My Thoughts about Being Foster Parents
My wife and I started thinking about being foster parents around 1996. When our son was born in 1994, my wife's health precluded having a second child. We had originally wanted to have several children, so since we were "restricted" to just one, we had the idea that we could still have several children by fostering.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, fostering is a service where an adult, or pair of adults, takes in children who cannot live with their birth parents. The idea is to give a traumatized child a safe, temporary home until he or she can move to a safe place to live permanently and grow up. This is supposed to be a short stay, maybe 6 months, or up to 18 months at the longest. During this time, the foster parents raise the child as their own, with all the love, care, support, and assistance you would give your own flash and blood. We saw it as our chance to give love and make a difference in the life of an less fortunate child.
But that’s not how everyone sees foster care. It has a very, very bad reputation in some areas. The bad reputation is so pervasive that if a novel or movie wants to start a story about a child with a rough life, the first thing they do is put them in a foster home. Even J. K. Rowling used that stereotype when she had Harry living with his aunt and uncle in a cupboard under the stairs.
However, the actual role of a Foster Parent is a very positive, important and beneficial job. Here is what it really is: A child has been taken from the only home they've ever known. They are scared, unsure, angry, and alone. Usually they were removed because one or the other parent has done something bad enough that the state authorities feel that the child is in danger. So, they either put the child in a group home, which is today's version of orphanages, or they find a foster family. The child is usually traumatized and without their normal possessions; so there are going to be challenges, such as therapists, extra doctor visits, getting a complete wardrobe, and other extras. This is going to affect the budget of the family fostering them, so the state provides funds to help with those costs.
And that is where the problem lies. The money is to pay for food for the child, to buy clothes for the child, to pay for the gas to go to medical appointments, and all the extra costs that a foster child brings. The ideal is this: A well informed and educated foster parent who cares about and for children will take in a child who has been traumatized. Through the care and loving attention, the child is nurtured and recovers from their trauma. If they have mental scars, they are given therapy to help them deal with their experiences and learn to face and interact with the world in a normal, safe, and appropriate way. Eventually the child will move into a permanent home. Either back to their parent(s) who have learned safe and appropriate parenting skills, or to a new family who will adopt them.
Making that ideal come true costs money, time, and effort. Very few people can do that. All too often, the new foster parents take in their first child and realize they are not prepared for the task. They become overwhelmed and do one of three things.
- They quit.
- They become hardened and stop caring and stay in it for the money.
- Or, they step back, realize they need to put on their adult boots and take this seriously and start learning and doing the best they can, trying to improve and learn every way they can.
The first result, quitting, is the reason that the state (any state) has a constant need for new foster parents. It's a very high-turnover job. When we started, there were 12 families in our training class. By the time we complete our training and were certified to be foster parents, there were only 5 families left. 7 had quit and dropped out. And this was in TRAINING before we even actually had a child to care for!
The second result is the scariest. These are the homes that give rise to the horrible reputation. They don't care a whit about the child. They look it as a j. o. b. and just collect the money. They spend the least possible on the child's clothes. Don't pay for the extra therapy and specialists the child is supposed to have. And don't do anything above the bare minimum to stay certified. In fact, once they become this hardened person, they usually get greedy in addition to heartless. They get certified for as many children as they can, and then it becomes a money machine where they have money coming in, but nothing much at all going towards the children.
The third result is the goal. These are the parents who don't quit. They don't change and become hard hearted. They stay the same loving, caring parents they were. But they become more serious and start educating themselves. They change from the innocent people who believe that enough love can magically cure any ailment, to the streetwise expert who knows exactly just how bad their fellow humanity can be. They know how depraved, dangerous, perverted and downright evil adults can be towards innocent children. They know how lasting the harm inflicted on a child can be, both physical and mental. And when the day is over, and the last word has been said, they still stand tall and put the health and wellbeing of that child first and keep courage enough to continue fostering.
My wife and I were the third kind. We fostered several children, one or two at a time, over the next several years. Each had a story. We fostered a child whose father was a member of the Mexican mafia. His mother was testifying against him and the child was in our home to keep him in an unknown location, uninvolved, until the trial was over and she started a new life in another state. Then he was sent to join her.
Another child was in our home because her mother was in jail for prostitution to feed her drug habit. The baby had been born with crack in her system. Imagine going through withdrawals while still wearing diapers and drinking from a bottle. She eventually went to live with her Grandparents, who truly loved her and had cut off their own daughter in order to help this little girl avoid the life her mother had followed.
There were children who had been sexually abused and would act out in unusual and graphic ways at the most unexpected times. There were children so mentally scarred by their originally families they would duck below the window whenever they saw a police car drive by. Imagine a child who had eaten so poorly and so inconsistently, that they would gorge at every meal and stole food to hide in their room so they would have it if they didn’t get food at the next meal. Even months after they start getting 3 solid meals each and every day, you still find cookies and bags of chips hidden between their bed and the wall because they’re still afraid there won’t be a next meal.
So, I decided to dedicate some of my time and efforts here to pass on my experiences and knowledge in the hopes that I can help other foster parents. Maybe someone who reads these essays will decide to become a foster parent and make a real difference in the life of a child in need. Maybe someone who is having a rough time will find some relief in shared experiences and be able to keep going. And, maybe, someone will think twice before they make a thoughtless comment or insult about the child who flinches every time she hears a shout.