Foster parenting can be challenging in many ways. You will definitely be called on to do things many parents don’t have to deal with. For one, you are taking children into your home that you just don’t know. You won’t know what they like to eat, what they like to do, or what they have been through. In addition, you will be expected to help with visitation. These visits can be very traumatic for them as they struggle to understand their new normal. You will have to work with case workers and court officials to help move the case along to either reunification with the biological family, adoption, or some other permanent placement. I won’t tell you it is easy. But your foster child will be depending on you to get them through this difficult time.
Here are some of the essential things your foster child will expect from you.
I remember when my oldest came to us. She was 2 ½ years old. The first time the doorbell rang in our house, she ran to me, grabbing on to my leg for dear life. She was terrified. I speculated that in her prior living arrangement, people appearing at the door was not usually a good thing. The same thing happened when our case worker paid her first visit. Again, she grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. We realized she thought the case worker was going to take her away.
Foster kids, above anything else, need to feel safe. These children come from difficult situations, where safety is not guaranteed. They were just pulled away from the only family they knew. Many of these children have a hard time trusting adults. After all, adults have let them down, so why trust them? It will be your job to be that one place that they can consider safe. Be that safe place for them to lay their heads, and you will have done a wonderful thing for them.
While this one can seem obvious, it does need some discussion. Love is an action word. It requires action on your part. The people who are supposed to love these kids the most are no longer around. So, don’t be fooled into thinking that saying I love you is enough. They have heard it before, and yet here they are in a strange place, with people they don’t know. It will take time. You will need to build trust, and they will test you. They are going to want to be sure that your actions are real, that the love they see in your home is not some phony love that will disappear, only to crush them once again.
When our oldest first came into our lives, she was terrified of the dark. For the first three weeks, I sang the song “You Revive me” by Christy Nokels, while I laid down on the floor next to her bed, holding her hand until she was asleep. Our youngest came to us at 11 months and would often cry for long periods of time. We would rock her in our arms as she arched her back against us, until finally she accepted our hugs. Foster kids are coming to you from very difficult situations. Be ready for this. You will need to step out of your comfort zone. You may have to deal with behaviors you have never seen before. It will take great understanding on your part. They desperately want you to just “get” them, and you will need to meet them where they are, with a nurturing and loving heart.
This is such an important one. I didn’t realize the fight I was in until the day I became a foster dad, and now an adoptive dad. Foster kids have lost their family. They have lost their mom and their dad. Think about when you were young. Remember how much you looked to your mom and dad for everything? Yeah, these kids don’t have that. But they do have you. And you will have to be persistent. You will need to be their fiercest advocate. When they need to see their biological family, you will persist to make sure it happens. When they need to see a doctor, and no one can find their medical records, you will persist to make it happen. When the courts say something, or are looking to make a decision you know is not right, you will stand up and persist to make sure these kids are well represented.
I hope my words help. I can tell you, everything I write here are things I have lived through. I cannot tell you that being a foster and adoptive parent is easy. But I shudder to think what would have happened if I had not answered the call. Where would my kids be today? I can thank God that I don’t have to answer that question.