You Are Loved (Foster Care in 5-7-5)

I remember the first time it happened. For a couple of months, everything seemed to be going great. Then, we had a bad day and a child had a meltdown. They ended up under their bed yelling at me: “I hate you and I hate living here!”

No one likes hearing something like that. Sometimes biological children also say it to their parents in the heat of the moment. Whether with a biological child or a foster child, to be a parent requires an understanding: You can’t take what they say personally. That can sometimes be hard, especially when not long before the outburst, they cuddle against you and show affection. You seek to love them and they are showing you love as well. Then, angry happens and hurt happens.

A child is still learning and growing. They’re learning to process their world and how to relate to the stimuli around them. A lot of children in foster care have the added layer of unprocessed trauma on top of that. Even if they’ve been badly hurt, a child still has various attachments and feelings toward their family. You, as a foster parent, represent a barrier to being with their family. There are also the cases where a child simply does not know how to appropriately love and feel love. Their outbursts are ways to gain your attention and test your love.

You can’t take it personally. Even in moments where they are screaming how much they hate you, they need you. They need to know they are safe and loved.

Sometimes, when they’re lying under their bed telling you how much they hate you, all you can do is lay on the floor, look at them, and say, “Thank you for sharing your feelings. We love you and we’ll be here for you as long as you need.”

Never Certain Until the Ink Dries (Foster Care in 5-7-5)

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Something they told us in foster training: Nothing is certain. When you get involved in foster care, you learn this quickly.

There was one situation that drove this point home. We are able to now look back and find some humor in the ordeal, but not so much at the time. We had said goodbye to our first two (concurrent) placements and took a break for about a month. When we placed ourselves back onto the available home list, we didn’t get any calls for a while. We asked one of our social workers why, and she said we were one of two homes in our tri-county circuit at that time that had the capacity for a large sibling group and they were holding back for that.

No problem. We had the space, we understood. Not long after that, we received a call: “We have a sibling group of five that we’re planning on placing with you in the next couple of weeks.”

Got it. We set to work prepping the house. We bought a couple more bed frames, secured some donated mattresses, and started shopping for a vehicle that could comfortably seat seven people. Shortly before we completed the purchase of a 8-passenger SUV, we received another call: “Actually, we’re not going to move the children at this time.”

Okie doke. Glad we didn’t buy that car.

A month passes, and we receive another call: “We are for sure moving the children. We need to arrange for you to pick them up on Friday. We have a meeting on Thursday, but that is just a formality. They are coming to your home.”

We already had the beds and crib set up. We set out car shopping again. This time, we secure a vehicle that can seat seven. We stock up on some supplies and get the house ready. The Thursday meeting comes, I attend, and it doesn’t take long for me to realize the final pronouncement: Never mind. They’re not moving the children after all.

Needless to say, we were frustrated, along with some other people, and especially because we bought a car (albeit used). We were reminded: Nothing is set in stone until it happens. The ink has to dry on the paper.

A few weeks later, we said yes to and received a sibling set of two who stayed with us eight months and then reunified. We also found out we were expecting a biological child. It was a roller coaster for a couple of months, but that tends to be foster care in general.

Sometimes No (Foster Care in 5-7-5)

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We are on our eighth foster placement, and twelfth foster child. Each placement begins with a phone call. A social worker calls us, gives us basic info of how many children and their ages. If we want to hear more, they give us more details and ask if we’d be willing to take placement.

We have said, “Yes,” eight times. (Actually, it’s been more than that. Sometimes you say yes, but then something happens and the children don’t come to your house after all.)

We’ve also received a lot of phone calls where we have said, “No.”

On the one hand, as a foster parent, you want to be able to help all the children who need it. Your heart floods with compassion when the phone rings and you’re told there is a child in need. The reality is, sometimes you have to say, “No.” It’s gut-wrenching to do so, but it is also necessary. There can be a variety of reasons for this.

1. You have other children / foster children and the situation doesn’t sound like it would be a good fit. You have to think about the children who are living in your home. Foster children, especially, carry different traumas. Those children might be doing well with your family, but when you add a new dynamic of another foster child, things can dramatically change. Sometimes, multiple placements work. Sometimes, they don’t. You have to check with the child’s caseworker and therapist, and give thought to what you see each day to know if multiple placements will work for you in your current situation.

2. You need a break. Fostering is draining at times. All parenting is work, but with fostering, you often have added appointments, meetings, rules to follow, special-needs school matters to hammer out and attend to. Not to mention, your emotional health can take hits as you try to be an anchor for a child in his/her trauma behaviors. You also experience your own grief and sense of loss whenever a child leaves. There is no shame in saying no when you’re in need of a break.

3. The situation won’t be best for the child. The best case for a foster child is to be in an environment where they can be safe, loved, and well cared for. There may be times where you want to be open to receiving a child, but then you hear about his/her trauma, behaviors, needs etc., and you realize that your level of training, experience, and availability will not produce the best environment for the child. You say no in the hope that the child can receive the love and care they truly need.

These are a few examples. If you’ve been involved in foster care, what are some reasons that you’ve had to say no to a placement?

Reunification Day (Foster Care in 5-7-5)

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Families are meant to be together. That is the underlying purpose of foster care. Now, that might sound odd. Foster care, after all, usually involves removing a child or children from their home and placing them in another home. The thing is, though, if everything goes well, then the removal and placement is meant to only be temporary.

Reunification is a key word of the fostering world. That is the primary aim and goal of most cases. Often, when a child is removed from his/her home it is because the state, based upon certain guidelines, has deemed the environment unsafe. This could be do to abuse, neglect, severe uncleanliness, or a combination of things. The caseworker becomes not only the worker for the child but for the family (at least in the way things tend to operate in our state).

The worker then tries to provide resources and avenues for the parent(s) to get help and support with the aim of making changes, creating a safe environment, and receiving the child(ren) back.

But as foster parents, if we’re being honest, when reunification day comes, it is bittersweet. Unless the child has bounced from home to home, often by reunification the child has been in your home months, and sometimes even years. You have built a relationship with them. You have advocated for them. You have provided for their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. Even with the understanding of temporary, you have been a parent to them. You have grown to love the child as if he/she was your own.

You know reunification is the goal. You watch the happy smiles and warm embraces of parent and child, and you do so with a smile of your own. This is how it is meant to be–families together. Yet, as that child climbs into the car to drive off with mom or dad, a piece of your heart drives away.

It hurts. Often, you cry.

Sometimes, the parent will continue a relationship with you, you’ll get updates, and even get to spend time with the children. It is awesome when they continue to be a part of your life. Sometimes, though, the parent doesn’t, and the truth is they’re under no obligation to. It hurts, but you learn to accept it.

There is pain and there is joy. It is a mixed reality.

But then, you do it again, willfully putting your heart on the line, because you know there are children out there in need of a momentary place to stay until their families can be made whole once more.