Overcoming Fears in Foster Parenting Part 2: What If They Have Needs I Can’t Handle?

We’re talking about some fears that potential foster parents have, fears that get in the way of taking the step to become a foster parent. Last month, we looked at the time demands of being a foster parent. This month, we’re addressing another common concern: whether a foster parent can meet the physical, emotional, and behavioral needs of children in foster care.

While children enter foster care through no fault of their own, it is still true that the circumstances of their life have a real impact on them. Research shows that neglect, exposure to abuse, and even stress changes brain development and show up as learning difficulties, trouble interacting with adults or peers, and/or a host of other behavioral issues. Sometimes potential foster parents will ask themselves, “What if they have needs I can’t handle?”

On one hand, it’s good to consider, and even seek training on, issues common to kids in foster care. Parenting a child from trauma is different than parenting a child who hasn’t been exposed to trauma. If you have biological children, you won’t necessarily be able to use the same methods that worked with your kids. Even if you don’t have biological children, your family and friends may not understand why you make the parenting choices you do. Foster children who join their permanent homes as babies are not immune to this, whether they suffer from issues stemming from their adoption or even effects from prenatal exposure that doesn’t show up until the child is older.

On the other hand, however, these concerns are not unique to foster and adoptive parents. No child, no matter their family situation, is guaranteed exemption from tragedy or trauma. And though some behavioral disorders or issues might be more prevalent in kids in foster care, they exist in kids with healthy family histories, too. When you have a biological child, the child is yours, no matter what issues may be present at birth or develop later; many biological parents have been faced with a diagnosis they were sure they couldn’t handle, only to rise to the occasion. This can be true of foster parents, too.

Remember, there is almost always help available. Additional training for the foster parent, therapy for the child and/or the family, respite care, support groups, a community of people that get it, all of these are tools that you can use to get what you need to care for the child in your home. And, there is always the option to move the child. Placement disruption should be avoided whenever possible, but most of the time, the full extent of a child’s needs are not known at the time of placement. Social workers can do their best to place a child in a home that will meet their needs, but this is never guaranteed. Sometimes their needs may be too much for you to handle. Sometimes, the child’s needs may lead to an unsafe situation for the child or for others in the home. There are always options available, but you need to be willing to ask for help.

While children in foster care do have real needs, and you should never approach becoming a foster parent blindly. What foster kids need most are the same things that every child needs: love, safety, stability, routine, someone to help them fight their battles and develop their strengths. If you are willing to do that, you can be a great foster parent.