Looking for a reason not to foster? Many people are. But there are many reasons to foster. Currently, there are 400,000 kids in foster care, and 100,000 of them are available for adoption. If these facts or the fact that all foster children are considered legally homeless isn’t enough to motivate you to do your part, I don’t know what will. As a foster care and adoption social worker, part of my duty is to recruit more qualified families. I’ve heard many excuses in my 25 years of personal experience and 12 years of professional experience. However, I am about to debunk the top excuses I’ve heard over the years.
1. I could never let go of a child after attaching to her.
My response: “Great! That’s just the type of families we need!” Foster care is supposed to be temporary. And during that time, a foster parent’s job is to pack as much love and affection as possible into a short amount of time. Most, if not all, foster children have experienced some type of trauma in their lives, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or abandonment. They have been let down by their primary caregiver who failed to properly attach to them. They need another adult to model what proper attachment looks like. They need someone who will be there to meet their needs on a daily basis. They need someone who will give them unconditional love. They need you.
2. I’ve already raised my kids.
Empty nesters are no longer rare in our communities. They are in abundance! You’ve raised your kids who are now in college or in the workforce or who have started their own families. Congratulations! Have you considered taking in an older foster child or teen? Empty nesters are perfect for foster youth because they can focus all of their attention on that youth. Also, older foster parents are gritty veterans who are not easily frazzled by the inconsistency and turbulence that come with adolescence. Your experience goes a long way in preparing a foster youth for independent living. Go ahead and take a chance and pour your life into a kid at risk!
3. I already have kids!
My response: “Perfect! A foster kid needs an example of a functional family!” Many foster children have never regularly sat down at the dinner table for a meal. Many have never gone on a real vacation. Many have never had a real, consistent routine for bed, nor been taught dental hygiene, nor have they had three square meals a day. A healthy, family, while not perfect, is a good way to show that child what is it to have his or her needs met on a daily basis. The growth and development I’ve seen in a child placed in a caring family are astonishing. I think the success and potential of that growth far outweighs any fear you may have about bringing a strange child into your home.
4. I’ve heard horrible things about the system.
This is a valid concern. In many states, interacting with the Child Welfare System can be a harrowing experience. The unreturned calls, the miscommunication, the slow legal system is enough to cause some foster parents to quit within the first year. My answer is this: create another system to counteract that system: a support system. This is a natural support team such as family, friends, your church family, or the community at large who will wrap around you and your family to provide things such as respite, clothing, diapers, or simply emotional support when things get tough. It is also necessary to find another experienced family who can mentor you in what to expect and to perhaps accompany you to meetings and hearings that you may unfamiliar with. Having this kind of team around you can be a breath of fresh air and can literally support you when you feel like giving up.
Barring any genuine reason for not fostering such as a criminal record, a pending eviction, or a terminal illness, every emotionally and physically healthy family should consider fostering a child at least once in their lives. This can be a life-changing experience not only for the child, but also for you as well. Fostering is challenging; it requires patience and thick skin. There will always be reasons not to foster. But there is one reason to do so: to make a difference in the life of a child. Will you be that difference maker?