So You Want to Be a Foster Parent – From the Louisiana Foster and Adoptive Parent Association
Becoming a foster parent will change your lifestyle. Maybe not at first, but as months and years pass you will be affected. Foster care will affect you and your family in many areas: your extended family, community involvement, your personal activities, and those of your children. The changes, like life around us, range from very good to very negative.
You will find that your relatives fit into two categories when you inform them that you are going to take in a foster child. They either proclaim you the saints of the family or just plain nuts. Whichever side of the discussion they voice their opinion on, your choice to take in foster children presents them with various dilemmas. Grandparents suffer through a multitude of questions. Besides the normal dilemma of whether to include the foster child on their Christmas list, I had a grandparent question whether a foster child should be included in their will. If you only take one or two foster children into your home in your lifetime, those questions may need an honest answer, but after ten or more foster children the questions become moot.
Foster parents are trained to respect the privacy of the foster child and their families. Relatives don’t always understand why you can’t tell them about their new niece or nephew. Their bewilderment only gets worse when the child acts out in an inappropriate manner and you can’t justify the behavior because the past history falls into the data privacy area. For some families this leads to selective invitations and only certain individuals, or only adults, are invited over.
What do you do in those special circumstances? Cousins will get married, families will want a family portrait, what is the best way to handle these special circumstances? No matter how many or what types of children you care for, the one thing that relatives will come to realize is that you are a very busy person. As the years pass, and you have to react to foster care emergency after emergency, you may find that the visits and the invitations become few and far between.
The community is not much different. There may be a few who would like to blame you for every wrong that happens in the neighborhood because you brought “those kids” into your home. Most, though, think it’s wonderful that you can do what you do, just keep “them” in your yard.
Our police officers know us by name and most of the teachers at the school refer to us as “that house.” The ones we work with on a regular basis are supportive and complimentary, the rest just raise their eyebrows when we pass them on the street. Church members work hard to include the children in activities, but rarely invite the whole family over for dinner. (If someone does once, it never happens twice). Foster families tend to be larger than many “normal” families, and size alone can cause discomfort, before adding the abnormal behavior factor.
Foster families are very visible in the community which can add additional pressures, whether real or imaginary. As the adult of the foster family, you will constantly find yourself surrounded by people, and yet you may feel very much alone.
Being a foster parent will develop your skills as an independent social director, therapist, and taxi driver, to mention just a few. Activities that you took for granted as a member of the adult world will be infringed upon by the children you have invited into your home. If you are physically active and participating in athletic pursuits, your activities may change when the teenager you accept into your home is too paranoid to ride a bike, skate, or go in a boat. The activities of the whole family will be tailored to fit the least adaptable member. Need for attention or preconceived fears will stimulate “pseudo injuries” or refusals to participate. Your social outings will be disrupted by unruly children or true emergencies. (You will have more than you could imagine). The foster children you choose to bring into your home will have all of the normal problems of biological children, but accelerated to an abnormal pace.
You will be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The safety and welfare of the foster children will be a constant priority. Your birth children will grow up with “the street in their home.” They will, at a young age, be aware of the cruelties that the children of this world face. They will endure pressures at home where they were hoping to find refuge. Your choice to take in foster children will either send them out onto the streets in rebellion or give them skills to become outstanding young adults. It is not uncommon to find your birth children very active outside the home. They will participate in the community, not only because they choose to, but because it is a release from the constant pressure foster care places on them at home. Your choice to accept a foster child into your home will change your birth child for life.
When you are old, no one will remember what you did except for:
– a child, now an adult, who has a life with a little more purpose and a lot more love.
– a child who would never have experienced an alternate “safe family” except that you chose to be a foster parent.
– a child who has a job and pays the bills because you taught them how to work.
– a child who completed school because you ensured that the homework was done.
– a child who treats their family with respect because you modeled dignity.
The Louisiana Foster and Adoptive Parent Association is a nonprofit organization created to serve foster parents, adoptive parents and the children in their care. They: advocate that all children and families shall be treated with dignity and respect; advocate that foster and adoptive parents provide safe, nurturing environments for children; promote respectful relationships between biological, foster, and adoptive families and human service agencies; and provide and encourage training and education of foster and adoptive parents. For more information on foster and adoptive programs, visit them here.