- What I wish I knew before adopting a child
- What to consider when deciding to adopt after infertility
- Adopting older kids: Is it right for you?
- Adopting older kids: Making them feel at home
- Transracial adoption: Maintaining your child’s culture and identity in a colorful world
- International adoption: Maintaining your child’s culture and identity
- Fostering kids: Joys and challenges of foster parenting
My husband and I always knew we wanted a big family. We were fortunate to have 4 beautiful children, but after 2 of them were diagnosed with a rare medical condition, we decided not to have any more. While we both knew this was the right decision, we still felt that we had more love to give.
Becoming a foster parent
With my husband working as a police officer and myself as a teacher, we had a very good understanding of the chronic need for foster parents within our local community. It was after hearing the harrowing story of an 18-month-old baby girl being placed into a residential care home that we decided we had to do something to help.
In most countries, the process for becoming approved as a foster parent does take some time. This is because the foster agency wants to make sure that all approved parents can provide a safe and caring home for children. The entire process took about a year for us, but the foster agency had already matched us with a placement before our approval was finalized. Currently, my husband and I are caring for a sibling group of 3 children in addition to our 4 biological children. While 7 children might sound crazy (and sometimes it is), they have very much bonded with all of us.
After becoming foster parents, there was one phrase that we heard repeatedly form those around us:
Oh, I would love to be a foster parent, but…
It seems that so many people are interested in foster care and understand that many children out there need a home, but there’s always an obstacle. Interestingly, hearing the reasons people state as to why they couldn’t be a foster parent often involve misunderstandings and myths that I’m always happy to dispel.
“Foster kids all have serious behavior problems, and I just can’t take that on.”
Firstly, children come into foster care for all kinds of reasons. Of course, one of the most common reasons is having been in an abusive or neglectful home. However, this isn’t the only reason. There are circumstances where a child might be placed in care due to parental illness or death, mental health problems, or incarceration. Each case is unique, and each child will have their own needs and challenges.
It’s true that many foster children have been exposed to trauma that affects their development, wellbeing, and behavior. However, not all children who go into care are aggressive and violent. Trauma impacts individuals in very different ways, and the effects are far more subtle in some children.
The children who are currently in our care are incredibly well-behaved. In fact, I have joked about them being better behaved than my biological children. Yes, these children have had some extremely negative experiences, but rather than acting out, they have become unnaturally compliant.
“I would get too attached.”
This one I struggle with a lot. For children that have been removed from their family, attachment is a huge thing. It can certainly be difficult when a child leaves your care, but knowing that you have provided them with a safe and secure home for even a short time is worth being proud of.
Additionally, each foster parent can decide what kind of care they want to offer, meaning you can find an option that works best for you and your family.
Here are the 4 different types of foster care:
1. Emergency care
This kind of care is for children immediately after they have been removed from a home. Emergency carers can get phone calls day or night whenever a child is in immediate need of a safe place to stay. Children will often remain in emergency care for between 24 hours and 2 weeks while a longer-term option is found for them.
2. Short-term care
When children are placed in short-term care, it often means that there is an ongoing process to determine if the child might be able to return to their previous home. The family will be evaluated, and the courts are usually involved to determine if it will be safe for the child to go back.
Short-term care can last from 2 weeks to a whole year, with reunification usually being the goal. Sadly, this is not often the outcome as most children in short-term care eventually move into long-term care placements.
3. Long-term care
Children who are placed into long-term care will remain in the foster care system until the age of 18. This is where reunification with the family has been deemed unable to occur. This kind of care was our family’s first choice.
We thought that finding the right child to fit our family dynamic could result in a successful long-term placement, and we believed this would be less disruptive for our own children. While we’ve had 1 failed placement due to some unfortunate circumstances, we very much feel like our current placement is perfect for us. For those worried about getting “too attached,” long-term care might be the option to consider.
4. Respite care
We actually met our current sibling group of 3 through respite care. At the time, they were living with an aunt who needed a break, so we had them for a few weekends. The children bonded so well with our own 4 kids that when the placement with the aunt eventually broke down, we took them into our care full time.
Basically, you can do as much or as little as you like when it comes to foster care. There is a dire need for more respite carers, and in my experience, each placement is carefully considered to ensure an appropriate match. Foster carers can ask the child’s caseworker for information to help them decide if the child might fit into their family. The foster agencies are there to support the carer with any additional information or training they might need to ensure the success of the placement.
“Fostering would not be fair on my biological children.”
This is another concern we hear all the time. The reality is that any foster placement will certainly have an impact on your family, which is why getting the right match from the start is so important.
Truthfully, our first foster placement was very challenging. She did have chronic meltdowns and brought a new vocabulary into our home. Our children were initially shocked at seeing this behavior, but we always talked to them about it and had regular scheduled “check-ins” to see how they were doing. Although we didn’t end up keeping that placement long-term, our children learned a lot from it.
They still talk about that little girl, and while they will recount the meltdowns with shocked expressions, they will also make statements like, “It wasn’t her fault, though. Her brain makes her react that way because of her trauma.” Basically, they have learned empathy and kindness from the experience, and as a mother, this makes my heart sing.
Thankfully, our current placement couldn’t be a more perfect arrangement. During our check-ins, our children tell us that they would be so upset if our 3 foster children left our home. They are like best friends living together, and my husband and I love seeing how the experience is teaching our children to be giving and compassionate people. In short, being foster parents has benefited our children far more than we ever expected, and the benefits have certainly outweighed the negatives.
“I can’t foster. I am a single parent.” or “I am gay.”
It doesn’t matter at all. The process for being approved as a foster parent is based on your ability to care for a child. There are millions of single parents out there who are doing an amazing job, and if you have the skills to go it alone, there’s no stopping you.
In fact, some children thrive in a situation with one parent as it gives them the opportunity to form one strong attachment. Additionally, gender can play a role in where a child is placed due to that child’s prior experiences. If a child has been abused by a female parent, a single dad might be the best place for that child to feel safe and vice versa.
In terms of sexual orientation, this is irrelevant to the approval process. If you and your partner can provide a stable and safe home for a child, it doesn’t matter if you are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, or other.
Problems with foster care certainly exist, but foster parenting has also been one of the single most rewarding things I’ve done in my life. We cannot undo the past experiences that have caused a child hurt or harm, but we can give them a brighter future by preventing future harm.
Please consider becoming a foster parent. While making life better for a child, you will also reap the invaluable rewards that come from knowing you have made a difference in someone’s life. As this anonymous quote so eloquently states:
Instead of growing in my belly, they grew in my heart.