I Could Never Be a Foster Parent

I hear it time and time again. “I really admire you.” “I could never be a foster parent.” “I don’t know how you do it.”

I wouldn’t be able to give them back.”

Well, yes, you could. You wouldn’t have a choice. What this statement really means is, “It would break my heart to give them back.”

Let’s get real. I really enjoy being a foster mom…most of the time. I love the kids….always. Sometimes it rips my heart out to send them home. Other times I am counting down the minutes. Don’t judge.

To those people who have told me that they “wouldn’t be able to give them back,” you are EXACTLY who we need as foster parents. Don’t fool yourself. You could give them back. It would just be hard. That statement, “I wouldn’t be able to give them back,” tells me that you have a heart and you will fight for what’s right.

Will you experience gut wrenching pain at some point as a foster parent? Without a doubt. Will you worry for YEARS about that one that you lost contact with? Yep. Will you have sleepless nights praying that a child’s parent falls off the wagon so they can go to a pre-adoptive home? Brutal honesty…yes. Will you put on a fake smile and pretend to be friendly to that pedophile or parent who horrifically hurt this child that you have grown to adore? Yes, but only because you have to. Do you want to claw his eyes out, spit in his face and make him hurt as much as he hurt that baby? Yes, but you don’t because A) Your faith tells you that is wrong. B) You will lose your foster license and then where will these kids go? C) Prison sucks. But, that doesn’t mean that you won’t fantasize about it now and then.

“I wouldn’t be able to give them back.” No doubt, you will receive a call for a sweet little child who is still the essence of innocence.

Little Sugar Lump was neglected and Mom and Dad didn’t have enough money to keep the utilities turned on. There was no family to take Little Sugar Lump temporarily. Dad was laid off and Mom has no high school diploma.

They lose Little Sugar Lump until they complete the following:

  • Mom obtains her GED and gains employment
  • Dad gains employment
  • All utilities are on and a clear plan is in place to keep them on.

Mom and Dad clearly love Little Sugar Lump. You have him for 8 months. You clearly love this child. However, he is THEIR child. You MUST give him back. It WILL hurt. But it will hurt them more if they lose him forever. He has a great shot at a good life, in large part, because you planted seeds in him. Hopefully, you have established a good relationship with his parents so you can remain a part of his life.

“I wouldn’t be able to give them back.” Then comes Sour Patch Kid. The one that was hurt over and over again who trusts no one. The tantrums, the tears, the lies, thefts and overall craptastic attitude. She is IMPOSSIBLE to deal with let alone love. You have the same conversation 122 times about the value of showering on a daily basis and 10 reasons why 7 year olds shouldn’t use the F word.

Sour Patch comes with a daily note home from school…on a good day. The worst days have you answering the phone at 9AM apologizing yet again to this gem of a teacher who didn’t realize she needed a social work degree and near correctional officer skills to make it through her day with this ONE child.

Sour Patch’s providers spew phrases like possible Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or maybe it’s Reactive Attachment Disorder, no…Borderline Personality Disorder…let’s settle on treating with “Trauma Informed Care and all of the above.” Feeling defeated, you start thinking…I can’t wait until this one goes home.

You are exhausted. You’ve never worked harder in your life. The emotional roller coaster begins to take its toll. You have that dreaded devil sitting on your shoulder telling you to call DCS and send her back where she came from. You are after all her 5th foster home in three years. Surely, if the others couldn’t handle her, you can’t either.   

You wake to her frantically screaming “get off me” at 2 AM and rush to her room certain that you will find an intruder. You yell her name to wake her because you learned the hard way that touching her to wake her ends with a fist swinging at your face. Your voice is desperate to sooth her horrific nightmare as you see her struggle to push that invisible offender off. Then she wakes and as tear soaked eyes meet yours, she reaches out for the only person she feels safe with. Her trembling little body falls to pieces in your arms. Then magic happens. You start to love her. And she starts to see that she needs you. You have not abandoned her like everyone else, no matter how rotten she acts. You finally start to understand. You understand why she is so difficult. You understand why she doesn’t trust. You see her story unfold before you and you realize this child is a gift to you. And you understand that God brought this kid into your life for a purpose.

All the effort and stress is suddenly worth it. Yes, she is a royal crack pain, but she needs you. Right now, at this time of her life, she needs you. She needs to learn what it means to trust someone and what appropriate affection feels and looks like. She needs to learn what anxiety is and that it makes her want to throw tantrums, lie, steal and say the F word. She needs to understand why she is terrified to shower and why she feels the need to control every possible situation. Her reasoning is valid.

Sour Patch Kids are only sour at first. You have to get past the sour to reach the sweet. You count yourself LUCKY to have her. You get to speak truth and light into this child who has been so badly broken and it will give you immense pride in yourself that you did this thing that seemed impossible. You gave of yourself selflessly because her life needed to be enhanced. You will love her deeply, protectively, fearfully and desperately. You never knew you could love someone else’s child so much.

And then you will give her back. And you will feel like someone plunged a knife into your heart. Truth is…as Sour as she is, this one will be the hardest to give back. You will grieve for her, worry about her and pray like never before that she makes it. Your heart will ache and you will wonder why you made this choice to foster. It hurts too much. But, you’ve got this. As bad as it hurts, you can handle it. You have to handle it because these kids need you. You don’t get to be weak. Another foster child will be coming soon and he will need you to be present and strong.

You will have rough patches with EVERY child you foster. It’s not always easy. Patience wears thin. Sometimes your emotions take over and you just need to go scream just to get through the next hour. Then you will get out of the car (because it’s the only place you can scream expletives without your kids or neighbors hearing.) You will compose yourself, go back in the house, put on your calm, happy face and continue saving the world.

96.8% of the time, you will lead a normal, happy life with your foster children. They are, after all, human. But life will get rocky and they will test the boundaries and push you to limits you never knew you had.

“I wouldn’t be able to give them back.” Yes you would. You wouldn’t have a choice. You can handle heartbreak. Now, stop making excuses. Call your local DCS and let’s get started. You have lives to change.

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  • What a great article. That is exactly how it feels. You didn’t even mention all the times you walk away from a meeting with the feeling that the judge is either:
    a. from another planet
    b. working for the biological parents on the side
    c. doesn’t care what happens to the kids at all
    d. doesn’t even know what kids this particular case is all about
    e. cannot see the blatant attempts to hide problems with the parents.

    No one would take on these tasks, unless they had seen the faces of these kids…
    so bring on the midnight calls…the kids need us.

  • I know exactly what you mean by “Other times I am counting down the minutes.” lol Only another foster mom would understand. I love all of them but some are so much harder than others. Most of the time the hardest ones to love are the ones that need it the most.

  • I want to be a foster mommy sooo bad!! I have always felt the need to help these kids who are put through soo much. My aunt was a foster for many years and some of those kids were just beyond amazing and some were awful (at times) but they all NEED someone to show them there is AT LEAST one person who cares about them and will be there for them!! Can not wait to be stable enough to start!!

  • WOW!! Preach it!! Yes we can give them back, yes it’s hard, but the out come of impacting a life FORVER is Priceless!! It makes us better people to Love a human being beyond our potential! Our kids grow, learning about life’s frailty and how to enlarge their heart! I am too a foster mom/ have been and about to embark upon the journey again!! Life is about LOVE…. Love makes us all heal. Love speaks hope! Love changes a generation of abuse & addiction. We MUST LOVE!!!

  • SO very true. When a DCf worker doesn’t get back to you in time or seems like they don’t cate, it is because they are so busy running are round between emergencies, hospitals, fosterhomes, °conducting visits, going to court. ..in other words they are doing their job. A job that doesn’t pay anywhere enough for all that they do..they are overloaded and underpaid. It isn’t possible for one person to do everything. They are not miracle workers. The problem lies in state Government. State guidelines called for one worker to have no more than 18 cases at a time. I recall carrying 30 cases at one time and this doesn’t account for one family who has 5 kids in custody. Often placed throughout the state, verses a family with just one child in custody. The smart social workers are the ones that leave before putting in so much time with the state. If the state slotted more money for employees and more resources, then maybe they could manage the job, meet children’s needs accordingly and keep them safe through out a very difficult time in their lives. Maybe more people would want to be fosterparents. Don’t blame the worker for spreading themselves so thin. There just isn’t enough of them to go around. Blame the state for not allotting money where it is needed the most! We need more workers in the forefront to meet the demands. DCF workers put their lives on the line everyday.

    • Well said… I was a caseworker before being a foster parent and neither job is easy….you left out a few things hat makes being a caseworkers time so thing….all the paper work that has to be filed in the families chart or charts, also the computer entries as well…thanks for your time helping out those kids.

  • it won’t matter in a hundred years time what car l had or bank account but that l have changed the life of a child,…..fostering is a vocation not a job,…being fostered and having fostered it is my life and l wouldn’t change a second of it.

  • The only thing I don’t understand is why you would pray for a child’s parents too fall off the wagon so he could go into a pre-adoptive home?
    Aren’t we supposed to pray that these parents straighten up and the kids have a good life with these parents they love so much? Otherwise this was very touching.

    • Great question. I know I am not alone in this as I have spoken to other foster parents who have felt the same way. One story I can share is that there was a father who sexually abused his children. Had he completed the court ordered parenting classes and sexual abuse counseling, he would have been reunified with his children. Wouldn’t you pray that he would fall off the wagon so his kids didn’t have to live in fear of more sexual abuse and could have the chance to be adopted into a safe, loving home?

      • Absolutely. I think that it is more of a “now, not later” type of prayer, because you know that these parents haven’t changed, and you know that history will repeat itself. So you pray to please let them fail while there are still case workers watch, instead of later, behind closed doors, when these children are completely at the mercy of their parents.

    • Because most often these kids still go back to a minimal home life….the parents have to have another and sometimes another and another miss hap before they finally see they can’t do it…often times these kids are being exposed to what ever got them taken away the first time and there has to be lots of proof…so it’s better to hope it gets over with sooner so the kids can just move on……

  • It used to make me angry when people told me, “I couldn’t do that. I’d love them too much to give them back.” It made me feel like they were saying I was heartless because I have ‘given back’ many foster children over the years. I wrote a story/poem about this experience and it is posted on a website. It won their monthly award. I had family members comment that they didn’t realize so much had been happening in our family’s lives. http://ourecho.com/story-1566-All-the-Reasons-Why.shtml

  • to Amy /// when a Foster mom prays for the parent/s to fall off the wagon n child place in preadoptive home is because we already know the situation at home hasn’t change enough for that child to have a happy stable life. It means parents have done what asked by DSS n child cannot be retain in foster care much longer. You know that sooner than later that child will be back in the system and in another foster home, not in a forever home that every trusting,innocent and loving child/children deserve.

  • Becoming a foster parent is part of my five year plan. Right now, our house is simply too small to bring another child into our home. When we build in 5 or 6 years, we will have room to take in a child or two. I can’t wait!

    • Autumn, when I was a foster mom, we had a 950sqft house. We were two adults and five teenagers under that single roof. You’d be amazed how much room there is when you open your heart to a child who needs you.

  • Just found this blog and this article has strongly impacted me. I’ve thought about becoming a foster parent on and off over the last few years. I’ve read a few memoirs of those who grew up in the system as foster kids, read the detailed stories of their lives; my heart broke for them and I longed to rescue them.

    My husband and I have been trying for a bio child for 7 years to no avail. We were thinking of adopting through a private agency… but I just can’t get over how ridiculously expensive this is! If traditional adoption was truly for good of the children, why is it so expensive? Who can possibly afford it?

    Fostering-to-adopt both appeals to me and scares the heck out of me (us). We live in a major city in a very small apartment with a spare room. We’re not at all wealthy. We live somewhat modestly. Technically, we could give a child everything she needs to live comfortably. But, being that we don’t have any first hand experience in parenting, we’re afraid we won’t have that special parental instinct that “seasoned” parents have, that we won’t know what to do. What if we can’t hack it?

    • Norah, I had never had biological children of my own, but felt compelled to foster. I have never been one who goes gaga over babies. I treasure them and know that they are precious, but I’ll be happy so long as someone else does all the yucky work. For me, my passion is the pre-teen/teen age. Those kids – the ones that no one wants – have my heart and soul. I fostered a total of 11 kids. My initial four that were in a sibling group, and two others, I consider my forever children. Being a parent, you teach right from wrong, show compassion, teach them how to be good human beings, and most importantly – above all else – you love them. You teach them through your words, but most importantly, through your actions, what it is to love and be loved. Unconditionally. My children were not angels. Four of the six did jail time, but I still love them. I can see beyond what everyone else sees. I know where the brokenness came from, and I can see their progress, and I’m proud. I’ve met all of my kids where they were, where they are, and we are traveling this road together. I wouldn’t trade one single moment of our lives together. Highs and lows, I have grown and they have taught me more than they will ever know. Norah, don’t fear. If you love, you can’t fail.

    • Hi, Norah. It’s ok to be scared. Take it just one step at a time. The first step is to go to a foster care orientation where they tell you about the intake process and foster care in general. Those two hours can be eye-opening. You’ll meet social workers and realize they aren’t the heartless, frazzled people portrayed on tv. You’ll meet other prospective foster parents, who are just as anxious, and realize you’re not alone. You’ll hear about the expectations and the supports available to foster parents.

      From there you can sign up for the foster care class, where they will teach you how to be a foster parent. It’s about 10 classes over 2 months. No cost to you, you can back out any time.

      And after you graduate from class and have your home study done, the social workers will begin to call you to ask if you would accept a particular child. You get to ask questions. You get to say no.

      Then one day you will have a child in your house. If you feel you need help, you can ask for it. From the foster agency, from friends, from family, from church, from schools… there are so many people out there who will be willing to lend a hand. You’d be surprised.

      If something catastrophic happens, you still have an out. I pray that you would only disrupt in the direst case, but it is an option if the match is truly horrid and can’t be fixed.

      So you have many “opt outs” along the way. But I believe that in the stillness of your heart, you will hear the voice of love calling you to welcome a child into your home and be the one to stand by them no matter what.

  • This made me choke up. I have two children who have come to me through adoption, one domestic infant and one with significant physical needs at 3-1/2 from Uganda (home just five months). I cannot wait, though, until we are settled enough with him that we can foster. Yes, the heartache scares me, but not taking the risk scares me more!

  • I have felt this way with many a child that i took care of.. Someday i hope to go beyond just caring for other’s children while they work and get my full license.. But to do that my dear husband needs to be on the same page as me. Maybe someday that will happen..(:

  • forgetting the times that the parents have lost all rights and go to court with social worker and everyone telling you as foster parents for past 13 months you will be filing for adoption and get to court, told you wait outside and then some realatives from who knows where have shown up claiming they want the kids, but have not seen or talked to them in over a year and kids only 2 and 4 yr old so they don’t remember them at all. On top of that they live NEXT door to a person who we all knew had sexual molested the 4 yr old(neighbor not family) and nothing had been done about that. Judge wanted kids turned over next day and only because we and caseworker insisted we at least got a few visits in over a 2 wk time period. Then to find out that 4 yr had a diff. father(which was never discovered) so at like 4 months later they sent her to live with him and his wife and 4 other kids(one of which was only 2 wks younger than her) and the 2 yr stayed with aunt and uncle, so the only family they knew (each other) were taken away from them.

  • I find it interesting that you say that Mom needed to earn her GED and get a job. That’s exactly what should be needed in my situation but I’m told by DSS that a job nor a home are needed for return to Bio parent. In my experience they can be unemployed and living in a shelter. The child will go back.
    As much as this child has gained from me in the time we’ve been together it’s illogical the way the system works. Why bother removing the child if the Bio parent only needs to provide the bare minimum? Isn’t that why the child was removed from the home to begin with.
    It’s incredibly frustrating to have to watch a child return to a bad situation.
    Not sure I’ll Foster again unless I know it’s foster to adopt.

    • NYFoster- There has to be a minimum that is good enough. We can’t say “do this, this and this to get your child back,” then when they do tell them “Well, you only did the minimum required, so you still can’t have your kid(s) back.” Just like in “Office Space” when Jennifer Aniston’s boss is continuously bothering her to wear more pieces of “flare,” even though she has the minimum required pieces already.
      I am not saying I don’t understand where you’re coming from. Perhaps the requirements should be more than what they are, I wouldn’t disagree with that at all.

  • This is an amazing read!!!! Thank you so much for posting it. I myself was a foster child. I got adopted at the age of 4 and couldn’t be any happier. My mom is a foster parent for Medically Fraigile Infants and she loves what she does. I absolutely love what she does. She teaches the fost-adopt classes in San Mateo County and always gets the question of how do you give them back. It’s a tough role to play but it’s also a very rewarding one and I wouldn’t choose anyone else to do it!! We have some amazing foster parents out there but always needing more 😉

  • This was beautiful. I loved reading this, and all of the other articles that you have posted. ive almost got done reading all of them but I caught myself tearing up reading this one and the “only doing it for the money” one. I went to costa rica for a missions trip when I was young. I still am very young, but since then, Ive always wanted to do something to help save a child’s life. These articles are very encouraging. I also have two little ones, one has not even reached the age of two yet. I may wait until they are bit older, and maybe until I am a bit older, but these articles have me so excited. Im very glad I found this! Thank you so much!

  • I was a foster child and decided as a teenage that when I was old enough I would be a foster parent. When my I was engaged I told my wife if we were to be married she would have to agree to being a foster parent, she said she couldn’t do it because it would hurt to much when they left. I told her two things, one you think you could possibly hurt more than then. Two, the best you can possibly do is to give them the best possible home that you could give them and hope that for whatever reason they leave, they would remember the good things from your home and carry those memories on in their lives and into their families. We have been married now for 28 years and we were foster parents for 15 of those years. We still have contact today with many of our former foster kids all of whom are adults, they still call us mom and dad even after returning home or wherever else they went or for whatever reason they left. My wife saw what I meant shortly after we began when one of the bio parents of a child who was returned home, called us and thanked us for everything we had done for their child. It was a wonderful experience and have no regrets. I do believe there are three kinds of people when it comes to foster parenting. Those who can’t, those who won’t and those who shouldn’t. We must respect each one.

  • But good luck being a household with two working parents who want to foster. You will be expected to drop everything constantly. Not just for school emergencies, but for things that you’d think child services could arrange with you, like meetings. They will always show up 30 minutes late and the meetings will take twice as long as expected, and when the foster family for your foster child’s sibling (both retirees) decides not to show up for that important meeting you were told you absolutely couldn’t miss no one will bat an eye, even though the amount of driving required to go from work to daycare/school to dcs and back and then to work plus the meeting time means you really are missing yet another full day of work.

    They will pass down mandatory things like this with preset times that make you scramble, have absolutely no regard for your biological children, ignore that you have small children and animals and give you a placement that had a history of aggression toward other children and animals and then gloss over why they didn’t bother to tell you.

    This is a job only for people who have at least one full time stay at home parent or retirees who aren’t working.

    They will not care about your current family or work situation, or that the constant requests for you to take off time for monthly and biweekly demands may result in you not having a job. They. Will. Not. Care. That that job is necessary to even consider continuing as a foster parent.

    So in addition to the stress that comes with foster kids, you have the stress of dealing with dysfunctional state workers and foster care agency case workers.

  • Jill thanks so much for your honesty and encouragement! My husband and I are anxiously waiting for our first lil munchkin-we are excited, thrilled and honestly, a lil scared! But so grateful and honored to be able to make a positive impact on a child’s life!

Further reading

Those Crappy Case Workers

Being a foster parent for a number of years now, I have run into the good, the bad and the ugly regarding DCS Case Workers. My complaints have been...

You Should Just Stop Fostering

Many years ago I sat on the deck of a beach house with my step-brother.  We were enjoying an adult beverage, watching the sunset and catching up...

I Foster For the Money

If you want to evoke the passion of a quality foster parent, please spew the phrase, “Foster parents are only in it for the money.” This short...