Foster Parenting Myths DEBUNKED

Have you considered becoming a foster parent but are unsure if fostering is a good fit for the season of life you’re in? Do you feel called to foster but encumbered by obstacles (genuine or perceived) that are delaying your obedience in this area? We want to challenge you to investigate some of the most common misconceptions that hinder families from opening their homes to care for kids. Additionally, spend some time in prayer about your motivations for becoming a foster parent and keep an open mind & heart about how you can impact the lives of neglected, abused and abandoned children.

I live in an apartment.

Foster parents live in all kinds of homes. Apartments, houses, mobile homes, townhouses, little country cottages and mansions on the hill may all welcome foster children. All dwellings must be health, safety and fire inspected, as well as meet minimum requirements about the amount of square footage appropriate per person. Child placing agencies provide foster parents with a guide and checklist they can use to walk through their home and make sure it will meet the qualifications for licensing. Sometimes small modifications (such as adding a door to a room that doesn’t have one) can be made to bring a home up to standards. In general, children may share rooms with other children of the same gender and infants may sleep in a caregiver’s room in a crib.

I’m single.

Single individuals may be licensed as foster parents with most child placing agencies. Like any other household, you’ll need to be financially stable, independent, and have space in your home for children. If you have a roommate, parent living with you, or someone who stays over regularly, be upfront with your agency. Other adults living in the home are part of the agency’s considerations when it comes to foster parent licensing and need to be part of the training and homestudy process.

I’m divorced.

See above information about single individuals. Divorced individuals must provide proof of divorce. Your child placing agency may require you to wait 2 or more years after a divorce to become licensed (as is the case with almost any major life change or loss).

I’m too old. 

As long as your health is stable and you’re able to care for children, age does not preclude you from becoming a licensed foster parent. Seasoned parents often bring a lifetime of parenting experience to the table, but no parenting experience is required. It is important to recognize that, due to the trauma, loss and abuse foster children have endured, foster children require unique discipline and parenting approaches. Your child placing agency should supply you with ample training opportunities and resources on this topic. “Empty nesters” often find their adult children are excited and willing to help with the nurturing and care of their younger foster siblings.

I enjoy traveling.

So do foster kids! Typically, foster children are permitted to travel with their foster parents within the United States. Permission can (in some situations) also be granted for international travel. A child’s visitation schedule with their parents or siblings, school attendance, and health are factors taken into consideration by their caseworker before a trip can be approved. A caseworker or judge may need a detailed travel itinerary well in advance of your trip, so plan ahead. A family vacation or road trip can be a fun, bonding experience for any child and caregiver. As a foster parent, you have the incredible opportunity to give a child a new, exciting experience. For emergencies (or trips that are not appropriate for children in your care) you may be able to arrange respite care (another foster family who can babysit while you’re out of town) for children in your home.

My spouse is not on board.

Do NOT begin the foster care or adoption journey if your spouse is not on board. It’s okay if one of you is more enthusiastic than the other, but a united effort is imperative. Investigate, share what you find, and pray that God will give you both clarity about his plans for your family.

I’m want to foster, or even adopt, but I’m on a tight budget.

Foster parents come in all shapes and sizes… as do their homes and incomes. As long as you are financially stable and able to provide for everyone in your home, a modest income should not preclude you from becoming a foster parent. Individuals who are already accustomed to careful budgeting are often the most resourceful parents and advocates for their foster children. Foster parents receive a small, daily reimbursement for each foster child in their home. These funds help offset the cost of meeting the child’s needs. When a child arrives in care, they may not have sufficient clothing or hygiene items. Providing an entire wardrobe, car seat, baby equipment, diapers and more can make the first few months of a new “placement” pretty slim, but it’s a great opportunity to look into what help and resources are available in your community. From foster parent supply closets to free school supplies, there are many individuals and nonprofits eager to help children in need. Foster children automatically qualify for free school lunches, WIC and Medicaid. Sports and camp scholarships based on household income can be applied for based on the child’s “household income” (daily reimbursement). Additionally, should you have the opportunity to adopt a child from foster care, this process is very low cost. Adoptions from foster care are generally less than $2,000. Some children with special needs adopted from foster care are eligible for a small, monthly stipend to help offset the cost of their care longterm.

I’m too young.

The minimum age requirement for becoming a foster parent is just 21 years of age. For young, married couples both spouses must be over the age of 21. Child placing agencies may suggest that younger couples care for younger children, so there is an appropriate age-gap between caregiver and child. Some young adults living at home with their parents become licensed together as a household/team.

have children of my own.

Most foster parents in Texas are currently, or have already, parented children of their own. The interaction between your biological, foster and adopted children can be a healthy, beneficial experience for all. Foster parents may choose to foster children younger than their own children, older, or even the same age. You can select the age range of children you’re open to caring for. There cannot be more than 6 children [total] in the home at any time. Children over the age of 18, but still living at home, may become licensed caregivers and would not be counted as part of the 6. In some cases, agencies may license “group homes”. These can be typical, two-parent households that go through additional training and meet a different set of minimum standards to allow for more than 6 children in the home. If you already have 6 children in your home, you will want to check with your child placing agency in advance to make sure they offer group home licensing and that you meet the requirements for this certification.

But my kids are really little…

What a perfect time to begin teaching your children generosity, hospitality and love for their neighbors! 1 Peter 4 says that we should put aside our desires and focus on the will of God, and to “8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” If you’re waiting for the perfect time to start fostering, you may find that the day never arrives. A teenage foster child may flourish with the opportunity and honor of being a big sister. Likewise, having younger children in the home provides an appropriate setting for children who may have missed early childhood play and experiences to go back and help a little sister dress a baby doll or learn to braid hair. While some foster children may do better as the youngest or only child in the home, most foster children enter homes where other children already reside.

I haven’t parented before.

Well, there’s a first time for everything! Many individuals without parenting experience become foster parents. Experience caring for children in the age-range of children you wish to foster is always beneficial, but not required to become a foster parent. Your agency should provide you some basic parenting, discipline and safety training for a variety of ages. If you are new to foster parenting AND parenting, it may be helpful to provide respite care (babysitting for a few hours or days) for other foster parents to get some experience. Make sure you have a network of experienced moms and dads who can help coach you through the challenges you will face and answer questions you may have.

I work full time.

Because foster parents are expected to be financially stable and independent, it’s common for one or both parents to work full time. Foster children who are school-age must attend public school, but can also attend before and after school care programs. Infants and preschool age children may attend daycare facilities or stay with in-home babysitters or nannies. In some cases, caregivers who work full time may qualify for financial aid for specific daycare programs. Finding care for a child who arrives in your home with little notice can be challenging, so it’s helpful to talk with your employer about taking leave or days off when children are placed in your home. A flexible work schedule is ideal, but not imperative.

I have a disability.

Many individuals with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses serve as foster parents. As with any foster parent, you should prayerfully consider the age of children you feel able and equipped to care for, and the types of special needs you feel you can accommodate. Discuss your concerns and strengths with your child placing agency. You know you

rself and your abilities best. The stability of the family as a whole is key for foster parenting success. Your agency may require you to take a break if your health,

or that of others in the household, becomes unstable or is negatively affected by the strenuous work of foster parenting.

 

I couldn’t love a child then let them go.

Foster care is a journey filled with challenges, adrenaline, trauma, joy, growth, heartbreak and loss. And it’s not easy for the foster parents either. To love a

child fully, even if only for a time, is an incredible investment in that child’s life and well-being. Knowing that your relationship with a child is likely to come to an end is a sad justification to avoid loving them in the first place. For some children, their time in foster care is the healthiest and most stable experience of their lives. Foster parenting can give your family front row seats to beautiful reunifications that take place when a child is returned to parents who have created a safe home for them. Beyond the children in your care, you can encourage and love a child’s parents, siblings and extended family. There are, of course, times when family restoration is not possible, or a child is returning to a situation that seems bleak or very tenuous. While these situations are hard to endure, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 reminds us that our God is the Father of compassion and comfort. He shows us comfort so we can comfort others. We reflect our Creator when we do hard things.

I don’t like children.

Okay. You’re probably off the hook. Not everyone can or should be a foster parent. But you can and should have a positive impact on the lives of neglected and abused children in our community. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities that don’t require interaction with children or families. Embrace volunteers host donation drives to provide household items for teens “aging-out” of foster care, then organize, inventory and deliver these “First Apartment Kits”. Volunteers set up the “Portraits of Hope” photographic gallery of children waiting for adoption, and move it to new locations each month. Volunteers plan and assemble crafts for respite night events, prepare and deliver meals, sew blankets for foster children and much more. Embrace can help you find a place to use your time and talents to help kids.

For more about becoming a foster parent in Texas, visit: https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Adoption_and_Foster_Care/Get_Started/steps.asp

Please note: The information provided above is not the word-for-word policy of any agency or the Department of Family and Protective Services. We hope to debunk many common misconceptions about foster parenting, but you will certainly find that minimum standards for becoming foster parents vary from agency to agency and state to state.

The Plot Twist

I’m a bit of a movie snob, but nothing captures my praise and attention like a well-played twist in the plot. Many of my favorite movies; Sixth Sense, The Village, The Prestige, Planet of the Apes, and The Sting hooked me with one “WHAT IN THE WORLD?!?! I did NOT see that coming!” moment. Even a few recent-ish family films like Frozen and Maleficent featured surprising twists that left me and my kids gasping in delight. The best plot twists make so much sense once they are revealed. You’re left wondering “WHY couldn’t I see it all along?!?” Today I had an adoptive parenting “why didn’t I see it all along” moment.  

*SPOILER ALERT* Reading further may reveal plot details about adoption that you cannot un-know.

As adoptive parents we do a lot of dreaming about our child before they come home.  We wonder what our child will look like, if we will share common interests and if our personalities will “click”. Most compassionate parents-to-be also put themselves in the shoes of their adoptive child and think about their dreams as well. You may worry that you’re not the hip, playful, or good-looking parents your child has been dreaming of.  What if they walk into your house and think it smells funny? What if they hate your cooking? If you’re like me you may, for one fleeting moment, consider buying a jet ski or a miniature horse to help seal the deal that you’re the coolest family on the block.  I usually end up reassuring myself that although we may not be “dream family material”, we’re here, we’re loving, we’re safe, and we’re all in this together. Whew! What a relief! Surely this kid will love us. But wait… Here comes the twist…

What if the family your child dreams about being with is the family they lost?

Why. Didn’t. I. See. It.

Like any great twist, you may find yourself reeling. Even though it makes so much sense, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Can I urge you to not let this thought put you on the defensive? Our knee-jerk reaction may be to start comparisons between the life we can offer a child and what might-have-been in other scenarios, but these thoughts are divisive, unproductive and insensitive. Many adoptees are deeply loyal to the parents who brought them into this world. It’s loyalty so strong that, in many cases, even abuse, disappointment, distance, and time cannot diminish it. It may be loyalty to someone they’ve never met or can’t remember… but this doesn’t negate your child’s longing. It doesn’t discount their loss.  

Several years ago on Christmas morning one of our foster sons was acting moody and ungrateful. He made it clear that Christmas at his “old house” was way better than anything we had to offer. I let it get under my skin and my husband found me grumbling and growling to myself in the kitchen while putting cookies in the oven. He stood there and allowed me to vent while the kids tore into new puzzles and toys in the other room. My lengthy, hissing monologue ended with me triumphantly declaring “And why WOULDN’T he love it here?!?! Why WOULDN’T he be having a great time today?!?” My sweet husband took my face in his hands and said “Because he didn’t ask for it.”

So, after we’re done quietly weeping, WHERE do we go from here?  

Maya Angelou said “Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better.”  

Now I know better.

I can look back over my parenting and see many times that I said and did ignorant things that hurt my child. My child’s loss and grief exist, whether I acknowledge them or not.  But now I have the opportunity to walk alongside my child in a place that my ignorance once sent them alone. I have a truth that can silence those old feelings of rejection or resentment I felt regarding my child’s connection to his birth family. Maybe my painful self-realization can save some of you prospective, waiting, or new adoptive parents from making the same mistakes I’ve made. I hope this post is shared with and read by many of the people who surround and support foster and adoptive parents as well. The more people who understand where our children are coming from the better. I hope it makes us all pause when faced with children’s tears, fond memories, harsh words, or difficult behaviors and remember the losses they’re grieving.

I’m doing better now and, although I may not be “dream family material”, I’m here, I’m listening, and we’re all in this together.

The Quandary of Foster Care

You’re a foster parent, and you’re standing on the other side of that little half wall in the courtroom with your mouth agape in disbelief.  How did this happen?  How did so many adults with college degrees and positions of authority, people who should do what’s in the best interest of a child, do exactly the opposite?  It’s as if that wall separates sanity and logic from a circus where clowns juggle papers and misinformation.  The gavel slams, and the child you sacrificed, cried, and prayed for is returning home to a parent who has been an addict, in and out of jail, homeless, jobless, and/or abusive.  So, how did this happen?

How does this happen?  The previous scenario is one of many the masses play through their minds or read about online that perpetuate the struggling foster care systems across America.  Maybe you’re considering becoming a foster or adoptive parent and weighing whether you’re ready to commit or not.  Maybe you know someone who is struggling in their experience with the system, and you want to help but don’t know where to begin.  Or maybe you’re a judge or caseworker who just read the scenario above, and you’re already assuming I have no idea what I’m talking about because you’re not a clown.  You work hard under an insurmountable caseload doing the best you can with what you have.  Regardless of who you are or why you’re reading this, I want to walk you through how the foster care system works, the myths, and the realities associated with situations like the one above and ultimately encourage you to act.  While the foster care system may be broken, it will only remain broken if you and I allow it to stay that way.

The most foundational concept to understand about the foster care system is somewhat of a paradigm shift for us because the public is generally ignorant about what the system is dependent upon.  If the general public thinks about foster care at all, we tend to conceptually believe that somewhere neglected and abused children are being taken care of.  Visions of orphanages, children’s homes, and Annie come to mind.  But as early as the 1940’s, the foster care system has been replacing institutional settings.  Today, very few children’s homes still exist within America.  So, where are America’s more than 700,000 neglected and abused children?  In foster care.  And, where is foster care?  It’s in your home and my home.  The foster care system is dependent upon families opening their bedrooms to traumatized children in need of healing.  If there aren’t enough homes for the children from a given county or region, children must be placed in a home from another county or region.  There are emergency shelters and sleeping bags in child welfare offices along with other stop-gaps to help care for children when there aren’t enough homes immediately available, but research has shown children heal in a family setting where they can attach to a caregiver and learn how to cope while continuing to grow.  So, regardless of how many tax dollars are allocated for foster care programs if there are not a sufficient number of licensed foster families, foster care cannot function and children cannot heal in the best environment possible.

Now, just because foster home availability is foundational does not mean sufficient tax dollars from your federal, state, county, and city governments are not also a critical component of the foster care system.  Money, your and my tax dollars, is not only the fuel of the foster care system, it is also a factor in the quality of a given system.  It is not the only factor, but it is a major one.  The United States spends over $25 billion on foster care services each year.  These funds pay for a litany of salaries, services, and administrative costs that cannot be overstated.  For any given child,10 to 15 adults are paid for some service related to their case along with a myriad of other adults providing the infrastructure for the foster care system.  Costs begin with an intake hotline and an investigator who visits a child or family to determine if there is a valid case of neglect or abuse.   Along with this is all the necessary infrastructure to ensure intake, investigations, and removals are possible. Only about 40% of all allegations are confirmed.  Sometimes this is due to a lack of evidence.  Sometimes an investigator is unable to track down a family.  Without a sufficient number of investigators, foster care is halted.  No investigation, no removal.  Costs continue when a determination is made to provide services to a family or remove a child in the case of imminent danger.  The need for a caseworker and their supervisor, along with the aforementioned infrastructure to support the frontline workers, then increase costs, and it doesn’t take a vivid imagination to start adding it all up when we begin to include the courts, lawyers to represent the child and their parents, mental health services, and the plethora of other tangential contributors to the system.

Are you beginning to see a fuzzy image for how our introductory scenario becomes a reality?

Too little funding leads to a poor quality workforce and those who lack the necessary bandwidth to do the job sufficiently.  Investigations aren’t done in a timely manner, children aren’t seen frequently enough while in care, sufficient preventative and rehabilitative programs aren’t available to stem the influx of at-risk families and recidivism.  With too much funding, a welfare state begins to form where the public almost entirely insists on the government addressing all of the needs.  Both situations lead to egregious problems namely the problem of you and I doing nothing.  Too much taxation leads us to believe someone else is dealing with the needs of these children and families.  Too little taxation and there isn’t a sufficient framework or bandwidth of educated professionals organizing a system accountable to the best interests of children.

Another consideration is foster care is intended to be temporary with a priority given toward reunification with birth parents.  Many children in foster care come from single or unmarried parent, low income households, and many foster families come from two parent, moderate to high income households.  This is a generality, but the socio-economic dichotomy is real.  Expectations, lifestyles, language, and various other social norms are juxtaposed.  Therefore, when foster parents enter a courtroom for a hearing about a family’s case, they enter with a set of standards for what is appropriate and acceptable which doesn’t always align with the legal system, the political climate, or the funding issues which can lead to high rates of caseworker turnover and low quality work.  A foster parent typically expects the best while the legal system is limited to what is lawful.

The last point I’ll make is the foster care system and every system involves human beings.  Errant, sinful, selfish, well-intended, occasionally misinformed human beings.  I don’t say this or any of this in a search for the sufficient excuse to remedy the issues that plague the potential success of foster care, but I say this to improve your perspective and charge you to act.  It is easy to to look at how insurmountable the problems in foster care are, believe you have no control, throw up your hands, and refuse to do anything more than complain and rage against the machine on your social media platforms.  But, the foster care system also involves Spirit-filled, well-informed, educated, thoughtful, and yet still sinful human beings who are standing in the gap refusing to quit.

I am never more encouraged than when the above scenario plays out in any of its varieties, and a foster parent or advocate, even one who takes to the blogosphere to inappropriately vent their frustration, lowers their head, pledges to persevere, and affirms these fundamental truths.  First, no parent woke up one morning and chose to abuse or neglect their child.  Parents are still accountable, but pitting them against their child as the enemy is not a productive solution.  Second, caseworkers, lawyers, and judges, even bad ones, don’t work to hurt children or families.  They come to wrong conclusions sometimes that you or I may disagree with, but they also come to right conclusions that you or I may disagree with.  Third, you and I are capable of making an impact.  Our impact is entirely dependent upon our willingness to stand firm and resilient while surrounding ourselves with those who will speak truth to us and encourage us to care for ourselves so we can maintain the capacity to care for others.

One parent’s response to an incredibly trying situation from years ago summarizes my thoughts and admonition to you.  The father said, “I do not know how else to help him. I have tried everything I can think of and exhausted my heart and mind on his behalf.  I cannot fathom why the system has failed him and us in the way that it has.  I do not know what else to do.  But, I do know God has placed him in my family, and if I have nothing else to give him, I will hold firm in this.  He has a family who will not give up on him.”

Foster, adopt, advocate, mentor, and support.  You are not alone.  Join us in reclaiming the care of these children and families.