People often tell me, “I could never be a foster parent. I would get too attached.” I think the first thing that scares people away is the fear of losing a foster child~ especially after a long period of time. I’ll admit that this was my initial fear in saying, “I do,” to foster care. But, now? After just a few foster children in, I’ve come to understand that there are so many other (perhaps overlooked) reasons not to be a foster parent.
Nevertheless, any and every reason is just not enough. When someone gives me the same old textbook reason for why they can never foster, I’m tempted to ask…
What if everyone avoided the call to foster for this reason? What if there were ZERO foster families to care for the almost half a million foster children, that live in the United States, alone?
Not to mention, there are other reasons to be scared about foster parenting. What about…
- Having a foster child who you are (or a member of your family is) unable to bond with? Or, vice versa!
- Having a foster child that is turning your home, marriage, or physical health completely upside down.
- Dealing with a foster child that is wounded beyond repair from abuse, neglect, or violence.
- Having a foster child run away (or threaten to run away) from home!
- Never having love reciprocated from a foster child.
- Watching a foster child suffer beyond belief. Either as a result of her former environment or being forced to leave everything she’s ever known.
So Many Reasons NOT to be a Foster Parent
Scott and I experienced just about all of these other reasons to say NO to foster care. I’m sure we’ll discover more as we go. But, in spite of these reasons that seem to work against us, we can see that God is working all of these things (these reasons) together, for good.
By now, you already know that Scott and I did lose a foster child after two years of loving her, as our own. (Not the same as the eight month old foster baby who was reunified by eight months.) Our first experience was downright gut wrenching because we had to watch a pre-toddler go through trauma. To add insult to injury, there was not a single thing Scott nor I could do, to ease her suffering. I’ll forever hold all those sacred memories during her first two years of life. And I’ll never forget her cry for help.
Take my word for it, this is the kind of reason to avoid foster care. Not just because a child may be reunified or that you may never see them again. But, that the entire reunification process (which can take several months) can literally cause a child to fall apart at the seams. It can shatter these children and (as a result) your heart ~ into a thousand pieces.
There are so many reasons NOT to be a foster parent.
Here’s another scenario we experienced. Two summers ago, we invited a foster child, an eleven year old girl that I nicknamed, “Honeybear“, into our home, our hearts, and our lives. Scott and I worked so hard to build a bond with her. We spent over a dozen weekends with her, at water parks and museums, prior to her moving in with us. He and I truly thought that what we observed during each visit, was the child that we would be adopting, some day. But, even after three months worth of visits, it felt like a very different child moved into our home.
We knew that Honey Bear had some issues. We read a full report on her history. We knew that she was in several foster homes and had some problems with her peers and the staff. As move-in day grew closer, we recognized more red flags. She was in an outpatient program, and had several episodes in which she needed to be physically restrained.
Scott and I had no training on restraining a child. We did learn that Honey Bear was diagnosed with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). This is a condition found in children who do not form a healthy attachment, during those first five years of critical development, to their primary caretakers.
There was no way possible for Honey Bear to form a relationship in those early years, because every time her feet got planted, she was uprooted and practically forced to bond with another stranger. She may never trust another human being throughout her lifetime.
Honey Bear was initially removed from her Bio Family when she was a baby. After settling in with a foster family that loved her and took great care of her, the Foster Care Division determined that it was ok for Honey Bear to return home.
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out well for Honey Bear. Nothing had improved since she was originally removed. There was neglect, domestic violence, and substance abuse. She witnessed things a toddler should never see. And, to add insult to injury, she was uprooted (now a third time) and placed in a different foster home. (The original foster family had moved on with new foster children.)
Honey Bear’s second foster family was not kind to her. (Yes, they have lost their license.) While we don’t know exactly what happened, we know that it was not good. Honey Bear was removed from this “second” foster family as soon as evidence validated the Division’s concerns.
So, now, Honey Bear is sent to her third foster family. She wasn’t even five years old and she had been uprooted four times! Obviously, she couldn’t form a healthy attachment. By the time she came to us, Honey Bear had been to several foster homes along with a few inpatient & outpatient treatment facilities. She was diagnosed with RAD along with several other chronic symptoms such as depression and anxiety. She was taking medication, and this may or may have been working for her. (It was too hard for us to see a difference since we were still getting to know her.)
And, there was one, rather significant oversight…
Since Honey Bear was originally from a county that was two hours away from where Scott and I lived, her local psychiatrist who had a history with her, CLOSED HER FILE before she moved in with us. So basically, she’s taking mood stabilizers, and having all kinds of side affects, etc. without medical supervision.
I recall spending hours upon hours, of my time, trying to get Honey Bear a new psychiatrist, that was closer to our home. The new patient process for someone with severe mood disorders and/or mental illness, nowadays, is so complex. It can take a few months to see a doctor. By the time we could schedule her first appointment (ten weeks after moving in with us), she was already GONE!
It was frustrating, to say the least. I remember speaking with her case worker and begging him to get her former psychiatrist to continue “seeing” her, as a patient. But, it wasn’t possible. We were on our own, aside from a new therapist who was trying to learn Honey Bear, as we were.
Scott and I did everything we could to help Honey Bear. She definitely had so much potential, and our hearts were broken because we believe the constant movement during those critical bonding years were what caused her the RAD diagnosis, in the first place!
We decided to send Honey Bear to a private school with a small student population. Our thought was that the she would have a better rapport with the teachers, who could obviously give her more one-on-one attention. I will say, Honey Bear’s performance in that school was the best thing she had going for her. Although her lying behavior made it very difficult for her teachers and Scott and me to work together. She’d lie to us about having homework, and lie to the teachers about leaving her completed homework at home. (Not a biggie. We were working on this with her.)
The real issue was Honey Bear’s ability to accept Scott and me as her parents. She viewed us as her roommates. Honey Bear was far beyond her years. At eleven years old, she had the street smarts of a 25 year old. She knew the system, and she was extremely manipulative. If we were playing (like all those weeks we spent, with her, prior to moving in and starting a normal life), everything was fine! But, if I was giving attention to my other foster baby or if Scott and I went out on the porch to catch up after a long day, Honey Bear would become very angry. Towards me!
I won’t even get into the whole convincing her that we loved her and wanted what’s best for her. I hope that goes without saying. Scott and I did our best to make her feel safe, loved, and respected in our home. Our family and friends embraced her and treated her as a part of the family!
I recall trying so hard to teach her that I was the “mom” role, and I had a different responsibility than she had as the “daughter” role. In hindsight, I now recognize how foolish I was in trying to domesticate a child that had been through so much. From dysfunction to abuse and neglect. How on earth was I going to fix her?
Things went completely south when I began to fear that Honey Bear’s anger had the potential to cause harm to herself or one of us. We didn’t have any medical support, and after a few threats of her running away and/or hurting someone, I made the call.
In my heart, I knew I did the right thing to protect her and my family. She went back to her local area where she was close (in proximity) to her case worker and the specialists that knew her best. She went on to live in a therapeutic foster scenario. My understanding is that she is still moving from home to home. It breaks my heart.
And, I can’t help but to wonder. Why couldn’t she have just stayed put with that first foster family? At least until there was more certainty that the Bio Family would not cause her harm? As much as I get the entire goal of reunifying these children with their Biological Families. (It does sometimes work out, perfectly!) I just don’t understand why it’s sometimes done so abruptly, perhaps too late, or rarely with any supports in place for the child throughout these traumatic transitions.
How is it that these foster children are the ones that are paying the price and suffering? They made no mistakes. They deserve the best that we can give them. These are real lives. I know we can do better!
Perhaps you are wondering if being a Foster Parent is the right thing for you to do. I will go ahead and tell you that there are probably a hundred reasons why you should NOT be a foster parent. But, if you love children, and you want to be a part of an imperfect system that will still allow YOU to love and care for children, don’t let those reasons stop you.
Another alternative is to reach out to a foster family or non-profit foster organization and offer to lend your support! Whether it’s prayers and encouragement or doing something part time with foster children (like being a mentor). I know that I’m praying for God to use me to accomplish something bigger for these innocent foster children. They deserve whatever is in their best interest. May God bless our foster children who are still out there waiting to be HOME.