I’ll be the first to admit that foster care is complicated. There are a lot of confusing parts and strange aspects. I know that most people do their best to understand and be supportive, but it doesn’t always feel that way. The real issue I’ve found is that, many times, people are operating with false information. There are also a lot of assumptions or misunderstandings. So, with the help of some foster parent friends of mine, I’ve come up with five things I wish you understood about foster care.
5. Foster parents are not saints, and we are not crazy (for the most part). Being a foster parent is hard work, yes. But, being a parent at all is hard work. Saying we are saints, or even crazy, makes it sound like we do this without struggle or support. Foster care is such a struggle and we do need support. Some days it feels like we cannot go on, sometimes we lock ourselves in the bathroom and cry, and sometimes we yell and curse into our pillows (I’m fairly certain that cursing disqualifies us from sainthood). Foster parents are parents—trying our hardest to figure out how to do the absolute best for our children, every day.
4. Foster parents do get attached. The number one comment I hear as a foster parent is “I could never be a foster parent; I would get too attached to send the kids back.” Here’s the deal: All of the foster parents I’ve ever met get too attached to their children. That’s their job. Foster parents are not robots programmed to stay detached from children living in their care, we are people who care deeply about keeping children safe. We chose this path because of the over 400,000 children in foster care who need safe homes, for a short time or forever. When these children, who we’ve invited into our home and accepted as our own, struggle with their past or move forward to their future, we feel deep emotions because we are too attached. We don’t do foster care because we somehow manage not to get attached, we do it because these kids deserve that attachment.
3. Foster children are not bad children. No child is in the foster care system because of something he or she did wrong. Not one. Every child in foster care is there because they have experienced some type of trauma or neglect and needed protection. It is true that many kids in foster care do struggle with behaviors as a result of the initial trauma they experienced, plus the upheaval of being removed from the only home and family they’ve ever known to be placed into a “safe” home full of strangers. Of course this instability affects emotions and behavior, especially in young children. These kids don’t need to be labeled, they need the space and opportunity to work through those issues and move forward.
2. Children in foster care are not “lucky.” The lucky children are those who get to stay with their birth family, never questioning their safety. Many kids in foster care have experienced more heartache and trauma than most adults I know. How is that lucky? Foster children who are placed in good homes are not lucky either—they are finally getting the chance to have what the majority of children never question, a safe and loving home. Calling them “lucky” implies that they don’t deserve that newfound safety and love as much as the children who have had it without interruption.
1. Children in foster care are just children. Above all else, children in foster care are just that, children. They want to be normal kids and do normal kid things. Their lives are already filled with things that set them apart—living with strangers, therapists visits, special medications, paperwork, caseworker visits—they just want to fit in. As foster parents, we try our best to provide these kids with some sense of normalcy, and we would love for everyone else to help us out. So call our children by their names instead of referring to them as our “foster child,” save your foster care questions for when they aren’t in the room, and treat our children the same as any other child.
There are so many nuances to foster care, but understanding these key points can go along way in understanding and supporting those involved in the system.