Foster parents are truly unsung heroes. Adoption and foster care are extremely important and extremely needed; they’re both difficult and rewarding at the same time. Taking a child who is not biologically theirs into the family is something many parents can’t imagine, because there are simply so many variables and difficulties in adding another little person to the family—especially a little person who might come with trauma or behavioral problems. And because many people are unfamiliar with foster care, they have preconceived notions about it, stereotypes that actually aren’t true: such as, for instance, that all foster kids have behavioral problems. Or that every foster parents are Christians and homeschoolers who ride in a twelve-passenger van. Or that anyone can waltz in and spend some quality time with a foster kid. But in actuality, foster care has many nuances that people don’t realize. Not all foster kids have behavioral problems; foster parents are very diverse; and most states have strict rules about who can watch a foster child, because the top priority is keeping the children safe. If you’re unfamiliar with foster care (or even if you’re not), sit back and prepare to learn a few things you never knew about foster care.
20 How heartbreaking it is.
I know a wonderful foster family who had two sweet foster kids for several months, and it looked like it would be even longer than that—until suddenly, the situation of the children’s biological family changed, and the foster family was informed the foster children would be removed and placed with a biological family member. This unexpected news produced tears and sadness in all members of the foster family. If you are a foster parent, a child can be part of your family for years; you could even be planning to adopt him or her. You could be planning on forever. But then, with little to no advance warning, things could change, and the child could leave your family forever. Of course, foster children rejoining their biological family is not a bad thing; reunification is always the goal. But even though it may be better for the child in the long run, it doesn’t cancel out the fact that the foster family is going to be very, very sad for a very long time. People always talk about how foster kids get bounced around and struggle with attachment, which is true—but foster families don’t get their share of the credit for welcoming a revolving-door of kids.
19 You can’t show foster kids’ faces in pictures.
Have you ever seen a picture on Instagram or Facebook of several cute kids, except something was missing—namely, the kids’ faces? Maybe one face was blurred out, or maybe two children had a big smiling emoji covering up their faces. It’s very likely these children were foster children. In most locations, foster families are not allowed to show the faces of foster kids on the Internet, just to make sure the children’s identities are protected. But whereas many people think foster parents can’t take any photos of their foster kids, this is not true. Foster parents take lots of photos of their foster children! They save these photos to keep for themselves after the foster child potentially leaves (or to put on the wall, showcasing photos of the foster child right next to photos of biological children), or they might send photos to the biological parents of the child; it’s important for children, especially children who have been bounced around, to have pictures of themselves growing up. The only difference between snapping photos of biological children and foster children is foster parents cannot put photos of foster children’s faces online.
18 You can’t leave foster kids with just anyone.
Again, this is all about protecting children who need it—and, again, rules vary by state and country. In some places, only another certified foster parent can babysit a foster child; but in some places, the foster parent is allowed to use their judgment to select an appropriate babysitter, whether certified or not. Even if foster parents are able to hire anyone they want, things could still get dicey: a foster child who may have potential attachment issues, behavioral problems, or trauma might not want to stay with just anybody, and just anybody might not know how to handle any problems that might arise. I know a foster mother who couldn’t attend a work conference because her foster child was too afraid she would leave forever. This topic is something that non-foster-parents don’t think about too much: when they want a night off, they simply call a neighborhood teenager from down the street. Of course they want to make sure their biological children are protected, but in general, the process of obtaining a babysitter is much quicker and easier—there just aren’t so many loops to jump through. One thing is always for sure: foster parents don’t get anywhere near enough time to themselves.
17 The process to be certified as a foster parent is very involved.
Like most aspects of foster care, the nuances of this vary by state (I know a foster mother who began the process of being certified in one state, but then moved to another state and had to begin again). But one thing is almost always a given: it will be a very long and involved process. In general, most families will choose a foster care/adoption agency (more and more families are beginning to obtain dual licenses, meaning they can both foster and adopt), apply to the agency, attend multiple trainings (and these trainings don’t stop when the parents are certified), and then complete a home study. When prospective foster parents apply to an agency, they are assigned a caseworker who can answer any questions they might have and help them throughout the process. Parents provide letters of reference, background checks, and proof of income as part of the application process. They attend pre-trainings and complete a home study—a very in-depth assessment to ensure that a couple will make good foster and/or adoptive parents. After all of this work, it’s a given that foster parents know what they are doing and are especially suited to be in foster care.
16 All kinds of people are foster parents.
It’s a common misconception that foster families are only white suburban families—in actuality, all kinds of people are foster parents, and great ones at that! Some foster parents have tattoos. Some foster parents live in tiny apartments. Some live in big mansions. Foster parents are all different races and come from different walks of live. Some couples may not be able to have biological kids, and they want to hear little feet running down the stairs. Some couples might be empty nesters who miss having kids in the house. Still other foster parents might want to teach their biological children values like empathy and compassion. You’d be hard-put to find two foster families who are exactly the same, because in general, all of them are very different, and that’s a great thing. The truly important factor when considering who can be a foster parent is how much an individual cares about the children. And if a person really wants to make a positive difference by offering a child a home, then just about anyone can become a foster parent. The beautiful thing about foster care is that it should always be based around love.
15 Many foster kids have trauma issues.
And really, we can’t blame them. Some kids are removed from their bio family and put into the foster system because of an abusive situation; many kids are neglected; and some kids might have parents or guardians who are taken to jail or who pass away. Combine these soul wounds with the difficulty of being bounced from family to family, constantly encountering new and unfamiliar places, and it’s no wonder foster kids have a tough time. While the majority of the general public can probably guess that many foster kids have experienced some kind of trauma, what many people don’t know is how this trauma manifests itself and how to deal with it. Children who have been through traumatic experiences may have behavioral problems, acting out to relieve some of the extreme stress; or they may withdraw into themselves, not trusting anyone. The most important things for foster parents to do is to be consistently loving, no matter how the child acts. Many foster parents go through special trauma training in addition to obtaining extra help for their child via a social worker, physician, or therapist. The goal is to help foster kids process their emotions and their past in a safe and healthy environment, and to show them their past trauma does not define them and does not make them unworthy of love.
14 Sometimes foster placements don’t work out.
When a child is placed in a foster home, sometimes the placement may not end up going as well as everybody had hoped, and the foster parents actually contact their caseworker to request the child is placed somewhere else. This is termed “disruption,” and while it’s never the plan or the goal, sometimes it happens because it’s best for everyone. There are many reasons disruption occurs: perhaps the foster child has behavioral issues and is acting violent, and the foster parents don’t feel prepared to deal with such issues. Maybe the foster family has a death in the family, or a terminal illness, and they realize they need time to focus on and care for their family before bringing anyone else into it. Sometimes the foster family has to move unexpectedly due to work. Whatever the case may be, sometimes disruption is necessary, but it is always hard on foster kids and parents alike. Whenever possible, families try to choose respite care instead—which means another foster family takes the foster child for a few days or a few weeks until the original foster family can get things together and accept the child again.
13 Most social workers are great—some aren’t.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “social worker,” or if you’ve heard it but aren’t sure what it means, a social worker is a mental health professional who probably has a Master’s degree in either social work or psychology and who helps all kinds of people. Specifically, foster care caseworkers help facilitate everything that has to do with foster kids: certifying foster parents, removing children from unsafe situations with their bio parents, and overseeing the transition into a foster home. Every now and then, you’ll run across a social worker horror story—someone who doesn’t listen to the complaints of a foster child in a bad situation, or who is unresponsive despite repeated attempts to be contacted, or who is just difficult to work with due to a thorny personality. But these stories are far and few between. The overwhelming majority of social workers truly care about the kids they work with, which is why they remain in a profession that doesn’t offer much in the way of monetary rewards. Foster care social workers regularly witness sad situations and then do their best to make the situations better. If you know a social worker, thank them.
12 Every child’s foster journey is different.
Some foster children have been in six homes (or more) by the time they’re six years old. Some join one foster family when they’re young and stay with that family until they age out of the system. You’d be hard put to find two foster kids who have exactly the same story, because every story is different. In general, though, people don’t realize how much foster kids are bounced around—and the effects this can have. Everyone craves a place to call home, but having that level of stability is especially important for foster children. So for the children who may get placed with one family, only to be told they’re leaving a month later, these children struggle to connect with people and put down roots. And because this quick-exit cycle continues for several years for some kids, the problem of not having a place to call home will sadly follow these children for their entire lives. It’s true every foster child has a completely different journey, but what’s even more important is every journey matters. Foster children and former foster children need a platform to tell their stories and share the diversity of their journeys.
11 Foster parents get paid.
Despite what you may have heard, no foster parents are in the business for the money, because there isn’t much. However, foster parents do get paid a small monthly stipend to spend on the foster child or foster children. The amount of this payment varies; depending on the state, it can be anywhere from $300 to $900 per month. In areas where the cost of living is higher (think big cities such as D.C. or New York), the pay is higher, too—and the amount also varies based on the age of the child, with parents of younger children getting less and parents of older children getting more. The bottom line is that while there are several variables that determine the amount, it isn’t much. But it’s something to help cover clothes, doctor’s visits, and any other expenses that may come up. Any parent knows having a kid is expensive, and since many foster parents have bio kids in addition to foster kids, they could certainly use a little help on the financial end. While the state doesn’t give them much, the stipend they do receive is still better than nothing.
10 How important foster care is.
In the county where I live, foster kids are being outsourced to foster families in surrounding counties, because there simply aren’t enough foster families in my county—which is sad anyway, but becomes especially so when you consider that I live in one of the fastest-growing counties in the USA. There is a nationwide shortage of foster families, leaving many kids who desperately need a home without a place to go. Foster kids have been known to sleep in child welfare offices because there simply wasn’t a place for them to go, which should be completely unacceptable. Foster care is so very needed: unfortunately, although there is a shortage of willing families, there is no shortage of kids who are abused or neglected or scared and without a home. The difficulty is only compounded by the fact that even when there are willing foster families, not every placement works out—and in the case of a disruption, there may not be anywhere else for the foster child to go. This means that, even though the point of foster care is to put kids in better situations, they may have to stay in a less-than-ideal situation just to have a place to sleep. It is extremely important for foster parents to step up to the plate.
9 Being a foster parent is a full-time job.
If you’re a parent, you know it’s a job that is draining, exhausting, and busy. Let’s suppose how a day in your life might work: you get up early to get your middle-schooler on the bus. Then he forgets his lunch and you have to drive it to school. By the time you get home, it’s time to take your preschooler to preschool. You only have an hour or so to yourself before the preschool calls saying he’s sick. So you go pick him up, come home and start dinner, help your middle-schooler with his homework, and then pack him off to basketball practice, leaving you ready for bed at only 7 PM. But a foster parent might wake up and get their sixth-grader on the bus only to have to pick him up from school due to behavioral problems. They may have to take a bio child to preschool, the sixth-grader to a court date, another foster child to the doctor, and get everyone fed and to basketball practice so they can attend a training that night. Let’s just say we have special respect for single foster parents, because they must be able to clone themselves.
8 Many placements are kinship placements.
As the name suggests, this means kids are sent to live with family members; I know an older couple who took in their three great-nieces and nephews when the kids needed a place to go, and when the man passed away, the woman continued raising the three kids on her own. If a kinship placement (the term can also refer to close family friends in some cases) is at all an option, it is taken advantage of in order to maintain the children’s family connections. Kinship care always involves an assessment to determine whether the home is a safe and supportive place for the children; however, couples or individuals who participate in kinship placements do not necessarily have to be certified foster parents. The majority of the time, kinship placements are great for everyone: most kids would love to go live with their grandparents, and most grandparents would love for their grandchildren to come live with them. Kinship placements comprise quite a large amount of the overall foster care placements—more than you might think. Caseworkers make sure to provide an extra amount of support for family members who want to help care for the children in their family, but who may feel overwhelmed at the thought.
7 Foster kids come from various backgrounds.
Although you might think every foster child is a minority who comes from a poor family, this just isn’t true. Many foster kids actually come from affluent neighborhoods, because sadly, abuse and neglect go up and down the scale. Unfortunately, these kids with better backgrounds are sometimes made to feel as if their struggles aren’t as important or as valid, but people of all backgrounds and all races can make mistakes as they raise their kids. Are you curious about the exact stats when it comes to ethnicity and background regarding foster children? According to a recent report published by the US Department of Health and Human Services, most of the kids in foster care in the US are white—42 percent. 24 percent of foster kids are African-American, 22 percent are Hispanic, and 2 percent are Native American. So to assume that foster kids are only one race or are only from one specific walk of life would be a sad mistake. Foster kids are beautifully diverse, but they all have one thing in common: someone in their family made a mistake, and now they don’t have a place to call home.
6 Many foster kids still love their biological parents.
And really, can you blame them? It’s their parents, after all, and there’s something that inexplicably bonds you to your biological mother and father whether they watched your soccer games every Saturday, or whether you never met them, or whether you lived with them until they made a mistake and you were removed to another home. Many foster kids still love their bio parents, and honestly, I’d be worried if they didn’t—compassion, empathy, and forgiveness are all traits we want to foster in our kids. And in some cases, foster kids may not fully understand why they’re being taken away from their parents; they might be confused, only being sure of the fact that they love and miss their parents. For foster kids who are placed in a good foster home, it’s confusing as they adjust to having two moms and two dads—but it can also become special as they grow up. No parents are perfect—every mom and dad makes mistakes. But even through big mistakes, the kind that cause kids to be removed and placed in foster care, these kids often still love and miss their biological parents.
5 Kids who age out of the system aren’t provided for.
What happens to kids who age out of the foster system? In most cases, nothing good. According to Adoption.com, a whopping twenty percent of kids who age out (upon turning eighteen) will instantly become homeless. Often, this is because they were so bounced around growing up, they didn’t have the time to develop the social and personal skills needed to hold down a job or apply to colleges or develop other skills that would help them succeed in life. Adoption.com also says there is “less than a 3% chance of a child who ages out of foster care achieving higher education” (not because they’re dumb or lack motivation, but because no one taught them how to apply to colleges and find scholarships); “only one out of every two older youth will have employment by the age of twenty-four” (kids who end up on the streets are prone to falling into drugs or crime); “twenty-five percent of older youth who age out of foster care are affected by PTSD” (abuse and neglect have traumatic effects, and it takes time to process this trauma); and “seven out of ten girls who age out will become pregnant before the age of twenty-one.” More attention needs to be given to the plight of teens who age out of the foster system and have nowhere to go.
4 Some foster kids would like to be adopted; some want reunification.
Remember how we said many foster kids still love and miss their biological parents? Many kids want nothing more than to go back to their original home and live with their bio parents again. And while reunification is always the goal, it may not always be possible—so foster kids have to adjust to the idea of being adopted by a new family, too. Some adjust more easily than others. If a child has been in the same foster family for a long time, they may feel very comfortable there and be excited about the prospect of adoption; some kids who have been bounced around, however, are sick of the whole thing and just want to be with their bio parents again. Reunification and adoption depend on the circumstance; sometimes reunification is possible, and sometimes adoption is the better choice for everyone. In many cases, there is a period of time after a reunification attempt where nothing is certain and everyone is seeing if the reunification will actually work—so some kids may think they’re going back to live with their parents, and then be yanked away into adoption yet again. Depending on the circumstances, kids desire different things.
3 Foster kids don’t have a voice.
But they desperately need one. As we said, many foster children have very strong feelings about reunification versus adoption, missing their birth parents, situations with their foster parents, and pretty much everything else—but how often do they actually get to voice these opinions and have someone listen to them and try to implement what they want? Rarely. Kids in general have trouble being listened to, but with foster kids in particular, this is a problem; for instance, sometimes a foster child will feel unsafe with their foster family, or they may go back to live with their bio parents and things might take a turn for the worse. But sadly, their caseworkers don’t always listen when they try to speak up. Adults need to listen to foster kids, because foster kids desperately need to feel that someone is on their side. They need someone to explain to them what is happening and why it’s happening; they need someone who will reassure them they are valuable and cared about and everything that’s happening is for their good. Furthermore, caseworkers and court officials need to listen to foster parents, because sometimes decisions will be made that will not end up being a good idea for the foster child—but only the foster parents know why.
2 Siblings are often split up.
Often, a brother or sister is the only link a foster child has to a home he or she dearly misses. So when this brother or sister is sent to another foster home—sometimes very abruptly, without any time for emotional preparation or ample goodbyes—this hurts the children on so many levels. Many people don’t realize how important it is for foster siblings to be kept together. When siblings are separated, it increases the long list of traumatic experiences they have to deal with, and creates even more difficulties as the kids try to adjust to their new and unfamiliar lives. It is hard to keep siblings together because many foster families don’t have the funds, the time, or the space for more than one child, and they simply cannot take more than one. Siblings who are separated may only seen each other for an hour every few months, which isn’t enough time to maintain a good relationship. Sadly, their relationship often deteriorates, and sometimes siblings are never placed back together. If at all possible, foster children need to be kept with their siblings. But sometimes this just isn’t feasible, and the results are sad and disheartening.
1 Teens need foster families.
When a family goes to adopt a dog, they are far more likely to choose a cute puppy over an older dog. Sadly, the same is true when families want to foster or adopt a child. Some foster families think teens will just be too difficult to handle—besides the fact teens are hard to deal with anyway, they say, teens from foster care may have behavioral problems that would just prove too much. While it is true that foster teens could have behavioral problems, teens as a whole are grossly underestimated. With the proper guidance, they can be far more kind, respectful, and fun to be around than people think. But the many misconceptions about foster teens tend to block foster parents from accepting them, and the lack of love and guidance for teenagers in the foster system is a direct cause of so many teens becoming homeless and unemployed upon aging out. It’s untrue that adopting teens is always more expensive than adopting younger kids, and it’s also untrue adopting a teen means less of a bond and less of a reward—adopted teens will continue to rely on their parents for love and support for years to come.
References: www.acf.hhs.gov, adoption.com