On any given day, more than 440,000 children live in foster care in the United States.
The children in foster care spend an average of two years in care and rarely remain in the same home during that time. Sadly, some of the homes they are placed in provide an environment that is no better than the environment from which they were removed.
Jamie Thomas, a director at San Diego Youth Services and a foster parent himself, is deep in the trenches of foster-care reform. Jamie spoke with me and Daniel Daniels on the Emotions Mentor podcast recently and outlined many of the problems—and a few of the successes—within our current foster-care system.
We also discussed some of the unique needs of foster children and a few strategies parents in any situation can employ to help children who are troubled.
To supplement our conversation, here are five important things to know if you’re interested in becoming a foster parent and would like to commit yourself to making a difference in the life of displaced children.
1. It’s going to be tough.
Children who are placed in foster care come from tough situations involving abuse and neglect. There will be rewarding moments as you work to help the children in your care, but those could very likely be few and far between. Be realistic and recognize that providing a home is not a magic cure-all, but the first step in a long process of healing.
2. You won’t have a lot of control.
Fostering children means you may not know anything about how long the child will be with you, what happened to the child in the past, and what the most-likely outcomes will be. Social workers, biological parents, and often legal authorities will all be making big decisions behind the scenes that can change at any moment.
The three things you can control, however, are remaining committed to the cause by educating yourself on parenting techniques, finding support from other like-minded foster parents, and doing your best to love the child in your care.
3. The child you are taking in usually loves and feels attached to their biological family.
In most cases, in fact, the priority in these situations will be reunification of child and parent(s).
If the child wants to talk about his biological family, don’t make him suppress those thoughts and feelings. Despite the difficulties experienced in his home, he will still feel attachment to his family. Respect the processes in place to reach reunification.
4. Don’t be afraid to get attached.
Children in all situations need to feel attached to someone. It’s true that you’ll likely be heartbroken for a time when a child you’ve become attached to has struggles or moves to a new home, but the benefits that come to the child from feeling loved and cared-for are worth the pain you may feel down the road.
To learn more about the importance of attachment—as well as the problems that come when attachments aren’t made—educate yourself by talking to a professional or doing research online.
5. This is a journey worth the bumpy road.
The journey will be easier to endure and more likely to bring moments of joy if you become educated on the processes involved and on the psychology behind trauma.
Learn and read as much as you can. Search out a network of foster parents and professionals on whom you can turn to for advice and support. Speak up in meetings with social workers and authorities—be an advocate for the child. Seeing a child begin to heal is worth all the hard work you’ll put forth—and more.
PS. Check out our online classes to improve you and your family's mental health!
PSS. I often use essential oils to help with feelings of worry and fear. I even use essential oils with my grandkids!