Should You Become a Foster Parent?

Because I have been a foster mother to fourteen children, many people have asked me what being a foster parent really involves - what it is all about. They want to know how you go about becoming a foster parent, and what happens to you and your family when you open your heart and home to someone else´s child.

The need for more foster homes in our country is great, and becoming a foster parent is not a very difficult thing to do. Simply phone a local foster family agency, and tell them you are interested in becoming a foster parent. They´ll take it from there. They need you, and the children need you.

But before you place that call, give a few moments of thought to what is really involved. Understand that you will be changing your life, but you will also be changing the life of a child - helping to mold that life.

Some people have misconceptions about what being a foster parent entails. Sure, they say, they´d just love to be a foster parent. They can picture themselves opening their home to some poor, skinny waif, feeding him, and living happily ever after. But there´s more to it than that. For instance, if you value your freedom, if you like coming and going at will, perhaps being a foster parent is not for you.

A Foster child can be very time consuming. He comes to you with built-in problems. He has been in several homes already and is quite frightened, or else he has just been removed from a bad family situation and this makes him afraid. He can require more of your time and care than a natural - born child would, at least until he becomes adjusted to being with you. And don´t expect that adjustment to come quickly. It can take months.

Although you are free to choose the age and sex of the child you take into your home, he will still come to you with guaranteed problems and difficulties. Some are physical problems. Perhaps he has been starved or has a hearing or visual handicap. Maybe he has a bad heart or walks with a limp.

Some have learning problems-perhaps even have been labeled "retarded". Sometimes you are able to reach the child, guide him, and help him reach his true potential intellectually, but the process can be very difficult and can require all your energy and prayers-and then some. But if you do reach him, watching his progress and witnessing his development can be tremendously exciting and have immeasurable rewards.

Most foster children have emotional problems. You would too, if you were moved from one home to another, or if you came into a family environment that was so bad the authorities had to finally step in and have you removed from the situation.

Occasionally, children are placed in foster care because of some temporary problem in their family. Maybe the mother is ill or has deserted her family. Maybe the parents need substance abuse treatment and there is no one else to care for the child. This child may not have been mistreated. In such a case, the parents may love the child very much but may be forced to place him in a foster home for a short while. Such a move, even for a child who is loved and whose parent´s care for him, is still difficult, and you will fine you´ll have problems to contend with.

Lying is one of those problems. Foster children, until they become secure in your home, have a tendency to lie to you because they don´t trust you. They´ll brag about the home they just came from: tell you how big it was, how rich the people were, how important his father or other foster father was, or how much better his real mother cooks.

They will steal, break things, and deliberately disobey orders as they test you. They have to know that you really do care for them. More than anything else, they need to be cared for, to have someone love them. As a defense against the fear you won´t love them, they strike out at you in any way they can. They are asking you to love them by doing very unlovable things to you and your household. Does that make sense? Maybe not, and it may seem inconsistent, but there usually has not been anything very consistent in their lives.

Each foster child has a caseworker whose duty it is to see that the child placed in your home receives good care. When you have a problem, you can call the caseworker for help in trying to solve it.

How are your nerves? Most foster children are also likely to throw temper tantrums. It is their way of letting off steam, of living with the pressures and insecurities of knowing that they don´t have a real home. And believe me, they are well aware of that fact. So they scream and kick and cry. Or else they crawl into a shell and you can't get them to talk or play and you can´t seem to reach them at all. Then you wish they would yell or throw things or react irrationally instead of just sitting there.

Foster children may also wet their beds. Moving from one place to another is upsetting to their entire systems, but nighttime is especially overwhelming for them. They have nightmares. They wake up screaming or vomiting.

Your foster child can almost destroy any semblance of family harmony. You will tend to be extra cautious about his health or his play equipment because he isn´t really yours and you are responsible to the state or county for his well-being and protection.

Sometimes a child will come to you in such pathetic condition that just the thought of what he has been through will make you ill, then angry, and then determined that something must be done to correct his condition.

One set of foster parents I know was given a one-year-old boy who weighed only twelve pounds. When he came to them he was dying from malnutrition and neglect. He was so weak he couldn´t even move. He didn´t even have the strength to cry for the food his poor wasted little body so desperately needed.

It took a lot of good food, plenty of love, and a lot of prayer to pull the little fellow through, but at last he began to respond to a good diet and plenty of loving. By the time he recovered and was beginning to act and behave like a normal, healthy child, the foster mother and the child had formed such a strong attachment for each other that when he was moved and returned to his own home the separation was very painful for both of them.

That´s another matter to consider. When you get a foster child, you know that you will eventually have to give him up. If you are going to care for the child properly, then you must let yourself love him. You cannot hold back your love for him, because more than food, clothing, and a place to sleep, these children need love.

So you love the child and in a sense he comes to be your own. And yet, always in the back of your mind is the thought that this child will someday leave you. Occasionally a child will enter a foster home and remain there until he is grown. But most likely there will come a day when you will have to watch the child walk out to his caseworker´s car, climb in, and be taken to another home. And part of you goes with him, a very large part. The grief you will feel at that time can be just as deep and real and profound as if your own natural-born child was taken from you. It hurts.

Sometimes after you work and pray and devote yourself completely to bringing a sick, neglected child back to health, he will leave you to be returned to the same home, the same situation that caused him to be sick and neglected in the first place. You know that if he could just stay with you he´d have a real chance in life. But the law is the law, and if it says he is to go back home, back he goes. Then you lie awake at night and wonder how he is and is he is being mistreated again.

Each time a child is brought to you the entire family must adjust. When he leaves, there is a void in your home which requires another adjustment.

If you have children of your own, they may resent a stranger coming into their home, sharing their parents and perhaps even sharing their very own room. Usually, though, you will find your own youngsters will eagerly accept the idea of having a foster brother or sister. But when the "intruder" actually arrives, they may have second thoughts. It is up to you to handle the situation wisely so that none of the children are hurt by it all.

Now let´s discuss money. You will be paid by the agency that places the child with you. Each month you will receive a check which is to cover the cost of feeding and clothing your foster child. However, after feeding the child properly, and dressing him in decent clothing, you´ll find there will be only a little financial profit for you. In fact, you may need to dig into your own pocket sometimes. The agency does pay all the child´s medical expenses.

Being a foster parent means giving up a lot of your freedom, having your home invaded by a child who will probably do all he can to disrupt your family life, and shatter your nerves. Being a foster parent means taking into your home and your heart a desperately ill child, nursing him back to health, and then having to let him go. You stand there with empty arms and a broken heart.

Taking in a foster child means creating problems within your own family that could be avoided simply by not becoming a foster parent. It means disrupting your home situation until the newly arrived youngster becomes adjusted (if he does) and then upsetting things again when he leaves. It means spending money, not making money.

But being a foster parent also means doing something so rewarding, so vital, so important with your life that there is no way to measure the blessings that heap up around you--even as you vow never to take in another one, never to allow yourself to become so involved with another child again only to have to face the heartbreak of giving him up. Even as you say "Never again," you are waiting for a call from the agency saying they have a new child who needs a home.

Being a foster parent means that you are working in the greatest profession there is--Life. It means your home will be filled with love and tears and laughter. It means drying a frightened child´s tears, teaching her to smile and to respond to love. It means walking the floor at night with a precious newborn baby. It means watching that teenager grow and develop into a young person moving out on their own.

Being a foster parent means doing something with and for God. Because when you are a foster parent, you and God work as a team to help the little ones who are placed in your care.

Being a foster parent certainly has a lot of drawbacks. But if you aren´t afraid of facing problems... if you welcome the challenge of meeting a problem head-on and solving it...if you want to know that your life really counts for something, then help a child. Help mold his world. Help create a responsible future citizen.

--- author unknown

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