There are two faces of foster care, sort of like Dr. Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk. On the one hand, there are some great people who are doing great work, have great intentions, and want to help children recover from abuse, neglect, or abandonment. On the other hand, being a foster parent can be a nightmare. It can be like watching someone who was once mild-mannered and unassuming turn into a huge, seven-foot, green monster that is fully out of control. Below is a list of the pros and cons of foster care.
The Incredible Hulk
In the Marvel Comic series, The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner is a scientist whose experiment went horribly wrong. It inadvertently turned him into a huge green monster whenever he got angry. Sometimes, foster care can feel like a Hulk fully out of control. Unreturned calls from caseworkers. Hostile biological parents. Scheduling nightmares. Kids with intense mental health needs. A slow and, sometimes, infuriating legal system. No one can be fully prepared for the emotional toll that foster care can take on you. I haven’t even mentioned the false allegations, disruptions, and investigations that foster parents may experience. Yikes! It’s enough for a strong person to curl up into a fetal position in a small corner of the room, somewhere. It’s no wonder that most foster parents quit after one year.
There are many reasons that foster parents quit; for one, they feel that the benefits don’t outweigh the risks of being a foster parent. People need to feel that they are accomplishing something and making a difference. If they feel like that they are not valued, they will move onto something else where they are. Another reason is that there is a lack of support for the child as well as the foster parent. The solution is to have natural supports for the child rather than another referral to spend time with another stranger. Is there someone in the extended family, or the faith community, or the community at large who have been a comfort to the child in the past? Maybe they can be a comfort again in this time of change. As for the foster parent, supports such as respite, training, and even counseling can be a breath of fresh air.
Like the mild-mannered scientist, Dr. Banner, foster care can be pleasant, calm, and very compliant. There can be a lot of huge successes like when a child is reunited with their biological mom or dad, when a child is adopted, or when an 18- year-old ages out of the system to go to on to college, the military, or to become a successful member of the workforce. That’s success! However, success in foster care probably comes in small packages. Like when your 5-year-old only has two meltdowns a day, rather than three. Or when your teen foster daughter gives you a hug rather than hating and despising the very air you breathe. Or when the biological parents of your foster kids shake your hand to say, “thank you for taking care of my kids.” Or when your foster kids start calling you “Mom” and “Dad” and start to introduce you to others as “my Mom” and “my Dad.” My biggest feel-good moment was when two of our foster children became available for adoption. The biological parents voluntarily relinquished their parental rights and fully recommended me and my wife to adopt their children. That was a blessing!
It is easy to criticize foster care and see the negative. But there is also much good to see! Yes, there are huge problems in the Child Welfare System. In many states, the system is becoming unmanageable and growing into a Hulk that threatens to undo all the good that we have worked so hard to achieve. But the solution is people. There are many bad systems in place, but there are good people with good intentions who do good things. We can and need to find good foster parents and surround them with good supportive people so that their foster children will grow into good, productive members of society. Not the Hulk.