Foster Care Awareness Month Part 1: Answering Your Questions

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I recently gave people a chance to ask their honest questions about foster care on my Instagram stories with the promise of answering them in a blog. So, as promised, here are some of those questions and my answers.

Do you have to be a stay-at-home parent to be eligible to foster?

Full-time working parents, single parents, and stay-at-home parents are all more than able to foster. The county will cover the cost of daycare and can help provide transportation. This is something you should be upfront about with your social workers so they will know how to best assist you.

That being said, regardless of whether you stay home or work full-time, I personally recommend having a strong support system around you. If you don’t have friends and family that you feel comfortable calling on for help with things like meals, babysitting, and other needs, you should get plugged in with an organization or church that would be able to help you out.

If you don’t have a support system and feel like you can’t foster without it, check out Part 3 (which will publish soon!), which has ways you can help kids in foster care without becoming a foster parent.

Handling “difficult behaviors” from children in foster care

This theme comes up in many of my conversations about foster care. Many people worry they would get “too attached”. Others don’t believe they have the capacity or strength to handle the trauma that children in foster care have experienced and the hard behaviors that come with them. But, let me tell you a secret… it’s not entirely different from what we have all been doing since March 2020.

We are parenting in a pandemic. If your kid’s behaviors changed in the last year; if they struggled emotionally; if there was more attitude, tantrums, withdrawing behaviors, etc… welcome to TRAUMA PARENTING. No one could have prepared us for what last year brought, but we all showed up for our kids in the best way we could. We walked them through big, hard feelings due to circumstances outside of their control. With each outburst, we’ve grown more patient because we understand that their anger is about more than they’re able to articulate. We’ve held them while they sobbed over heartbreaking disappointments. This year has forced us to navigate so much with our kids. You are probably more capable than you give yourself credit for.

You are stronger than you may think

When the entirety of foster care seems overwhelming, think about this past year. If you had known how long this pandemic would last, the weight of it may have crushed you. That’s what foster parents have to do. You see, foster parents aren’t superheroes; they’re just regular parents doing their best to show up for their kids in the unique ways they need them day after day. To quote Anna from Frozen, we simply need to do the next right thing. If we waited to be strong enough, we would ever do anything worthwhile.

boy looking out the window

That being said, it’s really helpful to prepare! So here are a few more things to consider.

  1. Remember where kids in foster care come from. Allow their stories to lead you to move and act with compassion and empathy. This video is an extremely helpful snapshot of what many children in foster care experience.
  2. Separate the action from the child. Avoid labeling them by their challenging behaviors. Have hope for them and be sure to encourage them and validate their feelings.
  3. Learn about how trauma affects the brain. I’ve included resources below.
  4. Research how your child’s trauma affects YOUR brain. See the resources section for help if you’re struggling.
  5. Do some internal work to know your own story, struggles, and triggers. This might require some therapy or simply some very intentional self-reflection. You should face all the ugly feelings, so don’t hide in the shadows wreaking havoc on yourself and your relationships. I simply cannot stress this step enough.
  6. Have compassion for yourself and commit to routine self-care that is actually life-giving for you. I’m not talking about spa days.
  7. Write reminders all over the place. Use scripts to follow that will help you handle difficult moments with your kids, and memorize truths that remind you why you’re doing this in the first place. These can include bible verses or inspirational quotes. You need to surround yourself with help and truth.
  8. Remember that progress is slow. This is lifelong, moment by moment, prayer by prayer hard work. We’re teaching them (repetitively) the tools, the truth, and the hope that they need to live healthy lives.
  9. Make sure you have a support system. Foster care requires a village or you will burn out. See the previous question.

What is the process for foster to adopt?

If you have a child in foster care in your home, chances are that you are also licensed to adopt. Some counties do separate licensing, Fairfax County does it all at once. When the child’s goal changes from reunification to adoption, all extended family members (kinship) are given the chance to become a permanent placement for the child. If this is not possible, the foster parents will be asked to become the permanent placement via adoption. The case will switch to adoption, with a new social worker, after the child’s parents’ rights have been terminated. Then the adoption process begins, which could take 6 to 12 months. Government process, court, and so many other factors can vary depending on location.

Adopting Children from Foster Care without Fostering First

If you are not interested in fostering before adoption (the goal of which is always reunification) you will need to consider your goals. The children in foster care who need to be adopted the most are typically older, most likely a part of a sibling group, and have probably been “in the system” for a while. This is an absolutely BEAUTIFUL thing to do, but it’s not the picture of what many people imagine about “adoption.” If that bums you out, then you should consider domestic/international adoption. But I would encourage you to do some heart-searching before going this route.

If this is the route you take, once a child is in foster care and their parent’s rights have been terminated, there is no available extended family willing or able to take custody, and the current foster parents do not wish to adopt, then that child will be placed with you as the “pre-adoptive home.” Then you wait six months. After that, the adoption process starts, which is another six-nine months. It’s long but worth it.

*Please note: this is my understanding of how this works. It is based on county-specific training from eight years ago and going through the adoption process for our daughter four years ago. Some counties and agencies will do things differently.

How can I get more information about being involved in Transitional Foster Care for Migrant Children?

Here are a few organizations that are certifying foster parents to care for migrant children. These are short-term placements, so typically just a few months.

USCCB: Open Your Home to Refugee Youth Today
Bethany Christian Services
Youth for Tomorrow

Have more questions? Be sure to check out Part 2 and Part 3!

Resources

Brain Science & Trauma Resources:
Book: Raising the Challenging Child
Attachment Trauma and Development
Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development
Recognizing Stress
Alarming Adrenaline 

Help for Struggling Foster/Adoptive Parents:
The Compassion Challenge
The Adoption Connection
One Thankful Mom