Can I Foster A Child? Things Every Foster Parent Should Know
There are so many wonderful reasons to do foster care. To help children in need is probably the greatest of these. Ever since our daughter moved in with us (through the foster care system), everyone has given me their opinions and experiences with the foster care system. I have heard everything from, we tried it and it was not right for our family, to I am going to be a foster parent once my children are grown. Regardless, I have found that many people have misconceptions of the foster care system.
To become a foster parent, one needs to ask themselves some basic questions about their family and their expectations. Make sure that what you envision is realistic. At our first foster parent class there were around 24 people in the room, at the end of the four week class there was 12 of us. Most left after the first day, because the teachers were brutally honest what we were getting ourselves into. I think we needed to hear it. We needed to be prepared for anything. So here I have laid out some things you should expect and be prepared for in order to become a successful foster parent.
Foster Agency Team
Are You Okay With Working With A Team?
The Parents: One of the big misconceptions people have about foster parenting is that you become that child's parent. In all honesty, you won't have the same influence or rights as the child's parent. If you're of a certain religious background, you may even think you will be able to spiritually save them. Unfortunately, if the biological parent does not want their child to go to church, then you need to respect that.
Often these children have years of their own beliefs stored up and won't immediately warm up to yours, just because you open the doors to them. If they do warm up to your religious beliefs it may be to please you, not some true conversion. I point this out, because to become a foster parent you need to realize that their biological parent, unless the rights are terminated, have authority over decisions you make. If they feel it is not in the best interest of the child, no matter how much you may disagree, you have to respect the child's biological parent's decision. You have become part of the same team as her, no matter how resistant she is to you.
Foster Care Agency: Not only will the biological parent be there, but you will be monitored at least once a month if not more by various social workers. They will give you advice, but you also need to make sure that you are open and honest with them. Many of these children not only have social workers, but they may also have psychologists, as well as a wide variety of therapist for areas they may be developmentally behind in. Then let's not forget the biological grandparents, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, etc. This is on top of coaches, doctors, teachers, peers, etc. And though you are with the child most, you are not the one calling the shots.
Also, you will need to bring these children to visit their parents, bring them to doctor visits, where parents might be there as well, along with a myriad of other times when you will cross paths with their biological parents. In some rare circumstances, they will keep foster parent and parent separate. They are just as scared to meet you as you are to meet them. Make sure they see that you are a warm caring person.
Unlike other children though, these teams will invade your privacy. You will be asked delving questions by the social worker that talks about stresses in your marriage, your past relationships, what you keep in your bathroom cupboard. They will know everything about you through home studies and periodic visits to the home, plus remember the children may also share information about you. One of the main areas that they will look into is how you deal with stress.
How Do You Cope With Stress and Anxiety
It's important for you to be honest with yourself in this area, but also the social workers. It may help them place more wisely with you. As I previously stated, foster parents are not the parents. They are under scrutiny and are held to higher expectations than a birth parent will be. If you have a hot temper and scream a lot, this may not be a concern for DHS as far as your biological children go, but this would not be tolerated for a child in the foster home.
For one, these children are going to test every boundary. They are looking for someone to love them, and may react in unlovable ways to see if they can trust the love you are trying to give out. They also have seen much more than many of us have, and may even know how to manipulate in ways that we are unprepared for. You need to be prepared for creative discipline without spanking.
Plus these children are going through a hard time, they need someone loving and patient to guide them. They need someone they can talk to and you as a foster parent needs to be able to handle what they tell you. Many times the reasons they are brought into foster care are ugly. Some will need help dealing with drug issues, abuse, neglect, loss, death. You also need to ask yourself whether you are prepared for certain cases. This means that you need to be very honest with yourself. Do not take a child into your home, if you are feeling like you cannot deal with their circumstance. The workers hear no a lot. Don't be afraid to turn away a child, because you may be blessing them with a better equipped home.
For instance, maybe you were drawn to foster care because you were abused as a child and want to help others who are going through similar situations. That's great! But you may want to ask yourself and be honest, are you completely healed from that abuse. If the answer is no, you may react in a way that may negatively impact the child's own healing process. The last thing a child needs to see is someone breaking down to them telling their story. They need to feel that it's okay to share this story, and though they can share their story and be saddened by it, they have a stable adult that can handle it.
How Do Others Feel about You Becoming a Fostering Family?
You are not the only one who needs to be able to handle these situations well. Even those in your immediate family or friends who are not going to hear the child's stories, and they SHOULDN'T, will have their opinions. You need to make sure that those around you are going to be supportive of that child. If you are surrounded by naysayers, do you think that's healthy to bring a child into that.
Although there is a point where you have to decide that it doesn't matter what others think, the reaction and opinions of those around you will impact the child you bring in. Many of these children have undergone tremendous loss and rejection. If those around you are unsupportive or severely judgmental, or even racist, this only adds another rejection or loss that they will experience. You will need to decide whether the relationship or doing foster care is more important.
If you have a wonderful support group who will love you as well as any child in your home regardless of the reason for this, this will help you and the children in so many ways. I am fortunate enough to have this, and it has not only been a blessing for my adoptive daughter, but also for my husband and I as we hit new challenges.
How Much Do Foster Parents Get Paid?
There is a false impression surrounding foster care that you can make money doing this. Now, yes, foster parents do get paid, but a very small amount in comparison to what a child actually needs. Children are expensive. For one, if it's an infant, think of the cost of diapers and formula, even as a child gets older they need not only necessities, but also experiences like a normal child that will cost money.
I believe the average child gets less than 15 dollars a day that will go to the foster parent. There is in most states a clothing allowance, but realistically if you receive 100 dollars twice a year as we did, how much clothes does that really buy? By the time you buy a winter coat, snowpants, boots, and shoes, you have already spent that plus some. Keep in mind also that what you buy is theirs. When and if they leave, you'll be packing those clothes, toys, books. You are not able to use these same items as a hand-me-down for the next child as you might your own children.
Also, children grow. My first year with my daughter, she started out as a size 4 in three months she was a size 5, three months later a size 6, and yes, you have to buy these clothes for them. Plus some of the children have moved a lot, and don't come to you with many clothes, or even toys that most kids take for granted. There were two kids who came into our home, and they had two outfits, which the state provided, and one toy each. This is VERY typical. In the more severe case of a child being taken out of a Meth home, they lose all their belongings due to them being considered a health hazard. Although most states will give extra money in these circumstances it won't cover everything. Plus you have to be able to gently handle the added loss the child will feel, not only losing their parents, their home, but all their things. Not being able to bring anything of theirs with them.
Other expenses that may be overlooked that are necessities for foster care is bed, dresser, desk, toy bin, games, toys, school supplies, coats, clothes, movie tickets, plane tickets (if you go on a trip), restaurant meals, etc.
Why Do You Want to Be a Foster Parent
You need to make sure that your expectations are realistic. For instance if you are wanting to do it so you have extra money, you certainly won't! If you want to build your family this way, although this works, it is very risky. More than fifty percent of the children that come into foster care will go back home to their biological parents. That is the goal of every child in the foster care system. They don't want to give you the child, they want to rehabilitate their biological parent. Even in cases that the social worker thinks the child will be placed up for adoption, even then there is no guarantees. Are you okay with handling your own loss of a child?
If your intent is to change someone's life, although that is very noble of you, you need to be realistic. You can hope, you can try, but the only person who can change someone's life is the person themselves. You can give them the tools and know how to do it, but chances are you won't see the fruits of your labor. Maybe something you said will stick with them, but once they go back home, it's hard to know what sticks with them, and what doesn't.
So if you are considering becoming foster parents, be real with yourself. Is this right for you? Can you handle the stress, can you afford it, are you really in it for the right reasons. Then if so, go for it. It's rewarding, although in ways you might not expect.
© 2010 Angela Michelle
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