The Hardest Part of Fostering

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.

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Yes, We Will Continue to Foster

The latter months of 2018 came with big news for the FosterDadAdventures clan–in mid-2019, FosterDad will also be a BioDad. Since announcing that we’re expecting for the first time, the question has come up on more than one occasion: Are you going to continue to foster?

Yes. And we never had the inclination otherwise.

From the time my wife and I were seriously dating and discussing our dreams for our future family, these two realities co-existed within each of us: We wanted to have biological children, but we also wanted to foster and adopt.

Two main reasons drive this:

1. We don’t see fostering as an end to fulfilling a need within us. Yes, I’ve spent the better part of nearly 4-decades of life wanting to be a dad. Chasing a soccer ball around the yard with one of the boys or having bedtime snuggles with the baby girl makes me happy. When we had a gap of a couple of months between placements, the house felt strangely empty at times.

Yet, those things are not our primary motive in foster care. We didn’t get into fostering to serve as a placeholder until we could have children of our own. We did it for the second reason…

2. The need will always exist. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need other families to spend weeks, months, or even years raising and caring for someone else’s children. The world we live in, however, is far from perfect. Sometimes Children’s Division has no choice but to remove kids from their home for a period of time. When that happens, and no other family is available to take in the children, then the kids need and deserve a good home to feel safe and loved.

Having a biological baby doesn’t change that reality, and it doesn’t change our desire to provide such a temporary home for children in need.

And I want to encourage you, as well, dear reader: If you have never considered fostering, then please think and pray about it, whether or not you have your own biological children in your home. Maybe it’s not right for you or maybe you’ll find that you can help meet this need as well.

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What To Do While Waiting…

Sometimes waiting is the hardest part.

When my wife and I were first licensed as foster parents, we waited over three months before we received the call for a placement. (We do live in a less populated area, mind you. And after the first call came, there was a sudden bursts of phone calls from different circuits asking if we could take placements.) Now, having had our placements move on, we wait again.

Sometimes I feel frustrated in that wait. We have this house. We have these rooms. We signed up for this. That’s when my wife gently reminds me that it’s okay to not get a phone call. While we want to be there for kids in need, it’s a better thing to not have children in situations where the state must remove them.

Sometimes the system itself adds to the frustration. Recently, we were asked if we could take a large sibling set on a placement change. We said, “Yes,” and we started to prepare our house–a new set of bunk beds, a crib, booster seats… We even almost bought a car to accommodate. Then we received the news, “We decided we’re not moving the children at this time after all.”

All of this creates a roller coaster of emotions while we wait.

Patience is a virtue, they say. So, instead of dwelling on the frustration, what are some positive things that can be done while you wait (if you find yourself in a similar situation)?

You can play catch up. We all have favorite hobbies and past times. TV shows we like to watch and books we like to read. Foster parent, adoptive parent, or bio parent–having kids changes the amount of time you can devote to such things. Drastically. The quiet moments of the in between can be a time to catch up until you happily get behind again when the next placement comes.

You can work on “you”. We all have growth to do. We can all be better men and women, better dads and moms. Having children can expose some of your weak points–things that make us impatient, upset, or lazy. The in between can provide space to evaluate yourself and your strengths and weaknesses in care-giving. Then you can work on these, seek to improve, and seek to be better for the next round.

You can work on “us”. If you have a spouse, a significant other, or bio or adoptive children of your own, then the in between can provide a great opportunity to grow as a parent or as a couple. Fostering impacts your relationships. It can add joys as you work together to help children in need, but it can also add stresses as you face the trauma experiences they bring into your home, not to mention the change of environment and routine that comes from adding new people. Use the in between to recover and grow. Go on some extra date nights. Take a trip as a family. Spend one-on-one time with each of your children.

You can pray. As followers of Jesus, prayer is important to us. I’ve found the in between to be a good time for focused prayer, and maybe you’ll find it to be the same. You can pray for the children who have been in your home, that they might find peace, stability, and healing. You can pray for the children who will one day be in your home (even if you don’t know their names or faces), that your own hearts would be prepared to nurture them, provide them safety, and help them in their healing process.

What do you think? What other suggestions do you have for the waiting time of the in between?

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A Story about Eggs (and how fostering pushes you out of your comfort zone)

I hate eggs.

To say otherwise would be an understatement. No matter how they’re cooked, outside of cake or cookie batter, they don’t taste good to me at all. Most people think this is weird–How can you not like eggs? They’re delicious and full of protein and all of that… But it doesn’t change the fact that I hate eggs.

On the second morning of our first foster placement, our foster son came downstairs after my wife had left for work. We had made pancakes for his first morning and his first day at his new school. The second morning, I asked him if there was anything he wanted for breakfast.

His reply: “A fried egg.”

Okay, sure, no problem. I have no experience frying eggs, but I’ll give it my best shot.

“I know how to fry them. And I can fry you one, too.”

What do you do when you hate eggs but your new, nine-year-old foster son says that he wants to fry you an egg? You get out two eggs, let him fry away, and do your best to enjoy it (with a lot of hot sauce to help cover up the taste).

Fostering upsets your expectations. It pushes you out of your comfort zone in more ways than one. Welcoming a stranger into your life to live with you for a period of time brings plenty of new experiences. Sometimes it even forces you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do (in a good way).

Embrace it. Learn from it. Grow from it. And eat a fried egg, even if deep down you really don’t want to. You may just find yourself coming out better because of it.

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Why We Foster

When my wife and I first contacted our state’s Department of Family Services about foster care and adoption, we were planning only to be a foster-to-adopt family. It didn’t take long, though, through the course of our training to change our minds. We still want to foster-to-adopt some children, but we also decided to be engaged in traditional foster care.

Statistics tell us that on any given day, ~428,000 kids are in the foster system in the United States. In our state, Missouri, there are ~13,000 kids in foster care. The need, obviously, is great.

Two things drive us to play a role in foster care.

First, is the conviction of love. We believe that every child deserves to be loved. I like to define love as a commitment to happily seek the best for others. No child ends up in foster care because of a fault of their own. Some are there because tragedy has robbed them of family, but most are there due to neglect, abuse, or abandonment.

Most biological parents of foster kids desire to love their children, but something hinders the way that love is applied. Thus, these kids often experience far from the best. Some even experience the worst.

Foster kids need someone to love them (and someone to love their parents) for a season while attempts are made at improving their home life and the love given there. Now, sadly, such love will not be a panacea to all the trauma they have faced in life. They will battle figurative demons sometimes for years if not for life because of their experiences. Yet, a commitment by willing adults to love these children the best they can while they are in care will improve the possibility of a thriving future.

Second, is the conviction of faith. Allow me to get “religious” for a moment here: My wife and I are followers of Jesus. The sacred text of our faith (the Bible) opens with God creating humanity in his image. This, in part, means that every person has intrinsic worth and value. Even as the Bible goes on to describe all the ways we have come to screw up the world and life, it doesn’t devalue personhood.

Indeed, the highlight of the story is that Jesus came and died to rescue us from the mess, allowing us to be adopted into God’s forever family and giving us the hope of eternal joys beyond this life. This because God values humanity. Then, in the midst of this grand story, Jesus says that his people are the ones who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. In other words, we each play different parts in helping the disadvantaged.

We believe that our role in this work involves taking in strangers. Even if we don’t ultimately adopt a child as a part of our “forever family”, even if we only have them for a few weeks or months, we want to welcome these children into our homes to feel a part of a present family and hopefully make it the best experience for them that we possibly can.

They deserve to feel valued. They are, after all, made in the image of God just like you and me.

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Some Days You Get Punched in the Face

Rage.

We all deal with it to some extent. Different things enrage us, making us mad. We all handle it in various ways, too.

Just like our foster kids.

With some the rage is verbal. A child gets in trouble for the way he provoked another, and he ends up hiding under his bed yelling at you with tears, “You’re terrible people and I hate living here!” But then, some days you get punched in the face.

Some days you’re driving down the road and a child lets his anger fly along with his shoes as his feet pound the backs of the front seats. Then you pull the car into a parking lot, get in back with the child to keep him from running away while trying to calm him down. And when you reach over to keep him from escaping, he tries to bite you; when you pull back to keep from being bit, he throws punches; when you use your palm to absorb his punches, he tries to escape.

The rage continues. The cycle goes on. And he finally lands a fist to your lips. Fortunately the fists of a young kid don’t hurt that bad.

When the rage happens, in whatever form, you have to do your best to remain calm while also trying to protect yourself, the child, and property. It’s not easy, but your calm will help them weather the storm back to their calm.

Many foster kids have learned to be guarded as a defense mechanism. One of our foster sons, in a rare moment of vulnerability, told us that he almost always feels angry on the inside.

That’s what abuse and abandonment does. These kids deal with many bad things in life and they often grow up robbed of healthy coping mechanisms. So, when they’re in your care they can have the same sweet moments as many children, but they also have moments where the rage manifests in unhealthy ways.

Be their calm. Help them through. Remember that they need lots of love. Even on those days where they punch you in the face.

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