May is National Foster Month. Designated such by President Reagan in 1988 to bring awareness to the needs of children in foster care. Children who were unable to live safely with their parents necessitating their entry into a broken foster care system.
Foster Children often enter care with scars; some are physical, some are emotional and some are deeply embedded trauma scars, developed from years of abuse and neglect.
I am not going to sugar coat it. Foster children often present initially as challenging. While there are those children that present with no behaviors, that is not always the case. Some foster children can be extremely quiet and withdrawn…a coping mechanism adapted for survival in an unstable home. Some foster children Express their fear and loss through tears, crying at the slightest provocation. And some foster children act out with tantrums, fighting and ugly words (mimicking their home environment) Those children, unable to regulate the fight-flight-freeze responses from the warning bells in their brain, often present with some mild to moderate to formidable acting out behaviors. But what all of these children have in common is…they do not feel safe. Their world is a scary place and they do not trust or believe they will ever be safe. These behaviors are a pre-emptive response to shut out another person before they can get attached and get burned.
This blog recognizes those people who care for these wounded Angel’s day and night, fervently trying to reassure them that they are cared for, will be cared for and are finally safe. These people patiently weather the initial trauma behavior, providing consistent reassurances that “you are safe” “you are cared for” “you are a part of our tribe”.
Of course I mean Foster Parents. Social Workers could NOT do what they do without the partnership of Foster Parents.
There are myths around fostering I would like to address.
They are in it for the money
I have seen a myriad of television shows and movies that depict foster parents as money grubbing schemers that warehouse children for the monthly board payment. This would be laughable to you if you realized, in the south, Foster parents get 400 plus dollars per month…per child. Can you imagine affording all that children need (not to mention additional food costs, electricity costs, water costs…) well you get the picture. I am not saying that there are not any foster parents who exploit the system. But I am saying that the VAST majority of the foster parents I have met in the last 30 years have fostered out of a commitment to provide a caring home to children.
Foster Parents bring children into their homes and into their hearts, committing theirselves to the provision of a safe haven for foster children. They give these children, hypervigilant to the perceived dangers around them, a chance to exhale…to unclench…to begin the process of normalizing.
They become foster parents to get babies
Another misconception is that foster parents are these frustrated childless couples who just want someone else’s baby. However, a majority of foster parents either have other children in the home or have raised their children. These families came to the table knowing raising children was hard, but wanted to give of themselves to children with no family.
And…To be clear, infants and toddlers do come into foster care, often due to drug use of parents, abuse or extreme neglect. But children enter foster care and foster homes at all ages …even up to 18 years. Foster parents do have the option to examine their lives and decide an age range that fits with their family. But many of them choose a longer range in ages that allow for sibling groups to remain together. They are willing to take the older children into their hearts as well.
There is no reward in fostering
Good, loving, committed foster parents are the key to healing a broken child. It’s a calling, to be sure, but one that comes with the greatest reward of all.
… Not money, not recognition, not an easy life. The reward of fostering is making a difference in the world…one child at a time.
How many of us can actually point to an action or a moment in our lives that made such a profound impact on another’s life?
Foster Parents do it every day. They receive little compensation, little recognition and little thanks. But, if you ask a child who left foster care and became successful in his/her life (what impacted them the most) they often point to those people that made the greatest impact on their success: a committed social worker, a dedicated teacher and a loving foster parent. If queried further, they often explain that it was the foster parent who rode out the fear and anger, providing safety and acceptance to them when they were lost and showing them that they had worth and something to contribute. So..yes.. That reward…knowing your impact on another human being…is the greatest reward there is.
There are plenty of foster parents!!!
There are not.
The numbers of children entering foster care continues to rise. There are not enough foster homes to meet this growing need.
Foster parents are needed in every county in every state to provide foster children with a safe haven where they can find warmth and can feel they are part of a family.
I challenge you today:
Look into your heart
Look at your own home…
Your own family
Talk with them honestly
Could you? Would you?
Make a difference in the life of a foster child?
While celebrities, politics, even super-heroes are in the spotlight every day…foster parents are not. They are the other ones…they belong to the group (like social workers, teachers, therapists) that give of themselves quietly, effectively, unselfishly every day. the ones that matter most.