Hindsight is 20/20. Below is a list of things I would happily go back in time and tell myself at the very beginning of my journey as a foster parent.
Things I Wish I Had Known From the Beginning
- Set up boundaries. We had a placement call for a case where the bio parent transported for visitation. The arrangement would be to have a parent we’ve never met be given our address and come to our house twice a week for pick up and drop off. For that placement to ever work out, we would have needed to figure out a way to meet elsewhere, at least until we had built up trust and rapport with the parent. Caseworkers aren’t going to magically know your boundaries; you have to know your own limitations and make them clear.
- Take time to research attachment disorders. Before fostering, I had never heard the phrase “all adoption is trauma.” I had always, and only, seen adoption as a beautiful act of redemption and acceptance. I understood that things could be impossibly challenging, but I didn’t fully understand the trauma, and I certainly didn’t understand attachment disorders. I’m still not sure I totally understand RAD, which is a mysterious and sometimes catch-all diagnosis, but I’m getting there, and the more I’ve learned, the more it has improved my ability to care for the children in my home.
- The system is for the parents. Realistic expectations make life easier, and knowing that what’s best for the child isn’t always the top priority will help prepare you for what’s to come. Parents are often given chance after chance after chance and cases that are suppose to make permanency decisions after 6 months can be dragged out for years. The whole system exists to take care of these children while the parents get their lives together. The very nature of foster care is unfair to the children and does takes a toll on them while they wait for their parents to be parents again.
- Get used to fumbling in the dark. Foster parents don’t necessarily have a right to specifics on how the parents are doing. Some social workers are more open than they need to be and will give you the lowdown, while others will simply notify you that the parents aren’t ready yet. I thought I’d have all this privileged information as soon as I became licensed. Silly, silly me.
- Throw out the timeline. One of the worst things you can do is hang on to timelines. There are no guarantees in foster care. Caseworkers can make educated guesses as to how long a child will stay, but no one knows what the future holds when it’s dependent on the parents’ actions. “It’ll be one night” can turn into months, and a case that looks like it’s going straight to adoption can end in reunification. All you can really plan on is to love the child in front of you.
- Everyone comes along for the ride. One of the more naive things I believed before becoming a foster parent was that opening our home was a decision that was only going to impact myself and my husband. I didn’t realize how extended family and friends would come to love our foster children and feel the joys and trials along with us. I didn’t realize how my every day life would change, how my career would change, and how all that would affect every relationship in my life.
- YOU are the advocate. Because there are so many people involved in a case, I didn’t think I would be leading the charge when it came to advocating for services or accommodations. Sometimes I might feel like a glorified babysitter, but I have to remember that I am the child’s primary caregiver at this point in time, and I am the most knowledgeable of that child’s needs. If I see an issue that needs to be addressed, I have to fight for it.
- Let your heart go but not your head. It’s okay to love uninhibitedly. Love the kids with everything you’ve got. Let your heart go as far and as fast as it wants, but don’t forget to keep your thoughts grounded. Heart vs. mind is always a balancing game. Don’t allow your mind to lose sight of reality while your heart abounds.
Are you a foster parent? What would you add to the list?