A few thoughts for anyone out there who is doing foster care but needs some extra encouragement.
But first, a little venting about some of my own reasons for needing encouragement as a foster parent. To me, some of the most frustrating or heartbreaking things about “the system” and foster care in general are:
1) Having to say goodbye to a foster child. What a Loss. It can be absolutely heartbreaking. At this point in time my husband and I aren’t concerned with our own feelings, but with the feelings of our daughter who will have had to say goodbye to two foster brothers in two years.
If you don’t think the bond between children and their foster siblings is as strong as the bond between “regular” siblings, tell that to my three year old every time she cried for “her baby” after our last placement left our home.
After taking the kids for a visit to Grandma’s house last week, my mom got a sad look on her face and shook her head as she said, “He’s going to have a hard time going back.” She was referring specifically to all of the giggles and squeals as the children played together. Maybe he’ll miss our house a little and perhaps he’ll miss my husband and I, but after six more months of bonding he’s going to miss his foster sister A LOT.
2) Seeing a child go back to an environment which is not “ideal”. Yes, the parents may have made progress, but especially in the cases of clients who have had a previous history with the Division of Child and Family Services and there is a strong chance for recidivism, how long will any changes really last? Are plans for permanency really going to be permanent? Molly made it a full year before coming back into care, for example.
3) Seeing the rights of birth parents take precedence over the rights and best interest of their children. Yes, it’s good that families are given another chance to stay together, but is it really fair to the child to go back to an environment only to be taken into custody a second or third time? How many chances do parents get at the cost of their children’s stability and well-being?
4) Seeing blood relatives of a foster child suddenly come out of the woodwork for a kinship placement despite the fact that they’ve never even met the child or had any previous interest in having a relationship with the child’s family. It seems to me this also usually happens AFTER the child has been in a securely attached foster placement for some time. Whether this is because it takes that long to track relatives down or because the background check they must pass takes so long, I don’t know.
5) The irony of having to prove yourself “worthy” to care for someone else’s child on a temporary basis when the child’s family gets a legal slap on the wrist for the reason the child was brought into care in the first place. For example, I could get my foster care license taken away if I don’t lock up my household cleaning products or have the right-sized fire extinguisher in my home and I must document every scratch and scrape or injury my foster child has ever had lest allegations of abuse or, worst case-scenario, a full-blown investigation is launched against me and my family. Contrast that with the following hypothetical but highly likely scenarios: my foster child’s parents get short of a warning for having or selling drugs in their home and/or the only reason their child can be removed from them in the first place is if they come close to killing them.
6) Having to do the “dirty work” and mundane tasks of parenting a child when you never get to see the fruits of your labors. By “dirty work” I mean changing diapers, potty training, wiping runny noses, cleaning up spit-up or throw up, or waking in the middle of the night to comfort a crying or sick child while the parents don’t have to change any diapers and can sleep through the night uninterrupted. Sure, that’s part of being a parent but I would venture to guess that in most cases parents can look back on those things and experience some sort of pay-off once their child is grown: “Remember when you used to wet the bed? And now look at you . . . you just graduated from college with honors!” It must be rewarding to see how much a child can grow and progress. But most of the time once a foster child has left their foster home, the foster family has no idea how they’re doing. The state certainly can’t give out specific information because of confidentiality.
Okay, I’ll stop my list at six. Anything else other foster parents would add to the list?
Numbers five and six have been on my mind a lot lately- perhaps because our yearly home safety inspection is coming up and also because a couple of weeks ago I was the one who had to clean up our car and wash George’s new coat and his car seat after he threw up all of the chocolate milk his parents gave him during their visit. So yesterday after I wiped George’s runny nose for the umpteenth time and smelled yet another poopy diaper of his to be changed I felt like cursing the heavens and asking God, “Now WHY am I supposed to take this placement?” “What’s the purpose in all of this?” Why do I have to change his diapers and get up with him in the middle of the night when his parents, who get to spend the rest of their lives with him, don’t even have to change a single diaper and can get a night of uninterrupted sleep? I’ll admit it- I was a little bitter, but I sincerely wanted to know so I did ask God. I shared with him my frustrations and I asked him why I am supposed to be taking care of a child who is not my own. I didn’t get any earth-shattering answers right away but the general feeling I was left with was the one we’ve had all along- that we’re “supposed” to do this.
Later, I did, however, come across an account in a magazine that served as a gentle chastisement to me. The title of the article was “Unto the Least of These” and as soon as I saw it I knew it was something I was supposed to read. I set the magazine aside until later and when I read it my feelings of guilt for my selfish attitude were amplified but I was simultaneously filled with an inner peace and inspiration. (For the full article click here.) Here’s the part I read that had the biggest impact on me as I applied it to my current frustrations as a foster parent:
To paraphrase, one day a woman who had been caring for a neighboring poor family by bringing food to their home daily and helping care for their children, including a newborn baby,
I also recently talked to another foster mother who is struggling with a couple of the items on the list (namely numbers 1 and 4) and all I could offer up for comfort to her was this statement by a wise man who promised,“returned home especially tired and weary. She slept in her chair. She dreamed she was bathing a baby which she discovered was the Christ Child. She thought, Oh, what a great honor to thus serve the very Christ. As she held the baby in her lap, she was all but overcome. … Unspeakable joy filled her whole being. … Her joy was so great it awakened her. As she awoke, these words were spoken to her, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’
“The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude."
In the same address, Joseph B. Wirthlin said,
“Learning to endure times of disappointment, suffering, and sorrow is part of our on-the-job training. These experiences, while often difficult to bear at the time, are precisely the kinds of experiences that stretch our understanding, build our character, and increase our compassion for others.
Because Jesus Christ suffered greatly, He understands our suffering. He understands our grief. We experience hard things so that we too may have increased compassion and understanding for others."
So, for any foster families out there who are in need of a little encouragement, just remember, you are serving “the least of these”. Your experiences are stretching your understanding, building your character, and certainly increasing your compassion for others. Even when it seems that nobody is aware of the frustrations and heartaches you are going through, your Heavenly Father is aware. Even if you sometimes feel like you are invisible, God sees what you do.