Foster Parents Can Be Crappy Too

In a previous article, THOSE CRAPPY DCS CASE WORKERS, I shared some insights into the job of a case worker. I am not naïve to think that though their jobs are tough and come with a price emotionally, physically and mentally, that there are not inadequate case workers.

With any branch of the foster care system, there is good and not so good. And sometimes there is downright terrible. Foster parents are not immune to this.

I wish I could tell you that I have sat in trainings and every foster parent in the room was stellar.  I wish I could tell you that every foster parent I have shared a sibling group with was the cream of the crop. I wish I could tell you that children are always safe in foster care.  I wish I could tell you that children are always loved, nurtured and valued during their time in foster care. However, this is not always the case.

I’ve experienced some of these foster parents myself.

  • The foster mother who referred to a 5-year-old foster child as a “heifer”…to her face.
  • The foster/adoptive father who prostituted out his two pre-teen girls.
  • The foster mom who parked her teen in front of Netflix 24/7 with a cabinet of ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese to cook for herself whenever she got hungry.
  • The same foster mother who took a trip with her best friend (who was a foster mom too) every 3 months, but put the teen in respite (another foster home while that parent takes a break) and never took that child on any trips.
  • The foster father who used hot showers as a punishment.
  • The foster parent who makes the child appear to have more severe behavioral and mental health issues to get a higher per diem for them.
  • The foster parents who let the teens run around without rules or boundaries and then acted shocked when their 14-year-old foster daughter wound up pregnant.
  • The foster parents who told the foster child how worthless her mom was.
  • That foster parent who told a 6-year-old girl that she would cut her fingers off if she “stole” her lipstick from her purse again and who placed well hidden bruises on the child, yet still holds her foster license.

Truth be told, the list goes on and on.

I posed questions for DCS Professionals on my website.

The first question was: What percent of foster parents that you have worked with are great foster parents?

The responses:

Case Worker’s State


Ohio 75%
Utah 90%
New York 25%
Pennsylvania 25%
Ohio 20%
Washington 70%
Indiana 80%
Indiana 20%
Indiana 50%
Missouri 10%
North Carolina 80%
Arkansas 30%
Tennessee 60-75%
California 40%
Arkansas 50%
Kansas 10%
Florida 90%
Florida 10%
Ohio 10%

Though this is a small sampling, I find these percentages, for the most part, to be unacceptable.  The fact that a DCS Professional feels that 10% of the foster parents they have worked with are GREAT tells me that we have a HUGE problem on our hands.

I also asked the DCS professionals to share what MAKES a foster parent great.  Though many provided great insights, one stood out.  Her response:

“I think that what makes a foster parent great is when they can make a child feel safe, feel wanted, be understanding that our kids bring with them a lot of trauma, and be willing to be what that child needs rather than that child fitting into what they need them to be. I love a foster parent that can explain the house rules to a kiddo but understand that they have probably never had these rules and will need continued guidance. I love a foster parent that is willing to see the kids as individuals that don’t always respond to one style of parenting and be willing to change up parenting styles that will be most beneficial for that child. Foster parents who are great can adapt to the child and not expect the child to adapt to the new home. I love a foster parent that understands that kids want to be with their parents and they will not necessarily come into the home grateful to the foster parent! My favorite foster parents of all time once said that they don’t expect anything from their foster kids but are willing to give them what they need to be the best they can be and have successful and happy futures…can’t ask for anything more than that!”

Are we asking too much to ask that children be treated with love, kindness and respect?  One DCS Professional stated that a great foster parent is one who “transports the children to their visits, therapy and appointments.”  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Is this the standard of a great foster parent? And this professional’s standard was not isolated.  Others shared similar, low standard comments.  AGAIN, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? HOW CAN THIS BE THE EXPECTATION?

ANGRY? You bet I’m angry!

I for one and FED UP with foster parents who refuse to love the children in their care. LOVE…IT’S LOVE PEOPLE!  Hug a kid. Tell them you care about them.  Make them feel like the unique, amazing, talented, worthy person that they are. Love costs nothing, but has the greatest impact on these children.

Point blank, if you are incapable of loving these kids, then get the heck out!  Seriously, call your agency or local DCS and relinquish your license now because frankly, you are screwing up our kids and giving foster parents a bad name.

If you CAN and DO love them, please read on.

Fostering doesn’t include a magic wand.  Anyone with a big enough heart can do it.  It’s honestly, pretty simple, most of the time, when it comes to your life with your foster children.

Talk to them.  Don’t just tell them that you love them.  Show them.  Ask about their day, their thoughts, and their worries.  You are not just their food and shelter.  A dog can have a food bowl in a doghouse and still survive, but he will NEVER thrive.  These are CHILDREN.  They are not meant to be plopped in front of a TV with Netflix and ramen noodles all the time.

Feed them.  Feed them good food.  Help them find new foods they love, but have never experienced.  Teach them what it means to eat healthy. Let them grow good food, if you are able. If they grow it, they will eat it. You may be the only one who ever instills this in them.

Monitor them.  Agree or disagree, but social media and teens = trouble. I’ve learned this the hard way with several of the teens we have fostered.  Bullying, drama, sexting, friending unknown people…I’m done with it. The children we serve have been forced to grow up too soon.  They have not been protected as they should have been. Let them be kids for as long as possible.  Social media is too much, too fast and without a mature mind, social media is a disaster waiting to happen.  And yes, you can undo social media if it’s already been done.  It’s called “deactivate.”  And for heaven’s sake, no matter how “uncool” it is to be without a cell phone, they will survive without one and one day, they may even thank you for it.

Give them great memories. You might just witness the first time they sink their toes into warm sand or see their face when they get off their first roller coaster. Make memories with them. Take them on vacation. Show them the wonders that they may not see again for a very long time. Give them an amazing Christmas. Spoil them rotten at the holidays. Throw them a birthday party.  It may be the only party they ever have. Bake with them.  Get messy.  Paint, get muddy, have a video game marathon with them.  The possibilities are endless.

Listen to them. Be a listening ear when they are ready to tell you their story.  Validate their feelings and fears. Listen to them even when they are not speaking.  Watch their body language. Learn how they handle stress and be aware of their moods.  Share some of your stories with them so they don’t feel so vulnerable.

Be honest. Trust is not easily earned.  Once you earn it, don’t break it.  Never make promises you cannot keep.

Be patient.

Let them be children. The time in your home may be the only time they are able to be in choir, football, the school play or marching band.  Give them the opportunities they wouldn’t normally have. Take them to parks and splash pads.  Try to find ways to take the weight off their shoulders. Give them something to take their minds off the therapy sessions, case worker visits, CASA visits and every other reminder to them that they are a “foster kid.”  Let them get out of their head for a while and just be kids.

You have this amazing opportunity as a foster parent to show a child what stability, safety and appropriate accountability looks and feels like. The memories you can give them will last their lifetime.  When they think back to their time with you, the overall memory of your home should bring warmth and a smile. Without a doubt, they should remember you with fondness and think, “they loved me.”

These kids need, deserve and are worthy of being placed in loving, kind and safe homes when they can’t be with their own families.

To the foster families who are providing what these children need and deserve…you know who you are. THANK YOU. You are going a great job. I know it’s not easy. We all make mistakes and continue to grow. My faults have been many. I am not the foster mom I was ten years ago or even one year ago. This is a journey and we are on this journey together. Keep fighting for our kids and thank you for loving them.

If you are not a foster parent and you are finding yourself irritated or inspired right now, then maybe you need to act. Listen to that little voice inside and consider fostering.  Stay tuned next week as I begin a series for those who are considering becoming foster parents.

Thank a Foster Parent HERE

Thank a DCS Professional HERE

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    • Kat,
      I can’t wait either! You have NO IDEA what a huge blessing these kids will be to you. I know I’ve been telling you for a while, but I saw this in you several years ago. Some people are made for this amazing thing we call foster parenting. I strongly believe that you are one of those people. I am so excited for you and can’t wait to see you obtain your license and get started.

      Much love,

  • Thank you so much for posting this! I have a kiddo who is extremely disrespectful to myself and my husband! However we still want him to be a kid and have fun!! He is enrolled in karate, doing baseball this summer, and has extra fun activities! We have tried lots of consequences such as writing the definition of respect and disrespect!! Grounding, doing something nice for others.. Etc nothing is working and we were struggling at our wits end of what to do! We know he is angry at being in care and takes it out on us but we want him to be respectful to adults

    • Tanya,
      You are not alone. We have been there too. I would highly encourage you to join one of the Facebook Support Groups. They are great resources and full of other foster parents willing to help. It will get better. Thank you for your willingness to share. Keep loving him!

      Jill Rippy

    • it is wonderful to hear how much you want to do to help a child that is not pleasant but has every reason for being the way they are. They need to know and trust that someone cares. I have seen so much of the horrible foster care families. It makes me angry. But thank you all that make a difference! We need more of you!

    • Great question! I had many, many case workers respond. Some were from the same state. I noticed a trend with some of the higher percentages. Many of those mentioned that they are from a smaller county.

      • you are not a hero because of being a faster mom . most of you are monsters to us not a mother you act to us like a criminal . so stop pretending like a hero because you are satan not god to us even god is dead for us

    • it is wonderful to hear how much you want to do to help a child that is not pleasant but has every reason for being the way they are. They need to know and trust that someone cares. I have seen so much of the horrible foster care families. It makes me angry. But thank you all that make a difference! We need more of you!
      This said my email was not correct. I did not see the mistake and tried to renter it. Then I re did my email. It said I had sent this reply multiple times. This is my expla nation to that. Thank you!

  • It was seeing the news about how some foster parents treat the kids they take in that solidified my decision to pursue my license.

  • Wow, this is some powerfully motivating stuff. My husband and I are in conversation about opening our home and family up to a foster child. I will be checking back for the ‘becoming foster parents’ series.

    Also, the ReMoved video was incredible.

    Is this a new website? I can only see three posts. Are there older posts somewhere as well?

  • As a foster mom, I will say that sometimes love does not enter into the equation. At least not at first. Did I love the little boy who came into my home, hitting and biting and swearing at me and the other children? Nope. But for the month he was with us, I still provided safety, structure, patience, and accountability to this child who was a product of his environment. I believe that it is okay to not love a child, at least right off the bat, and there’s no need to shame foster parents who don’t. Everything takes time. Love grows, it does not magically appear. Fake it in the meantime.

    It’s okay if you don’t have the feelings you thought you would. Give them time to develop. Did you love your husband or wife the very first time you laid eyes on them? I’ll guess not. But as you got to know each other over time, warm fuzzies grew into love.

    I would just hate for other foster parents to read this article and think that they’re failures because they don’t automatically love this wounded, wild, beautiful child. There is no shame or failure. Those feeling will come.

    • MThomas, I agree 100%. Without a doubt, love grows. I am referring to those who are unwilling/refuse to love. Sadly, I have witnessed this many, many times. Hatefulness has no place in a foster parent’s heart. My hope is this is a very small population of foster parents. Thank you for your thoughts and for pointing out this very important perspective.

      Jill Rippy

  • I’m a caseworker in MO from a bigger county. I would say that the vast majority of foster parents I’ve come across are amazing! I would say at least 80%, if not higher. But I have also run into those who should not be foster parents. There is no job in the child welfare system for the faint of heart, including being a foster parent. I try my best to be as supportive and responsive to the foster parents on my caseload and try to verbalized my appreciation to them as often as possible. We all have a thankless and difficult job trying to help these kiddos!

  • I find these two articles completely different. Praising the caseworkers and then really not paralleling that with the foster families. I am a foster mom and work SO hard for my kiddos and honestly, this deflated me so much. Why didn’t you choose to praise the foster families as you did with the caseworkers? Sigh. I KNOW there are terrible foster parents, which is why we joined the agency we did that has higher expectations and is EXTREMELY strict with us, so that we had more accountability. The families in our agency are brave warriors who adore their kids. Why not focus on those people?

  • Good article but I will add something. I worked with FP who was willing to give love, but not in a way child could receive that love, so it didn’t last long. It made me realize that love is not unconditional in everyone’s mind.


  • Hi Jill,
    Thank you for posting this. I agree with all of your points. I’m a 12 year foster parent veteran. I have seen terrible foster parents and great ones. Its clear the outcome of the children shows how well those parents did. I have become an advocate in my area and do parent coaching in the homes of the foster parents to get them where they need to be. Training on how to care for wounded children is lacking and sometimes it’s someone who has been there that can help a foster parent “get it”.

  • I’m a former caseworker and love what you’ve written here. I remember vividly one foster parent that took in two siblings under three only nine months apart. Two days later she insisted they leave immediately and that they were “too much to handle.” All I could think was who would think that two young boys so close in age coming from an abusive home who just went through a traumatic separation from their parents to be easy to handle? Two removals in less than a week took a huge tool on these little souls but thankfully their next foster parent was loving, patient, supportive, and nurturing. She was amazing and helped them to thrive. Thank you for your writings.

  • We have only been foster parents for a year, and only do babies, but it has been greatly rewarding to see them grow and thrive.

  • I’ve been reading through your post and comments for over an hour now and I can’t even remember how I found your website. I feel like I am being called into fostering but I have so many excuses. I’ve always wanted to become involved and help young mothers and children but never knew how or what I could do. For the last 2 years my pastor has been asking what is God calling you to do?! I’ve thought and thought and prayed…what am I supposed to do God! What purpose am I suppose to have?!

    Now looking back I believe God has been sending me signs for years but I’ve ignored them…over & over again. I use to work with a lady who fostered children. I’ve stumbled across child abuse website where you can read children’s stories and I would spend hours upon hours crying, reading stories thinking I could have loved those children. My husband and I temporary took custody of his niece when her mom went to jail. We’ve talked about planning a mission trip to another county to help children. My husband has a friend who’s girlfriend fosters and he brought the kids over one day and after they left all my kids asked if we could foster and get babies.

    Then all my doubts & fears set in….

    I already have 5 kids. There isn’t room for more. I’m already so busy with my kids (cheer, softball, church, etc.) how could I make time for anymore? Would my work understand? Would my family understand? I yell. My husband smokes (God I wish he could quit). I’m scared I would fail! I’m scared I’m not a good enough parent! I’m scared I would be taking on too much!

    So I just brush off the idea….

  • You forgot to add the foster parents who are only supposed to have 6 kids in their home but have 10 and when you respite for them the child screams and cries please don’t let them take me….oh and they had left the toddler with you while they took older ones on vacation

  • My foster parents adopted me. You may think OMG that’s great! No it’s not. They refuse to do anything to make me feel happy it’s just the same sad situation I thought I left behind. I honestly believe there’s nothing good left in the world…..

  • I could not be more irritated with this article. I am a foster parent who works full time. The case worker constantly changes the parent visits without consulting me. So, I can’t take the children to parent visits. I tried to schedule a vacation with the children and I was told I couldn’t take the kids out of the state & that even if I kept them in the state they prefer they go into respit so the parents could see them. I had to fight to take them on vacation with me. The caseworker treats me like a second class citizen and parents like angels when they feed them McDonalds, pops, chips. I send them with a healthy lunch in their lunch boxes for parent visits multiple times & the parents would give them junk and send back the lunch. I’m giving everything I have to these children, the case worker, & bio parents with Nothing in return and in most cases constant disrespect from all sides. So, don’t put down foster parents. We already have enough to deal with and societies misconceptions. You really should be ashamed of yourself for writing this article. You don’t know what the foster parents are going through. Then, to hear children on this blog, knocking their foster parent too after all they have done. Wow!

  • I am a caseworker and have worked with many foster parents over the years. It blows my mind that what some caseworkers, as you said above, consider to be “great” is the fact that they transport. ARE YOU KIDDING?! That is completely missing it.

    The foster parents who I consider great are the ones who understand our kids have trauma and their stories are filled with pain and loss. They understand that the anger and behaviors aren’t personal, but rather a cry of hurt and longing to be understood. They meet the child where they are instead of expecting them to act or be a certain way. They treat our children with respect and love, and that includes treating their mom and dad with respect, too. It’s the foster parents who make our kids feel part of the family and include them just like they were their own. It’s the ones who advocate for our kids and fight for and alongside them. I have a place in my heart for ones who see our kids as the amazing, beautiful, capable kids they are and they help our kids learn to see themselves this way, too. They are also the ones who cheer on the parents and understand the power of connection. Our children know who care about them. They know who their cheerleaders are. It bothers me to no end when my kids talk to me about not feeling like they belong in their foster family or when I feel like they are being truly advocated for. Thankfully, this is few and far between. But there definitely is a spectrum of foster parents out there.

    With all of that being said, for the ones who truly do care and their heart is in it, I am grateful. It’s comforting as a caseworker to know when my kids are safe and loved in their foster homes. The truly exceptional foster parents are on the front lines, in the trenches, advocating for our kids right alongside me, and I couldn’t do my job without you, so thank you.

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

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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...