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Foster Parents Can Be Crappy Too
In a previous article, THOSE CRAPPY 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 child services professionals on my website. The first question was: What percent of foster parents that you have worked with are great foster parents?
New York 25%
North Carolina 80%
Though this is a small sampling, I find these percentages, for the most part, to be unacceptable. The fact that a child services 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 child services 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 child services 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 licensing specialist 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. 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.”
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. Reach out. I’ll help connect you.
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