If you are new to foster parenting or you're considering that path, this is for you. I hope you read it, but more than that, I hope that this post is the first step in a lifelong learning process for you.
Look: I know you're overwhelmed right now, and probably getting A LOT of information from a lot of different directions. I see you in the Facebook groups and on the instagram hashtags, and you're so excited and you say you want to learn. I really hope that that's really true.
It's hard to know how to say what needs to be said without turning you away from this path entirely, or hurting feelings that might already be hanging on by a thread. I know many of you came to this pathway to parenthood after sustaining horrible losses, and while it's imperative that you understand that foster care cannot minimize minimize or erase those losses, I also want to be considerate of your feelings.
Because angry, hurt people don't listen, they don't learn, and then they keep on doing this foster care thing wrong. I hear that saying "hurt people hurt people" ALL the time, but I don't think foster parents ever think to apply it to themselves.
This is such a complex road to walk, and it's so important that you start the lifelong journey of equipping yourself to walk it well as soon as possible.
It's important for you sure, but much more crucially, it's important for the child. Because that child you haven't met yet? They're not going to be how you've imagined them. They're not going to need what you think they're going to need. It's all going to be so much different, so much harder and more complex, than any training could ever prepare you for.
I'm afraid you've been lied to, by society, by the media, and even by other people who've walked this road as foster parents. Unfortunately, foster care is a corrupt system, catering too often to the needs and wants of the most privileged members of those communities, the foster parents. And as a result of that, a lot of what you thought you knew is wrong.
We don't have a ton of time, and I know you're a busy person, so I made you a list:
A (very unfiltered) list of what you need to know as a new foster parent:
How not to be an Asshole: the foster parent starter pack on not being a dick
Don't be like that foster mom on instagram: There's a better way!
Foster Parenthood: We all fuck it up a little bit, here's how to fuck it up a little less
1) Foster care is not your free adoption agency. (Pssttt, people who primarily want to adopt but can't or won't pay for it, this one is for you!) The phrase foster to adopt is a very popular one, but it's not an ethical term or concept. The mission for every child when they first enter foster care, especially as an infant, is reunifying with their first family in some way. It is never ever acceptable to pursue foster parenting with the hope and intention to adopt. The foundation behind why you do this sacred work matters immensely, and if your heart is not in the right place, you will be doing more harm than good. If you are ready to fight for reunification with everything you have, and prepared to give your everything to a baby or child that might not stay, then fostering is a good choice for you. But if adoption is your goal, pump the brakes. You're not ready to enter the foster care world right now (No ifs, ands, or buts. I said what I said. Go do your homework and come back when your heart beats for reunification above all other options). There are other routes for you to look into if adoption is your goal (like waiting child adoption!) but families in crisis deserve foster parents who will fight for them, no adoption agenda included.
2) Foster care=trauma for ALL kids who experience it, young or old (people who only want to take babies because they don't want to deal with the affects of trauma, this one is for you!) Trauma is a real thing that really sucks (and it doesn't only affect older kids.) These babies are hurting, like really suffering, in ways you can't imagine until you live it with them every day. Please don't step into their worlds unless you're ready to fight through trauma with them. People give up on these kids all the time, like literally every day. Everyone wants to fight to keep siblings together in theory but when the oldest lashes out and seems too big and too scary to handle, they get booted from the foster home faster than you can say "disruption". Our foster agency experiences disruptions of foster children every month, and those calls are just heart-sinking to hear. Everyone wants to have a beautiful adoption story and be in one of those viral courthouse Facebook posts, but many of those babies don't make it to happily ever after in their adoptive home, and are instead re-abandoned once the family realizes the hard work that comes after the happy ending. Like for real, there's a whole agency whose purpose is to find new adoptive homes for children whose adoptive families abandoned them (Second Chance Adoptions). The behaviors that can originate from a child experiencing the types of traumas and losses that kids in foster care experience can be hard to live with every day. It's hard on the child and it's hard on their family, hard as hell at times. When I say hard as hell, know that I mean that shit. Don't walk this road if you're a quitter, because I'm sick and tired of kids being given up on, I really am. And don't let me see you out here talking about "we didn't know/we weren't told about this or that behavior" because I'm telling you right now: Be ready for anything.
3) Former foster youth are the real experts on foster care (people who ONLY want to learn from other foster parents who look like them and mirror their own views, this one is for you!) Listen to former foster youth first. Other foster and adoptive parents aren't the ones you really need to be listening to. Many of them are toxic influences, and the real experts are former foster youth and adoptees. The culture around foster care is slowly shifting (thank GOD) but it has been very foster parent focused for a very long time. Most foster parents, myself included, have a lot of learning and unlearning to do. Start with these truths: You're not a savior as a foster parent, and you're not an expert either. The people we need to listen to and learn from are the people who actually lived it. Read their memoirs, listen to their podcasts, follow them on social media, buy their educational products. Challenge yourself to find a new way to do this well, even if it's not the way most others are doing it.
4) Foster care is not your very own Build-A-Bear of children. (People who have a strict age range of 0-2 years old and won't take kids with disabilities or ANY extra challenges, this one is for you!) If you're in general SUPER specific about WHO you will help, then you're not actually helping. We don't need more "one healthy baby only" homes. And by that I mean, you're not meeting the actual needs represented in the child welfare system. If you want to go where the need is, you need to be open to a wide range of ages and needs. Kids over age 5 need foster homes too. Teens need foster families too. Kids with disabilities need committed foster parents too. Siblings needs foster homes where they will be kept together, not more "one healthy baby ONLY" homes that enable counties to separate out the youngest sib. Those demographics of people need someone to step up for them a hell of a lot more than typically developing little babies. It's time for you new people to open your homes and hearts to them, because those of us who have been doing this for a while are sick of getting calls for sweet kids that no one else wants to help when our homes are already full. We're sick of hearing "None of our other families will take kids like this." It's time ya'll start!
5) Foster care is NOT ABOUT YOU!!!! (People who....no wait, this one is for myself. And you. It's for all of us.) Is it truly helping if you go into it with your own goals of what you'd like to get out of it for yourself? Is it true giving if you also expect to receive? Is it realistic to expect kids coming from traumatic crisis situations to NOT implode our whole lives as we knew them?
No, no, and no. Get comfortable with sacrifice. Cuz this road we walk as foster parents is broken as hell, and without the ability to be selfless, you will not survive it. That's a lesson I have had to learn again and again, and am still learning, every day.
New foster parent, even though it may seem otherwise, I'm really not trying to discourage you, or offend you, or upset you. I'm trying to empower you to equip yourself to be the foster parents your sweet children in care will need. And the thing is, there's no time for anger or hurt feelings (especially about what some random loud mouth chick on the internet said!) Kids in foster care need educated, ethical foster parents NOW. They need unconditional love and commitment TODAY. They can't afford for you to care more about your feelings than you do about doing what is best for them. They can't afford to keep ending up in homes that are stepping up for the wrong reasons, that are ill-equipped and misinformed.
Let's find a better way to walk this road, for the kids' sake. Because after all, this whole damn journey is about, and for, them.