Those five words have proven one of the greatest joys and greatest struggles that I’ve experienced. I’ve made this site so that I can share about life as a foster dad. Some of what I share will be humors, some heartbreaking, and hopefully all helpful.
So to all you other foster parents out there (and especially foster dads), I hope you can laugh with me and cry with me and be encouraged in your journey through my words. You’ll find new posts below as I write them.
An organization in my state that does licensing and placements for foster care posted the following statistics recently on social media:
In our state
14 out of every 100 children are in foster care
The average stay of these children in foster homes is 700 days
There are ~15,000 children in foster care and only 4700 licensed foster homes
Like other foster parents, we have had a season with multiple placements in our home at the same time. We had two case workers, two different schedules, the kids went to school in two different towns, and we had two different plans to sort through. Even when we’ve had a single placement and decided not to take another, we received calls asking if we would open our home to more children.
The reality is often there are not enough homes to support the need in foster care.
In the time we have been involved in foster care, I have stood by two truths: 1) Not everyone is meant to be a foster parent/family. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that prevent it. Sometimes the season of life is not right. You also have to count the cost regarding things you’ll have to give up and situations you’ll have to face. If you are not in a position to be a foster parent, that’s okay. There are plenty of ways you can love and support those who are.
2) But the truth also is: More people can and should be foster parents.
So, why not you?
In our state, the requirements aren’t difficult, and that is true practically everywhere. While there are some specifics (like, you have to be at least 21), basically it comes down to: Do you have a safe home you are willing to open up and are you able to physically, financially, and emotionally care for children in need?
Yes, there is training. Yes, there are commitments. Yes, you have to deal with situations you don’t always understand. Yes, you’ll have to deal with behaviors and trauma backgrounds you probably won’t be fully prepared for. Yes, you’ll become attached and it will hurt when the children leave your home. Yes, you’ll have people pry into private parts of your life. Yes, you have to count the cost.
But there are also children in need. Children who have been hurt. Children who need love. Children who need safety. Children who need caring adults to open their homes and love them like their own until, if things work out right, they can return to their own parent(s).
So, why not you?
If you want to talk more or would like more information on ways to get involved in foster care, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at fosterdadadventures [at] gmail dot com.
Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:27 (Christian Standard Bible)
Every change we have made has been to fit the number and need of the children with us in any given moment or to anticipate placements we thought we would receive. The change in the rooms, however, represent the reality that foster care involves a lot of change and upheaval.
Since the first goal of foster care is reunification, that means a particular child or sibling group will (likely) only be with you a short season. For us, so far, the shortest has been a month and a half, and the longest has been eight months. With each placement there are new faces, names, ages, stories, and personalities; not to mention families, involvement, schools, schedules, and caseworkers.
Sometimes, even, your house can sit mostly empty for a while, then you get a call, and in a matter of hours the number of children under your roof triples.
And what do you do? You learn to roll with the changes.
There is comfort in sameness, but foster care is not about comfort, it’s about being willing to upend chunks of your life for the kids who have had their whole lives turned upside down. You accept the chaos to walk with them through theirs.
I joke sometimes: I don’t know if he’s our first child or our sixth. You see, before you existed your mom and I decided that we wanted to be foster parents. We want to provide a safe and loving home for children in need for a season until it’s safe for them to return to their own home. Before you were born, we were foster parents to five other children; and we plan to be again.
This means that as you grow up, there will be other kids who come and go. Some may be with us for a short time, some for a long time, and some, if the need arises, might become permanent members of our family–adopted brothers or sisters.
The thing about being a foster parent is that you get attached, even though the children aren’t technically yours. But they live with you and you provide for them. You read them stories at night, give them hugs when they need it, and help them with homework. As a foster parent, you walk that fine line of loving a child unconditionally who needs your love while knowing that, if things work as they should, they will one day leave your home to return to theirs.
So, in a way, though they are not biologically related to you and there’s no guarantee you’ll meet them in person, you have had five brothers and sisters in your life before you, even though at the moment you are an only child.
That might confuse you, but that’s okay. Being a foster family brings whole new layers to this thing called family.
But as you grow and as other children come and go there are some things that I hope you learn and discover by being a foster brother.
I hope you learn to value people as people. The children who are in foster care are there through no fault of their own. Their parents, or others who have raised them, often love their children deeply but have, at times, let other things get in the way of expressing that love in safe and appropriate ways. Each person involved is an individual living in a world that is not the way it should be. Our place is to play our part in helping to correct that brokenness.
It doesn’t matter the situation or who the people are, they need someone to show them love, to value them as a fellow human being, and to seek their best. Yes, that means on our end feeling the sting of loss when reunification happens, but we do it because people matter and families matter.
I hope you grow to have deep love and compassion for others. I won’t pretend there aren’t personal benefits and happy emotions that come from getting to be a “dad-for-a-season” to others. I gain from our work in foster care. However, at the core, fostering is not about what we gain but what we give.
To do things right, you have to grow in love and compassion. When children come into your home, there’s hurt and confusion. Depending on their life situation, they may need years of professional help to untangle the web of hurts and emotions. They sometimes don’t know how to love or be loved in healthy ways. Yet, such love is the very thing their young hearts need.
It’s easy to be cynical in this world but the world needs more love. Opening our hearts and homes to children in need expands that love in us and I hope it does in you as well.
I hope you learn to live in faith and not fear. Not every situation is good. Hurt people hurt others, the saying goes; and sometimes people who have been severely hurt and traumatized can hurt themselves and others in ways beyond words and emotions. In this, there is a sense of danger to foster care. We’ve heard stories and we have some ourselves.
It would be easy to let fear win and say, “We have a child of our own, now, we don’t want to take the risk.” But there would still be children in need of a safe and loving home.
We didn’t become foster parents off a whim or because we thought it sounded fun. We did it, because we saw a need, and we felt God lead us to meet that need. Sometimes people say that being in the center of God’s will is the safest place you can be. I guess there’s times that’s true, but sometimes being in the center of God’s will is the most dangerous place you can be.
There are peaceful pastures and there are valleys of the shadow of death. That’s life. But believing that God has led us to be foster parents, we trust that he will be with us through the ups and downs, the joys and the hurts. Faith over fear, that is how we want to live, and that’s how I hope you learn to live as well.
So, H, whether your our first child or our sixth, you won’t be our last even if you end up being our only. Like I said, it’s confusing at times, but it has been worth it being foster parents and I hope you will say the same being a foster brother.
People talk about the foster care system being “broken.” Some use this as a reason to not get involved or to walk away after having been involved.
There are times that it can be frustrating. We foster through the state, and, in general, we have had a good experience, especially within our circuit where we work with people we have built relationships with. Once, though, we took a placement from a different county/circuit and we beat our heads against the wall trying to get one of the kids the help they needed.
Frustrating as it was, I don’t like to use the word “broken” when it comes to the foster system. Instead, let’s call it imperfect. There are things that need improved, but there are also many good things. That’s life when you have people, who genuinely care about children, their families, and our families, having to work under the guidance of politicians in state capitols.
Even though the system is imperfect and frustrating at times, we choose to work within it for one main reason: There will always be children in need of a safe and loving home.
The system is imperfect and the world is imperfect. If the latter were not the case, there would be no need for the “system” to exist. Yet, people make bad choices. Life throws curve balls and we don’t always know how to react. People get caught in cycles of neglect and abuse and struggle to break free. And many times children are involved, hurting and confused.
If we stepped away because the system is imperfect, certain things are frustrating, or some decisions leave us scratching our heads, then that would mean one less home for children to find safety and love until they can return to parents (etc.) who have learned to provide safety and love afresh and in healthier ways.
Foster care is hard enough on it’s own. You welcome strangers into your home that you open your heart to before you even meet them. You have meetings with case workers and licensing workers and Family Support Teams (or whatever they’re called where you’re from). In addition to the appointments every child has, you have to take kids to family visits, get them ready for weekend stays, and deal with the emotional rollercoaster when they return. Often, because of the trauma the children have faced, you have to take them to therapy appointments as well.
All parenting takes work. Let’s not minimize that of any family, whether they have one child or a dozen. Foster parenting, however, has its unique challenges.
And I am thankful for the support that we have through our family, friends, and church.
When children come into our home, they’re not simply gaining us as foster parents. Our families love them the best they can for the season they are with us. They gain foster grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. Family and friends often ask us what we need. Our church family, too, who welcomes them with open arms.
If you’re counted among family, friends, and church, know that we could not do it without you.
But, we have heard stories from others. We know that not every foster parent receives the same level of support from those close to them. So, I want to issue this challenge:
Maybe you feel like you’re not meant to foster. There’s nothing wrong with that, God gifts and calls us each to different good works and acts of service in life. But if you know someone who does foster–a friend, a family member, a neighbor, a coworker, a fellow church member, etc., then be a support for them.
Pray for them. Encourage them. Offer to help–there’s always laundry, cleaning, and homework that need done and meals that need prepared. Maybe even consider becoming a respite provider. A respite provider is someone who is approved by a foster agency or state to watch foster kids for a few days. It can give foster parents a needed break since, often, they can’t leave their foster children with friends or family to take a trip, like we often do with biological children.
If you know a foster family, know that they need your love and support in the unique challenges they face. They can’t do it on their own.
I don’t know if I could foster. I’m afraid I’d get too attached.
That is one of the reasons some people give as to why they don’t foster or are hesitant to foster. If I might be blunt for a moment: It’s actually a pretty lame reason.
When you foster children, the goal is to be temporary parents while the children’s biological parents seek to make changes to their lives in order to have their children returned to them. As a foster parent, you are there to be a support for the family, both the children and their parents.
In other words, you are meant to play on the same team as the biological family. When rights are terminated and children are made available for adoption, it means that something has gone wrong. The hope is to avoid this. The hope is to play your role of positive support until the children return. The hope is reunification.
When Children’s Division did our training and home studies, a part of the emphasis was on personal loss and how we cope with it. A practical reason for this is that you do get too attached to the children.
And that’s not a reason to avoid fostering. That’s a reason to jump in.
Not long ago, we said goodbye to our most recent placement. One child was very young when they came to live with us for three-quarters of a year. My wife and I took turns rocking her to sleep at night, singing lullabies, while she drifted off in our arms. We took part in experiencing many of her firsts–sitting up, crawling, standing, walking, and talking. When the time came to say goodbye, it wasn’t easy to place her and her sibling in their car seats for the last time, surrounded by boxes and bags of clothes and toys.
Your heart breaks. You cry. You face the pain of loss.
But it’s worth it to see the joy in their parents’ face as they get to welcome their children back home.
Children need attachments. Even though it is not meant to be a permanent situation, when they’re in your home, they should feel safe and loved, and like they belong. They need foster moms and foster dads who will love them like their own, albeit for a season. Even the children who have faced much trauma, who have been badly hurt, and have yet to learn healthy ways to face their pain, need someone who is willing to bear their pain and in return pour out a heart full of love.
I keep pictures of all our foster children in my office. It’s been over a year since our first placement went with family. He was only with us a few months. Still, when I see his picture, I miss him.
That will never change.
When a child lives in your home, you love him or her the best that you can, and they return home, go with other family, or change placements, a piece of your heart leaves your home and you’ll never fully fill it. It hurts.
But fostering is not about you gain or keep. It’s about what you give to a child and his or her family in the hope that their future will be brighter.
Dare to get attached. Dare to pour out your heart. Dare to face loss.
I’ve written before about how saying goodbye is tough. And as I think of our current foster kids, when reunification day comes, there will be tears. Yet, I’ve found there’s something even harder about fostering…
The hardest part of fostering is realizing there are some children that you cannot help.
One of our previous fosters was a tough case. To protect that child’s privacy, I won’t get into the details, but needless to say it didn’t take us long to realize we weren’t equipped to help the child. Part of it was training and experience. We simply have not yet advanced far enough to feel like we can handle certain behaviors and needs. One day we’ll be able to take trainings on challenging behaviors and elevated needs, but until that day, we had to learn our limits.
Now, while the child was still with us, we fought as hard as we could to get needed help for them; but ultimately we had to trust another foster family to do what we couldn’t.
Another time we found a sibling set on an adoption website that piqued our interest. We inquired, and were selected to take part in the adoption staffing meeting, where a team of people would determine which family they thought would be the best fit. The basic profiles made available to the public are often generic in these situations. When we received the more detailed, private profiles, we noted some issues but nothing that scared us off.
At the meeting, those involved with the siblings’ case expanded on some issues, but still nothing beyond what we thought we could personally handle. The problem came when we discussed resources available in the school and community. These siblings were in an urban environment and their school had several different resources to ensure personalized care in an effort to help the children succeed as much as possible. We, however, live in a rural community and in speaking with our school, we discovered that we simply did not have the same type of resources available.
Hearing this, the staffing team even asked us if we’d be willing to move closer to the city. We replied that we were not in a position to do so at the time, and so we had to withdraw from being candidates for an adoptive placement. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we felt it was the best decision.
There is something about being a foster parent that makes you want to say yes to any placement, any child. But the reality is some children need more than what you’re able to provide. It’s hard to say no, because every child deserves a home where they can feel safe and loved, a home where they can be given every opportunity to succeed, and you want to be that home. But sometimes you have to say no, because of your own limitations.
That, I believe, is the hardest part of fostering.