Always Prepared (Foster Care in 5-7-5)

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Foster care is serious work. You become momentary parents to children who have suffered various degrees of trauma. They have been neglected or abused or have suffered loss in some manner. As a foster parent, you see the impact of such trauma on the day-to-day lives of the children in your care. It is serious work but there are plenty of light moments as well. Kids are kids.

That means, especially with younger children, you have to be prepared for anything to come out of their mouths.

We had a placement, a brother and sister both under the age of five. My wife was working late, so I gathered the kids and we went to eat at a local pizza place. As we sat waiting for the pizza to arrive, a group of older ladies entered the restaurant. One of them did as older ladies often do–paused, leaned down toward the little girl in her high chair, and said, “What a cute baby!”

I grinned and the ladies were about to move on when the boy, sitting across from me, pointed at me and loudly yelled, “That’s not our dad!”

The ladies’ smiles faded into a look of concern and I received a stare down. Since I didn’t know them, it wasn’t their business that the children were in foster care, so I just kept grinning until they finally moved on. The good thing is nothing came from it. I had visions of some authority figure approaching me to ask why I was with children who were yelling they weren’t mine.

Which leads to this: Always carry a copy of your placement letter. You know, just in case…

By the way, once the ladies left our table, I leaned across and whispered to the boy, “You and I both know that I’m not your dad, though I am your foster dad. However, you don’t have to go around saying that to everyone.”

Innocent gaze. “Why?”

“Because… Just don’t do it, okay?”

The Clothes on Their Backs (Foster Care in 5-7-5)

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When you receive the call that a caseworker is on her way with a child, you never know what to expect. We have had children come with literally nothing more than the clothes they’re wearing. We’ve had children come with a few clothes, toys, and trinkets shoved hastily into trash bags. We’ve also had children come with a bag filled with toys, but nothing even as basic as underwear.

Often, a new placement is followed quickly by a run to the store to get whatever basic items we need. We have some tubs of clothes and toys, some that other children in our home have worn and outgrew, and some that have been donated to us by generous people along the way. Yet, it is rare that we still don’t need something that qualifies as the bare necessities.

You learn this reality quickly. However, if you’re new to foster care, be prepared that you’re probably under-prepared.

If you aren’t a foster parent but would like to help foster parents, this is always a good place to start. In our state, we are able to turn in store receipts up to a certain amount for clothing reimbursement for children. I’ve heard other states offer clothing stipends. However, it rarely goes as far as needed. So, ask a foster parent if they need help with clothing. Offer donations of clothes you might have that would fit. Or offer a gift card. Often anything will help.

And even if a foster family doesn’t have a need in the moment, knowing you’re thinking about them is always a blessing.

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Anxiety (Foster Care in 5-7-5)

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We all feel anxious from time to time. As adults, if we are able to properly regulate our emotions, anxiety doesn’t last long and we continue with life as normal. Children tend to have a harder time with anxiety and with being able to communicate their anxiety.

It has happened with multiple children in our care: Everyone is in bed, asleep. Then we are stirred by a rapping of knuckles on our bedroom door. We answer and are met with a sad face and the words, “My tummy hurts.” It’s one of the ways children process anxiety. Usually the situation is momentarily remedied by a Tums, a hug, and tucking the child back into bed. Until it occurs again the next night.

The good news is, at least in our experience, that given time this passes. The child becomes use to us and our home. We better learn their personalities–the things that make them happy and the things that trigger their trauma memory. We are able to better end the day on positive notes and the tummy aches disappear.

We have also found other things have helped: Nightlights (regardless of age), reading to the children at bedtime and saying a goodnight prayer with them, or finding a favorite toy or stuffed animal they can keep in bed or close at hand. We also learned that different situations can cause anxiety and then anticipate it better.

If you are a foster parent or have children who struggle with anxiety, what are some things you have learned that help your children face their worries and fears? Comment below and let us know!

Uncertainty (Foster Care in 5-7-5)

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Whenever we say yes to a new placement, there is always uncertainty. Did we make the right choice? Will this situation be best for the child and our family? Are we equipped to handle the trauma behaviors when they occur? It is understandable that we have many questions that we express to the caseworkers and that we ponder internally.

Yet, we must not forget that the child/children also face uncertainty. Our placements have ranged from as young as 9 months to as old as 11 years. Uncertainty is almost universal in their eyes, when they first step foot in our home. This is true no matter their age, their situation, whether or not they came with siblings, and whether or not they’ve been in foster care before. They didn’t choose their situation. Sometimes, behaviors will follow as a result.

Uncertainty is inherent in foster care. Eventually, as a foster parent, you get used to the unusual and uncertain. The confusion in the child’s eyes fades with time as well. Uncertainty, however, is always certain. So, expect it and be patient.