Recently a friend asked me some very thoughtful questions about foster care and what the process has been like. I’m very thankful that she asked, and I decided that a blog post would provide a more thorough response so maybe others can benefit as well. First let me start by discussing a few of the misconceptions that I have heard people express about foster care.
- Foster parents are in it for the money.While I am sure that there are people who are motivated by money, 100% of the foster parents I have met do it because they want to love and serve children. The vast majority of foster parents are actually kinship providers. These are often grandparents, teachers, or other individuals who know the kids and agree to take care of the kids while their case is being processed. While you do receive a subsidy as a foster parent it would be very difficult to make money from being a foster parent. One DFS screening requirement is that you make enough money to pay your own bills before they will license you. Children in foster care are automatically enrolled in Medicaid even if they are adopted. So there are programs that help with the cost but if you are looking for a job to make money, I recommend you look elsewhere.
- DFS just drops kids off at your house.There is quite a bit of training involved in becoming a foster parent. Yes, the training is time consuming but it is also beneficial for several reasons. One positive is that you have time to ask a lot of questions and decide what kind of children you feel comfortable taking into your home. During the training you learn about the trauma that children in foster care experience, creative ways to manage behaviors, the possible reasons a child could be removed from a home and more. However, even after you complete all the training, no child will be placed in your home without your consent. Some people become foster parents because they want to adopt. Once you finish the training, your trainer/ social worker will start sending profiles of children who are ready to be adopted. If you see a child or sibling group that you are interested in, then you can go through an interview process and apply for placement of the child/children. This is a great option because there are many children who are eligible for adoption but who age out of the system without ever being adopted. However, some people are not interested in adoption and if that is the case then awesome! Foster families are rare but very needed.
- I could never be a foster parent because I would get too attached.I want to be gentle with how I respond to this question because my initial response is one of exasperation. I want to scream, “OF COURSE YOU GET ATTACHED, THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT.” However as I reflect back on my own experience, I realize that I shouldn’t be judgmental because I am guilty of that same trap. As humans it is natural to want to protect our hearts from pain. At times I have found myself holding back and not loving my kids as fully as I could have because I knew it would cause me pain. This question comes back to a key point in your belief system. Who do you serve? The God of the Bible does not promise a happy and successful life free of suffering and pain. In fact God promises us that we will suffer and be persecuted. If you are a Christian, then you must decide whether you will spend your energy running from suffering or if you will follow God’s call and embrace suffering by taking care of God’s children.
Now I will come back to my friend’s initial question. How can I help foster families and kids in foster care? This is a fabulous question!
- Love the children and treat them just like you would any other kids. I remember in my training hearing a story of a foster family who was asked to leave the church because of the foster children’s behavior. DON’T BE LIKE THAT! Come alongside the family and help support them.
- Don’t excuse the children’s bad behavior but also be patient with them. Due to the trauma these kids have experienced they will often fall back on survival techniques that have gotten them through hard things in their life. These behaviors can include tantrums, lying, manipulation, food hoarding, and a sense of entitlement. While the kids don’t get a pass on their bad behavior, if people are patient and understanding it can help the learning process go much more smoothly.
- If you have extra clothes, furniture (especially a bed or mattress), bikes or other used items ask if the family could use them.
- Offer to babysit one day a month or consider doing respite care! (This can make a huge impact in helping encourage/support a foster family. We have wonderful parents who watch our kids for us, and it has made a huge difference! We couldn’t do it without them!)
- Learn more about foster care and consider becoming a foster parent. There are so many children who need a loving home. Don’t close yourself off to the suffering of others. It is so easy to ignore suffering when it seems abstract and there is so much of it in the world. Be brave! Lean in and learn what other people are experiencing!