Once a child is placed with a foster or adoptive family, he still faces many challenges in recovering from trauma and walking through the grief related to being separated from family. After stepping forward, most foster and adoptive parents discover caring for a child from foster care is hard, pain-filled, sometimes miserable work. But it’s also beautiful, redemptive and grace-filled. Celebrate those good days and be patient in the hard seasons.
Be patient with kids
Children from foster care need time to adjust. Moving from a home where there was neglect and abuse is very difficult. Trying to learn how to be part of a new family is hard. Allow time for the child to adjust during this transition AND future transitions. When a child has experienced multiple traumas, this trauma is expressed in behaviors, emotions and unexpected responses. Parent through a trauma- informed lens and keep learning as much about trauma as you can. Don’t hold back on your love during these transitions. It may break your heart, but do it anyway. Your love does make a difference.
Be patient with grief
As a foster parent, be prepared to say goodbye, you may have a moment's notice or several weeks to prepare before a child leaves. Remember, foster and adopted children will have seasons of grieving what “could have been”, especially when transitioning into a new developmental stage. They may lash out at you or want to reach out to biological parents. As a parent, you may grieve what “could have been” if your child didn’t have to deal with drug exposure, mental health issues or learning challenges. You will grieve. Your child will grieve. Taking time to work through grief brings healing, resilience and strength - for you and your child.
Be patient with birth parents
Since fostering is not a permanent solution, it’s important for foster parents to patiently facilitate reunification. Completing the court-required reunification process takes time. Biological parents need to learn new parenting skills, disengage from unhealthy relationships, figure out safe housing, overcome transportation barriers and make changes that involve generational cycles of neglect and abuse. Biological parents most often are loving their kids the best way they know how. Get to know the parents and support them as soon, and as much, as possible. No matter what terrible thing a child’s parents may have done, they are the child’s parents. Your patience with birth parents will have a positive impact on the child during foster care, as well as after reunification or adoption. For more information on co-parenting click here.
Be patient with others.
Caseworkers are overworked and overwhelmed in most counties. They may have difficulty communicating with you. They may not be able to tell you everything you want to know. Teachers may not understand your child’s trauma history and how to organize classroom dynamics so your child can be successful. Friends and family may ask ridiculous, even rude questions. Be open and honest about expressing your needs. Respectfully offer practical ways to make the situation better. When you don’t know where to turn for answers utilize your Project 1.27 case managers. They are great sounding boards, will work to help you find solutions, connect you with other families who have similar experiences and most importantly, pray for and with you.
Be patient with yourself.
Give yourself the grace you would give your best friend. At times, you will be overwhelmed, angry and tearful, questioning everything you’ve learned and tried. Keep going, keep trying; it does get better. Pat yourself on the back. You’re doing a wonderful thing, even if it doesn’t feel like it. You may have more than your share of bad days, so take note of the good days. Take time to celebrate when things go well. Remember to nurture yourself while caring for others.
Having a strong support system is essential. Surround yourself with at least four people who can support you. When you are weary or sick, ask them to help care for the kids. When you have multiple therapy or social worker visits, call and ask them to provide a meal for your family. When things are chaotic, ask them to pray for you AND help fold the laundry. Parenting kids from foster care is hard work and you can’t do it alone.