in finding a new home.
You Need A Strong Support System
Foster Parenting will destroy everything you thought you knew about yourself. You will be pushed to your limits, both good and bad. Your marriage will be strained, and you will cry A LOT. Children may come from severe physical and sexual abuse, neglect, be addicted to drugs, come from sex trafficking and unfortunately you may never know everything. (I’m not talking about teenagers either).
The issue with this for us is that we are here to help them, but to them, it’s the only life they know. That is their normal. Now, they are dealing with loss, and we are happy. Talk about a mix of emotions. Be prepared for them to take it out on you, even at only 1 or 2 years old. You will get through it, I promise!!!
People Will Judge You
You have to develop thick skin! Some people in your own family will even judge you, and here is where it can get really difficult. Some adults that were in foster care in their youth and adults adopted from foster care(these are the Privileged Voices) won’t even be so kind. Bottom line, stand up for your kids. Be informed, make sure you can stand up for them and want to. They have to know you are there to protect them and love them. Handling a situation appropriately in front of a child is a great option, but walking away from social or racial injustice is NOT!
Online and Facebook Groups
There are facebook support groups as well as informational groups. These are 2 very different types of groups.
Support Groups– These offer the love and support of other FPs. They are going through what you are, they get it! Be wary of the info you share here. Nothing is private, this is the internet people.
Informational groups– These offer information about Foster Parenting, Adoption, Conspicuous Families, cultures, different laws, hair care, etc.The conversations here get quite heated sometimes. I advise listening to what privileged voices(PVs) have to say when answering questions, they do know better than you. Do not get offended. Take it for what it is, learn from it.
Oh and again, just don’t go into any conversation in a group without knowing terminologies and acronyms like WAP(white adoptive parent), POC(people of color) or FF(first families-some don’t call them biological families anymore???). It’s worse than tweens texting. The group will usually have the list in the files section.
You can’t alter your foster child’s appearance in any way. This means no tattoos and piercings obviously, but also simple things like no haircuts.Another no is there is no identifying a foster child as a foster child. Just recently rules were changed about posting pictures on social media. Even though you can post photos(on your private page) you still can’t use their names.
The Secret Society Of Fostering
Everything about your life and your child/children’s lives becomes TOP SECRET INFORMATION. People get info about your child in your care on a need to know basis. Subsequently, sometimes it can become scary to try to protect them. Do your best, it gets easier, you get less freaked out.
Most FP won’t complain on paper about the system or issues they’re having because either they feel nothing will be done or they’re afraid their children will be removed. I have personally known both things to happen. Truthfully, I’m afraid just writing this.
And another thing as long as I am being honest about our secrets, my kids don’t need Christmas Shoes or whatever that ad says, nor has anyone offered them any. I also have no idea where the money from that mattress commercial goes, haha. The only thing I do know regarding mattresses is you MUST have a plastic cover for each child’s bed and no co sleeping.
All Jokes Aside
Captain Obvious here, You can not use any form of abuse! But seriously, you can’t put children in corners or kneeling, no time outs anymore either. These are all considered abusive both physical or emotional. If you have your biological or adopted child in your home as well as a foster child, you can’t use these forms of punishment on your legal children either!
The foster care system is now based off of TBRI Parenting. TBRI Parenting goes hand in hand with the principles of The Whole-Brain Child. Get with the times. It is very informative. It takes time for everyone, but it does work, although my kids claim I still fuss too much(what can I say I like to nag).
Loving You Is Easy (even though I was so afraid it wouldn’t be)
They tell you to love them like your own, even though you have no rights to them. Act like their parents they say. Hah, I don’t know why I was so afraid. Possibly it was because I was afraid to get attached. Maybe because I was afraid they wouldn’t love me. Perhaps it was because I, just like millions of others couldn’t really understand how it is humanly possible to love a child so deeply who didn’t come from my body. Well, I totally overanalyzed that one.
This I will tell you I know for sure, it’s the feeling of falling in love for the first time in your whole life(I do not mean this in a gross creepy way. It’s like I would imagine when your child is first born I guess and then waiting for them to cry). It’s being so happy you cry inside. Being so nervous you throw up in your mouth a little (j/k). Waiting for this tiny human to give you any sign that everything is ok. Waiting for them to reciprocate just an inkling of what you’re feeling becomes your entire thought process and world.
Some tiny humans take a little longer than others to come around, but when they do, it’s like doing a happy dance for the first time your kid poops on the potty in your head! It’s simple I guess, I just fell in love with my kids. I knew I was there to be their mom for no matter how short or long of a time frame.
You have to be able to do this in many facets! In regards to letting go of a child, especially one you have had in your home, loving like your own for years( because they say it’s a year, but that rarely happens), no matter how many times they tell you in class or how much you think you have prepared yourself, it’s NEVER enough! It sucks, it’s a loss, it sucks, it hurts, man it sucks.
I probably have told myself 1,000 times I can’t do this anymore, but I do because of them. It’s the ones that are still here that keep me going. If you can’t let go and eventually move forward(there is no getting over it), you can’t be a foster parent.
On a different level, let go of stereotypes, you are your own family. Let go of what you thought life was, what you thought creates a bond, a family and what defines perfection. Be who you are and be proud, be ashamed of nothing, live happy. Together you are creating your own definition of family you probably didn’t even know existed.
Are you Crazy too?
Ultimately, it is your decision, they always need foster parents! If you think you can stomach it, please jump in, head first- it’s the only way to go. And if you can do it, it’s golden! It’s pure – insane – beautiful – chaos.
It changed me forever- for the better, and I would never do it any different. I can’t ever suggest or push it on anyone because it’s the most difficult thing I have ever done. It is however, the most rewarding thing I have ever done(I know contradictory, right? The entire process is, it becomes a part of life). In the end, I am the lucky one! My kids saved me.
Thank you for taking the time to read this utterly frightening piece. I could have written a bazillion more things.This is only my viewpoint mixed with facts. Not everyone will share my opinions I do, however, hope to write a short series of posts about “What to do as a new FP”, “Adopting through Foster Care” “Things I wish I knew before I adopted” and “My Big Loud MultiRacial Adopted Family +/- a few”