Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Welcoming a Foster Child Into Your Home

When you become a foster parent, even after all the classes you take and training you receive, you often have a rosy view of how it’s going to be. You imagine a sweet little child coming into your home, and responding happily to the love and stable environment you are going to give them. You imagine you are going to love them, while at the same time, maybe you will be able to keep yourself from being ‘too’ attached, since you know chances are great that the parents of this child will get their life together and be able to take the child back home. You imagine you will be doing a great work, and indeed, you will be.
However, few great works are accomplished without a great deal of sweat, hard labor, and sometimes heartbreak. And such is the life of a foster parent.

Few children will come into your home without being afraid. No matter if they have been beaten to within an inch of their life, they are going to want that mommy and daddy back. That is mostly just the way humans are made. It may take a while for the child to attach to you. Or they may seem to attach to you right away, but you must remember that can sometimes be a survival instinct, or actually – as hard as it is to believe – an attachment disorder, rather than a true attachment.

The children may come to you dirty, hurt, and with lice in their hair. They may have nothing more than the clothes on their backs, and it usually takes several weeks for any kind of clothing allowance to come in, if it comes in at all. It’s always wise to have a little money set back to buy what they may need. Good friends and other foster families are also good resources to have to during this time to share outgrown or unneeded clothing.
They may also come to you healthy and well, because they have actually been well loved, but the parents are abusing themselves, and can’t keep the child safe. These children will often have a whole suitcase full of clothes sent with them, along with some of their favorite toys.

A new foster parent needs to be prepared to not get much sleep those first few nights and maybe even weeks. The child may have nightmares, if they can sleep at all. During the day, they may need to talk over and over again about what has happened to them. They will ask over and over when their mommy or daddy is going to come get them. If they are preverbal, they may just scream and scream. It’s important to see this for what it is, fear. It’s important that a foster parent have great patience to help the child get through what is a terrible, scary time in their life.

A foster parent who has had a rosy view needs to be strong enough to reevaluate and restructure the dreams of foster parenting they may have built up. They must understand that they will probably not take the place of the ‘first’ mommy and daddy, but will build a new relationship with the child. They must be ready to accept that the child will still want the birth family, even if they have been much mistreated. They must be able to work with the child protective services towards reuniting the family, even if they think it is the worst idea in the world, and the child will be in great danger. It’s good for the foster parent to be ready to document everything the child says that might help the CPS make the right decision for the future of the child. Don’t make it better or worse, just make it the truth. Get to know the case workers, the guardian ad litem, and the CASA workers (if your foster child is blessed enough to have one) well, and make sure they are well supplied with updates on the child. A good way to do this is to write emails often, and send them to everyone involved in the child’s case. The workers can save or print these out and put them in the child’s file. Remember, you are all working together towards a common goal, the best interest of the child, and as the foster parent who hears what the child has to say, you may end up with information that no one else has.

A foster parent needs to reserve their judgment of the biological family, too, and try to work with and mentor the parents. This child may well go back to them, and you want to do all you can to help the parents learn how to care for this child well. Most of these parents have been abused themselves, and they need to heal. Do what you can to help them do that. Show them how a healthy family functions.

And never think a foster parent does not get attached. They do, and it’s a gut wrenching thing when a much loved foster child leaves your home. Allow yourself to grieve, but at the same time, don’t let this grief overtake your life to where you can’t function. Pray for the child every time they come to your mind, this will help you a lot. Remember that your have done a great thing in giving this precious child you grew to love so much a safe place to stay during a hard scary time.
And when people tell you – and they will! – that they could never do what you do because they are too sensitive and would grow too attached - that they are not sensitive, they are selfish. Because little children are sensitive too, and they hurt, and they need foster parents who get attached, so that they can get through this bad time in their lives with as little permanent damage as possible.
Be gentle with yourself in the weeks after they leave, as you try to adjust to life without them. It hurts. Take some time to come to grips with what has happened.

And know that sometimes, they won’t leave, but be released for adoption. If, at that point, you adopt them, you will know you did all you could do to help the family, and you can adopt with a clear conscience, knowing this is truly God’s plan for your life.

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