As a board member of Mid-Atlantic Orphan Care Coalition, I am sharing some FAQs over on their page throughout this month for National Foster Care Month. Today, I'm assembling these FAQs all in one place, with the hope of helping every day families understand that becoming foster parents doesn't require perfection or super powers.
what is foster care?
Foster care is needed when a child is removed from his or her home due to concerns for their well-being. It is a temporary placement of a child in need of a safe place, following the trauma of being separated from their family.
Foster parents are a critical component of each child's team of advocates. They provide love, guidance, and support; caring for a child in their home as their own, while simultaneously actively supporting the goal of reunification of the child to their family (unless a judge has changed the child's goal). Preserving and fostering healthy family relationships is not only the legal purpose of foster care, but is also in the best interest of the child.
The foster care system is governed by local state and county regulations. Training and licensing can be provided via the state or a private agency. Trained workers provide oversight of children in care, as well as families providing foster care. A judge presides over each child's case, and often times a CASA or GAL is also appointed to assist in advocating for the rights and needs of the child.
who can become a foster parent?
Foster parents can be...
Married or single.
Young or old.
Homeowners or renters.
First time parents, have children at home, or be empty nesters.
Being a foster parent requires...
Love, not perfection.
A willingness to learn, not knowing it all.
Endurance, not backing away from hard things.
The ability to advocate, not people pleasing.
It is not easy, but it is simple.
who are the children in foster care?
The children in foster care have been removed from their home by the state, due to a concern for safety. Many have experienced abuse or neglect. All children in foster care have experienced trauma and loss, as they have been separated from their family. Consequently, these children are in need of support and love as they face challenges no child should ever have to endure.
Children in foster care range in age from infancy to up to 21 years of age (depending on state regulations and a child's level of need). Like all children, they vary in personality, abilities, and development. Some have high medical, behavioral, emotional, educational, or psychological needs while others have none. (Please note, the absence of special needs does not translate to the absence of grief, loss, and trauma involved in being removed from family and placed in foster care.) There are sibling groups and individual children in need of care. They are of all races, ethnicities, religions, and social-economic backgrounds. There are disproportionately higher numbers of African American children and children from inner city areas.
Legally, there are two groups of children in foster care: those whose parents still have parental rights, and those who are legally free. For children whose parents still have rights, the goal is reunification. (Foster parents caring for a child with the goal of reunification must ensure they are supporting that goal by fostering healthy family relationships and advocating for the needs of the child.) Most children who are legally free have a goal of adoption; though some older children chose the goal of aging out of the system without being adopted.
The most important thing to note about children in foster care is that they are children. They are in need of guidance, even when they think they know it all. They are in need of protection, even when they believe they can fend for themselves. They need safety and security, even when they long for the familiarity of chaos. They are in need of love, most intensely when they push everyone away. And they need loving adults to take up the role and responsibility of being an adult so that they can be children
what if i get too attached?
A common concern for those considering foster care is that they will get too attached to the child(ren) in their home.
Be assured, it is not possible to get TOO attached. At least, not for the child's sake.
The goal of foster care is to offer a safe, supportive environment to children who have suffered the trauma of being removed from their family. It is NOT to meet an emotional need or fulfill a dream for the foster parents. This may be difficult to accept, as acknowledging that our heart may be broken is valid and even necessary.
However, as followers of Jesus, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. No child is ready for their heart to be broken when they are removed from everyone and everything they know. No child grows up desiring to experience trauma, neglect, or abuse. These precious children, lovingly formed in the very image of God, are born with a need to be loved, protected, and nurtured. They, like all of us, need people who are willing to love them relentlessly without holding back out of fear of how it will effect them.
Foster parents are not saviors. They are merely vessels through which the Savior's love can be shown to children who are hurting. So, will you get attached? Will it stretch you? Will it break your heart for the child, their family, and the system? If you're doing this right, the answer is a resounding YES.
And it's the very reason why you should consider saying yes to opening your heart and home to a child in need.
how will foster care effect my biological children?
It is right and valid to consider how foster care will effect your biological children. The reality is, it will - but perhaps in ways you have not considered.
The pain and confusion that can be caused by opening your heart and home to hurting children is real. However, with God's help, we can assist our children in using that pain and confusion as a catalyst for purpose and compassion. Even young children can empathize with someone who is hurting - by equipping our children with the tools they need to feel safe, heard, and valued, we are allowing them to go through hard things in a way that will help them grow in to the likeness of Jesus.
As parents, it is our responsibility to protect our children. Use Godly wisdom, and wise counsel in deciding the parameters of the children you will welcome in to your home. Put safe guards in place for your children physically and emotionally. Be intentional about carving out time for each child; have an open door policy that fosters community and not isolation; through active listening, encourage children to share without fear of judgement. Teach every child in your home about safe touch, how to handle uncomfortable situations, and appropriate people to talk to in case of emergencies.
Be aware of the physical and psychological toll that providing foster care will cause your biological children so that you can develop safe guards and create an atmosphere where healing triumphs over hurts. Finally, do not ignore the potential foster care has to not only help a hurting child, but to help your biological children grow in incredible ways!
can we pick the children who come into our home?
Setting parameters for the children you open your home to is important. It is not wrong to assess the abilities of yourself, family, and home. Rather, it is more beneficial to recognize limitations prior to a child arriving, to minimize the number of placements for children.
Critical factors to consider are:
- Family dynamics
- Ages of children already in the home
- Layout of your home for physical disabilities
- Medical training for special needs
- Behaviors that you, your spouse, or family may be unable to deal with
- Racial barriers and/or prejudices in you or your family
- Diversity of your community
- Access to professionals who specialize in specific needs
If you are married, ensure both spouses are unified on the importance of each parameter set. Some things may be negotiable, while others are absolute - and that's okay. Be honest about these things with your worker during each step of the process.
Remember that each child is unique. Their history, biology, personality, needs, and development are their's alone. Information regarding these children is often limited, especially for those just entering care. Please be cautious in the words you use to describe needs and behaviors - being mindful to place children first, and express any concerns or parameters in a way that is respectful.
when will a child be placed in our home?
There is no way to predict with certainty when a child will be placed in your home. However, there are key factors that play important roles in determining the amount of time it takes. These include, but are not limited to:
- The number of children in need in your county
- The number of families available
- The parameters you have set
Some families are contacted within a week. Others wait months before receiving a request for placement. You may receive a call regarding a child you do not feel equipped to bring into your home. With parameters discussed and set, you will need to gently but firmly enforce them. This, too, can impact the waiting time before a child arrives.
While this uncertainty can be unnerving, it is imperative that we use every moment of our wait well: praying, living purposefully, and preparing.
what are the responsibilities of a foster parent?
The primary responsibilities of a foster parent are to provide a safe, loving home while meeting the physical and emotional needs of children placed in their care. This includes:
- Every day care
- Transportation to appointments, visitations, and court hearings
- Advocating with workers, judges, and professionals for the child's best interests
- Being trauma informed and continuing education on topics that concern the child(ren) in their care
- Providing stability, structure, and safety
- Documenting events and situations in accordance with local laws
- Ensuring your home and foster care paperwork are up to date in accordance with local laws
- Following regulations regarding decision making for the child(ren) in their care
In addition, as followers of Jesus, it is not only our responsibility but our honor to show these children the extravagant love of Jesus. We have the opportunity and privilege to pray for them, their families, and the system.
Being a foster parent comes with many responsibilities, and can be challenging work. But people willing to embrace these responsibilities with joy are instrumental in changing lives!
how can we prepare for foster care?
Preparing to open your heart and home to a child in need is exciting! Many people are looking for a checklist of things to do or read in order to be completely prepared. Reality is, there's an element of experience necessary to be prepared - and even then, every child and situation is unique!
However, there are several key things you can do to ensure you are as prepared as possible!:
Do you have other questions about foster care? Was there an answer in this post that surprised or encouraged you? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!
Here you will find the musings of a homeschooling, work from home, adoptive Momma of 7! Adventures in faith, family, adoption, and training up a tribe to follow hard after Jesus are spilled into these posts --- most often written with a cup of coffee in hand. I hope you'll stick around a while and find something - more likely SOMEONE! - that brings you hope!
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