Find Your Place in the Foster Care System, Part 1: Foster Parents
As we finished our final home study visit, we were charged by our licensing worker with a heavy task: recruit other foster and adoptive parents. While we hope that everyone we come into contact with will consider following the path that we did, we understand that the foster care system is an intimidating subject for many. Frankly, not everyone is suited to foster or adopt children. However, very often, we see people among our friends and acquaintances who we feel would make a wonderful contribution to the lives of children in crisis. I have here outlined the different roles of people who play a part in the foster care system. It is possible that you may be able to make a difference in one of these roles.
When a child enters the care of Child Protective Services, they are placed with a foster parent or parents. Foster parents act as temporary caregivers for children until they can achieve permanency, either through reunification with their parents, through adoption, or as teens who transition to adulthood while in foster care. Foster parents take responsibility for a child’s day to day care, but have limited authority about larger decisions such as traveling with the child, enrolling them in extra-curricular activities, and religious instruction. A portion of the child’s living expenses are reimbursed by the state, but it is only a percentage of what it actually costs to raise a child.
Many people feel that being a foster parent would be too difficult because of the possibility of becoming attached to a child and then having the child removed from their care. Others are convinced (erroneously) that all children in foster care are riddled with medical, emotional, and psychiatric issues which they feel ill-equipped to handle. It is important for foster parents to understand that the ultimate goal of the foster care system is to re-unify children with their birth families. This may require adjusting your perspectives about birth families, being less judgmental and more supportive. Much time is spent during initial classes discussing the partnership between foster parents, caseworkers, and birth parents, all working toward the best interest of the child. It is also helpful to familiarize yourself with issues of loss and attachment that children face when they are removed from the only family they have ever known. While some consider becoming foster parents in order to become “rescuers” for hurting children, children who are taken from their birth parents are often hurting, confused, and angry. They very rarely exhibit gratitude for what you may consider a large sacrifice on your part, at least at first. Some foster parents are very committed to helping rebuild families, and even build relationships with birth families so that they can help model the necessary skills to make them better parents to their children.
As a foster parent, you have the right to decide which children you will accept into your care, and your licensing worker will help you determine the best fit for your family. If you specifically feel led to parent children of a particular age or gender, you will indicate your preferences in your home study. You also have the right to refuse a child when you receive a call from your worker. However, if you continually turn children away, you will be asked to reevaluate your preferences, and perhaps even your decision to be a foster parent.
If you are emotionally healthy and have a stable personal life, it is likely that you will be successful as a foster parent. Success, however, may not mean always being thrilled with the children you are caring for or even getting the outcome you want for them, but being able to appreciate the role you have played in providing them with a safe home for the time they are with you. Foster parents are often the first to find out what a child’s needs and strengths are, and can be vital in helping to rehabilitate them and give feedback to the child’s caseworker about the best options for them.
If you are unsure about becoming a foster parent, consider exploring other options for reaching out to kids in foster care.
This series continues with Part 2: Adoptive Parents.