From making the decision to become a foster family to going through training and receiving a placement, the reality of being a foster family can seem overwhelming. How do you manage your time and resources well? Will your family be on board? How do you cope with unavoidable challenges? If you feel called to foster, your first step is to understand the role of a foster family.
The Large Team of Foster Care
Foster families play an important role within the foster care system. They are part of a large team, all trying to do the best for children and their family. The team includes caseworkers, judges, attorneys, pediatricians, churches, therapists, teachers, mentors, and more. But your role is unique. As a foster parent, you are providing care 24/7. You drive the children in your care to appointments, attend school meetings, accompany them to visits with biological parents, and so many other things.
While the team of the foster care system is large, do not underestimate the value of personal support. Finding a support system should be one of your top priorities. Wrap-around care is crucial to the health of you and your family, not to mention your longevity as a foster family and your impact on kids and teens in foster care. You do not want to just survive as a foster family. You want to thrive! If you can’t thrive, neither can those under your care. And thriving requires support.
Look to your local church or organizations that provide care for foster families. If your church does not already have a foster/adoptive family ministry, learn how to start one. A support group that does something as simple as delivering meals once a week, helping with laundry, or tutoring the kids in your home can be so powerful. You should also identify friends and family that will be a listening ear even on the hardest days. Sometimes, it just takes one person to make all the difference.
The Responsibilities of Foster Families
At the core of it all, foster families provide essential physical and emotional care for a child. Whether for a day or for years, you are opening your home and your heart to one or more child or teen in need. As a foster parent, you also advocate for whomever is in your care. This might look like finding doctors and therapists who are familiar with foster care so that they can provide tailored support. You will approach everyday decisions with a trauma-informed lens.
One of the most important things for foster families to keep in mind is the case plan for the child in their care. The goal of many case plans for children in foster care is reunification. The idea of reunification can be easy to forget. It can seem too painful or difficult to promote a relationship between the child or sibling group and their biological parents. But if the ultimate goal of their time in foster care is reunification, your love and support for the biological family and that relationship can change everything. It’s not required. Whereas you have to connect with the caseworker, the pediatrician, and the teacher, you can choose to build a relationship with the biological family. Don’t pass up the opportunity to connect with someone whose life looks different than yours. Demonstrate kindness. It will be healthy for you, the children or teens in your care, and their biological family.
Thoughtfully Consider Your Concerns
Not everyone might immediately jump on board with your plans to foster. You may face pushback or hesitancy from extended family who do not want to see you hurt. This may be disappointing at first. If you feel called and led by God to be a foster family, you are probably filled with excitement. Trust that when the people around you meet the precious child or children in your care, their fears may quickly disappear. The scariest parts of foster care seem so insignificant once you realize that there are real children and teens in need of a family on the other side of that fear.
Be practical and think out the logistics of becoming a foster family. With all the appointments that kids in foster care have, you might feel like there are not enough hours in the day. This is where support is vital. You will need help to balance all of the meetings, appointments, and visitations. Thinking through your backup plans in advance can help reduce stress once you open your home to those in foster care.
As a foster family, you will be living in the nitty-gritty, complicated world of foster care. It can be easy for people to become jaded and feel that they are entitled to complain. Things will not always be easy; in fact, you may often find that you feel valid in your frustrations. But constant complaining will not be healthy for you or your family. Not only that, it can harm the children or youth in your care. Keep Matthew 25:40 in mind: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (NIV).
Start slow as a foster family. Be open and honest about your thoughts and concerns from the beginning. Then, talk about them as a family. Doing so will bring you closer together and equip you for the journey.
Getting Started as a Foster Family
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, learn more about foster care in your state. Then, begin compiling a list of books to read. Reach out to foster families in your town to hear their stories. Regardless of whether you have raised children of your own, parenting vulnerable children requires its own techniques and practices – and lots of support.
Once you have said “yes” to God’s call to serve as a foster family, keep saying “yes” until He says your time is over. He will multiply your efforts in ways you cannot anticipate.
Serving as a foster family will be difficult, but it will be beautiful. Yes, you and your family will face loss and sadness. But you will also grow in compassion and strength. Your life will be forever impacted, and you will be better for it.