When people ask me where I recommend starting when becoming a foster parent, I always say that we couldn’t have don’t it without the help of our agency. During our time as foster parents, our agency became our lifeline. They provided the training classes we needed, conducted our home study, and worked with us to decide on what types of placements we would be able to accept. They acted as an intermediary between our family and Child Services, organizing placements and helping us prepare by getting as much information for us as they could. They came with us to court hearings and meetings with our child’s caseworkers and attorneys.
Most importantly, they answered our many, many questions without fail. We truly feel that having an amazing, attentive agency was instrumental in our foster care journey.
Darcy Barron works for an agency like this—she helps to recruit and train foster and adoptive parents to care for children who have been abused and neglected, and provided support for the family through the process.
Having come from a position as a caseworker for Child Protective Services and later working at various child advocacy groups and placement agencies, Darcy has seen many children enter into foster care over her 25-year career, and has worked with them and their foster families during this challenging adjustment time.
When I asked what she would encourage new foster parents to remember about what their foster children are going through, her thoughtful response sent me back to the first days we shared with our sweet sons:
1. They miss their parents. Most want to go back home to what is familiar, whether it’s good or bad. It doesn’t mean they don’t like your home. Don’t take it personally.
2. They are scared. What might look like “bad behavior” is really a child revealing that he is scared.
3. They are conflicted. They want to love you but they don’t want to hurt their parents. They want to be loved by you, but they don’t want to hurt their parents.
4. They will act out. When they do, treat it as a compliment; it means they trust you. And they will try several times to see if you are going to stick it out with them. Don’t be surprised by this, because it will happen. They want you to prove that you are worthy of their trust. They want to trust you!
5. Assume you will need to guide this child with the simplest things. Many children may have never sat at a table to eat or used utensils. Many have never learned to brush their teeth, or wash their hair, or bathe properly. Sometimes, they have never slept in a bed by themselves, or even slept in a bed. You are their guide. They will need kindness and understanding.
6. Talk to them about their parents and family. They need to process their feelings and you will most likely be that person they will want to do that with. You have to be ready to deal with some incredible pain. You can do this. Just be honest with them.
7. Listen to them. Do not judge their experience up to this point. You are there to provide them with new experiences and new stories, not to condemn their past.
Everything that Darcy cautions, we experienced with our boys. They were scared, they acted out. Foods that most children are familiar with were new to them. They had no routine whatsoever, and sleeping through the night was a new skill. It was what they knew. Without the caring direction we received from out agency, we would have been unprepared. I will forever be thankful for their support.