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.

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.