May is National Foster Care Awareness Month.
And today marks exactly one year since we decided to become foster parents. When I started my search and began calling agencies, I had no idea that I would look back 365 days later with a new, permanent family member to love.
There was no way to predict the amount of joy (and heartbreak) I’d experience. As I filled out our application, I etched our family’s future—unknown, scary, and so exciting.
If you’ve ever considered becoming a foster parent, I encourage you to take advantage of this month to learn more or make that important first step.
To help you get started, here are my (candid) answers to the common questions I’m asked about fostering.
What if I get a kid with “problems”?
You will. No child is in the system because their life has been perfect. You must go into this knowing that every single kid in custody has baggage… even the baby we took home from the hospital. Trust me, I know that’s scary. But, here’s some perspective—the very fact that these kids aren’t perfect is exactly why they need our help.
Don’t foster parents do it for the money?
This is the oldest story in the books, folks. Any time a foster home is portrayed in a movie, book, or TV show, it’s always negative. You know the stereotype: parents who treat their biological kids better, who make the foster children do all the chores, who abuse the foster kids.
Are there people who do this for the money? Yes. Of course. But to make any money, you’d have to spend absolutely nothing on each child you’re placed with. That means no clothes, no toys, no toiletries, no food. If you buy those things for kids in your care, the money you’re given is a reimbursement. If you go above and beyond that to provide these kids with the best possible memories, like taking them to events or throwing parties, then there’s a good chance you’ll actually lose money. Thankfully, you’ll gain a whole lot more.
Isn’t the system broken?
Oh, yes. It’s so, so, so, so broken. On any given day, there are dozens of things DHS does that confuse me. I go to bed nearly every night angry with the system. Between the million chances given to parents who have done things you can’t stomach, to the government’s cuts to services that protect children in custody, there is no shortage of frustration. I can’t sugar coat this one, but I can say (as cliché as it sounds) that the struggle is worth it.
What will it do to my stress level?
I’ve seen a mother who, in the opinions of everyone in the court room, should not have been given a chance to fix things. We’ve had child protective services show up to our own doorstep at 10 p.m. because someone called in a false report of abuse. I’ve listened to a small child tell me about her experience watching the police pull a gun on her family. But, let me tell you what makes that stress manageable:
On her first night in our home, one of our kids cried in her bed for hours. I laid next to her, stroking her hair and telling her it would be okay—all the while, cursing the people who did this to her. Over the next several weeks, we were patient. Gentle. Reassuring. We showed her what structure, routine, and trust look like. And before long, she was putting herself to bed. She kissed our cheeks, told us she loved us, and grinned from ear to ear before we turned out the lights.
My friends, that is why we do it.
Do I have to spend time with the biological parents?
You don’t have to, but it’s sorta part of your job as a foster parent to, at least, try. We’re called “resource parents” for a reason. And, DHS looks highly upon your attempts to bridge with a child’s biological family. Bridging doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or dangerous. You don’t have to go out of your comfort zone or supervise visitations. But from my experience bridging with one of my kid’s parents, a little support goes a long way.
Often, these parents are broken. They’re lost, scared, and helpless. Sometimes, they just need someone who won’t give up on them. TRUST ME, that’s hard. But, somebody’s gotta do it.
Are all kids up for adoption?
No. In fact, most kids aren’t. At least, not right away. The #1 goal of the foster care system is reunification. And if that’s not possible, DHS will almost always try for a kinship placement. That means, even if a child does become adoptable, biological family (and even friends) have the opportunity first.
It’s hard to say this without sounding like a hypocrite because we adopted a baby out of foster care, but there’s really no “foster to adopt” scenario in the minds of DHS and the court system. The path to adoption day is rocky, and you will fight hard to get there.
We learned right away that if your goal is adoption, you might want to consider becoming an adoption-only home. You won’t go through the ups and downs of fostering, but you also may have to wait years for a child because most children are adopted by their foster families (if reunification/kinship fails).
What if I get attached?
If you’re doing it right, you will.
Attachment is what these kids desperately need. It’s not something learned later in life. Children either learn how to become attached to people when they’re young… or they don’t. If we can’t help them learn valuable traits like trust, love, and compassion… who will?
Look—we’re not saints. We’re not superheroes.
We get attached, we cry, worry, stress, and get angry far more often now than before we started this journey. But, when I look in the eyes of the children who have come to our home and found reliability, safety, and joy… well, it’s all worth it, isn’t it?
If you have questions about becoming a foster parent, please ask. I’m happy to tell you everything about our experience—the good, the bad, and the downright unbelievable.