When we announced that we had become licensed as foster parents, we had a huge range of reactions from others. Most positive, some not. Many well intended remarks that sounded wrong to my ears, though I might not have understood why at the time.
One of the most common of these was an enthusiastic “Oh, how fun!”
“Oh, how fun!” Right? Babies are fun! Kids are fun! I am so excited to have babies and kids in our home! In that context it made sense. And don’t misunderstand–the kids themselves are fun. (And cheeky, and challenging, and everything else kids are.)
Of course you will have fun with your foster children. Each game of hide-and-seek will melt your heart. Every beautiful milestone will make you smile.
Yes, kids are fun. But foster parenting is not fun. Here’s why:
Inspections: Part of being licensed to provide foster care is having a home study. This includes interviews, references, and yes, what equates to basically a study of your home. I remember watching with horror as our very sweet licensing specialist opened our closets and took photos–they were clean enough, of course, but it made me feel so exposed! We had quarterly inspections with our agency from there, and were always aware that we could have a drop-in visit at any time from the state department. Where we live, we were also required to have a city health inspection and fire inspection each year. With small children in our home, always being “inspection ready” certainly wasn’t a lot of fun.
Paperwork: In addition to the paperwork completed during the licensing process, there is also a seemingly endless trail of papers for every child; extensive paperwork for each new placement, standard monthly paperwork outlining goals and progress for each child, at least a page for every appointment and visit, and detailed logs for prescription and over-the- counter medication were all part of our routine. Keeping it all organized and ready to be handed over at request is quite a task.
Appointments: Early on in our foster parenting journey, I did the math and realized that between in-home agency and caseworker visits, family visits for our kids, and various therapy and medical appointments, we were averaging 20 scheduled appointments a month. This varied over the course of our experience depending on our kids’ visitation and medical needs, but it was always a challenge to manage such a demanding schedule.
Training: All foster parents complete a number of training hours to become licensed initially, and are required to complete specific classes and additional hours of training each year to maintain their license. The number of hours depends on the level of care a family is licensed for, and varies throughout the country. For us, this meant 30 annual training hours each. While our agency was wonderful and tried to keep the classes rolling, it wasn’t usually the most enjoyable way to spend a Saturday.
Court: This is never fun. It’s emotional and draining. I’ve never been in a room so full of sorrow. Listening to accounts of abuse and neglect, to parents pleading with judges, and to lawyers detailing goals for permanency is something that just doesn’t get easier.
Uncertainty: For foster families open to adoption, it’s hard not to know whether you will be parenting a child for a week or a year or forever. Schedules change often depending on visitation, so planning too far ahead feels futile. Most difficult of all though is not being able to answer your foster child when they ask what’s going to happen to them, because you honestly don’t know.
Heartbreak: Each story in foster care begins with trauma. The goal is to provide safety and time for families to mend. When that happens fully, it is a beautiful thing–but even the most seasoned foster parents’ hearts break when a child leaves. When families can’t be mended, even if there are wonderful people waiting to adopt, there is first a tremendous loss. When there aren’t adoptive parents waiting, the heartbreak is more acute. Watching our children grow and knowing the pain of their past breaks my heart anew each day. Knowing that their birth families are hurting hurts. Foster care is as much about heartbreak as it is about anything, for everyone involved.
Foster care isn’t fun. It’s hard.
So, the four reasons why it’s worth it?
I have to admit, though, this is a little misleading. There are actually about 250,000 children who enter foster care each year. Some for a little while, some for far too long. And each one is a reason why foster care is worth it. Each child is in need of love and fun and a safe place to call home.
That thought is what I would go back to when it felt impossible–that as hard as it felt for us as parents, it was nothing compared to what our kids went through. No matter the circumstances left behind, removal is traumatic. No matter how good the foster parents, being placed in the home of strangers is frightening. Living with the result of abuse or neglect is unfair. None of the work we put in as foster parents compares.
Over 100,000 kids are waiting for adoptive homes right now, and no amount of paperwork or home inspections or training hours could outweigh what a forever family would mean to them.