I often tell people that foster care is the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done. It’s true. Being a foster parent is all of the responsibility of being a parent (plus court hearings and visits with lawyers, social workers, CASAs, and biological family) without many of the rights (the agency has temporary custody of the child, so you cannot approve haircuts, much less daycare placements or medical procedures). It is a wild ride, this business of foster care, and it is not for everyone. Here are a few questions to consider before you take the plunge and start the licensing process:
Can you love regardless of the outcome?
When I talk to people who are considering foster care, this is often a big concern. They wonder whether they can let down their guard and fully love a child without knowing how the case will end. Foster parents are not super human. We do not have some special way of compartmentalizing our emotions and guarding ourselves against disappointment. We love. We parent. We attach. And when a child leaves our home (even when we believe it to be for the best), we grieve. And then we do it again. We know that few things in life are guaranteed. We choose to do hard things because we know that the children in our care never got that choice.
Do you have an excellent support system in place?
This is crucial. Essential. Non-negotiable. Foster parents cannot do this work alone. If you are considering foster care, talk to the people close to you. Get them on board. As you go through the licensing process, consider asking a few friends or family members to be fingerprinted and background-checked so they can provide childcare when you need it. As you take classes, get to know other new and veteran foster parents. And when people tell you to let them know if you need anything, make a note (I am absolutely serious). Foster care is hard. You will need to call in every favor—and then some. Make sure you have a village behind you. Otherwise, you will burn out in no time.
Do you have a flexible job (or a willingness to take a lot of personal time)?
Foster care is unpredictable. Children come into care at all hours of the day and night. Court hearings and urgent meetings can be scheduled quickly and without foster parent input. Children may or may not attend school in your district and finding daycare (especially those coveted infant spots) can take time. You always hear that you can have a full-time job and still be a foster parent. I am living proof that this is true. But it is not easy to manage. And as much as employers claim to be “family friendly,” foster care can put this to the test.
Are you prepared to sacrifice your privacy and your time?
This was one of the most surprising challenges for me. Before foster care, I considered myself a pretty private person. I didn’t share my home (or my personal business) easily and I needed a lot of alone time. Five years into the foster care journey, I still feel like my life and my family and my parenting are on display for a revolving door of professionals. Nothing is private. And alone time? I have to be very purposeful about managing the details of my schedule to make it happen (and I am . . . and it does . . . but it is hard!)
Are you ready to grow your heart, meet some incredible people, and change the world?
If you’re still reading, get ready for the good news. Foster care just might be the best thing you ever do. Yes, it’s hard and unpredictable. It can also be incredibly rewarding. The snuggles, the hard-fought respect, the amazing friends who “get” your crazy life and the knowledge that every day you are making a very real difference in the life of a child. These are the rewards. This, too, is foster care.
If you are considering foster care, I urge you to take the first step. Reach out to your local agency. Attend an informational meeting. Talk to foster parents in your community. Learn more and find out if foster care is for you.