Before You Foster: Ways to Prepare Your Children and Family

Often, I hear couples talk about how they would like to foster ‘someday’. I was the same way, always wanting to adopt or foster one day. Helping children in hard places is something that is close to the hearts of many, but it feels like such a big life altering step that less end up taking those steps towards actually doing it, than those that think about that ‘someday’. There is so much to learn and do before that child or sibling set comes into your home, but as a foster mom myself, I can tell you that each step is worth it! If you are thinking about fostering in the next few years, here are some important starter points that will help you thrive once ‘someday’ becomes a reality.

Pour into your marriage, because you can’t pour love out of an empty cup. Children that have experienced trauma will need a lot of focused love and care that will stretch both you and your partner. The relationship struggles that were manageable before, often become significantly more challenging while couples are fostering. Pour into this relationship, date each other, and have those hard conversations you’ve both been putting off before you decide to bring a child into your home. This is not a situation where “we will deal with that later” will benefit either of you. The strong relationship between you two will be the foundation that these children can stand on to begin their healing.

Dive deep into your own healing journey before you take in those that need healing. Foster care goes beyond traditional parenting. Parents have to constantly adapt to changes in the case, in the child, and in what works to help their child heal and thrive. You may be surprised at how the difficulties in your past find their way back up to the surface. Spend some focused time looking at the difficulties you have already walked through and the coping skills that worked well, along with those that didn’t. We highly recommend that parents have a therapist that they connect with at least monthly while they are fostering.

Assure you have a supportive community. You cannot thrive in foster care and loving vulnerable youth while remaining in the walls of your home. That community becomes necessary really fast, when you need to get away from the house, or have someone give you even an hour or two of a break from the important work you are doing. Many foster parents think that they will be able to shoulder the weight all on their own, but later find how much they needed others to hold them up. A larger community just means that there are more people to love the children in your life, and provide things that even you can’t.

Pray for discernment and love as you begin your journey. Emotions tend to be very difficult to control when you are fostering. You may think you immediately will fall in love with the child or siblings coming into your home, only to find that bonding is a struggle. It is important to pray together for discernment as you hear about children needing a foster home, this commitment will be incredibly important to them, and damaging if it falls apart. Know that your life will be very different for at least a year from the point of saying yes, and pray to love the child(ren) that enter your home just a little bit more each day they are with you. Those prayers matter and will help strengthen you when things are difficult.

If you have children in your home already, bring them along in the learning process. Nightlight has training videos available for your kids to learn more about foster care, including coloring books that talk about what foster care is! Foster care is a very grown up topic, but children can be surprisingly adept in understanding what is going on when taught in a child friendly way. A lot of parents have reservations about fostering to protect the children currently in their home. Experienced foster parents often comment on how great it has been for their biological children, and a great way to grow empathy. We recommend reaching out to your Foster Care Advocate for training resources to help you bring your children along on this journey, because they can help children in foster care heal too!

 

written by Deb Uber

The Benefit of Fostering Older Children

Many families interested in foster care are often afraid or nervous to foster “older” children because of the horror stories they may have heard about older foster children. The reality though is that most children in foster care are not scary children but instead are scared children and what they need is a loving, supportive family to provide a safe place to them. That is where you can step in!

When we use the term older children in foster care many people jump to teenagers but the term often applies to any of our kids over the age of 9 or 10, when they become more difficult to place because they are no longer “little kids”. These “older children” are not in fact old but are indeed still children, yes even the 16 and 17 year olds are still children (even if they like to think they are all grown up)! While their age may bring different challenges than a younger child, it also means they have more ability to grow, change, and learn from the examples before them.

So what are the benefits of fostering older children? Being able to communicate is one of the biggest ones. Older children in foster care can share with you what they are thinking and feeling and begin to process their experiences in ways that younger children cannot yet. There will be times that it may feel more like a burden then a blessing, like when a child screams “I hate you!” for the 4th time that day, but every bit of communication tells a piece of the story for that child that they are slowly inviting you into. Children being able to have their voices heard and validated has the power to be incredibly healing for them. There is a special kind of joy that comes when you can experience a 15-year-old boy lower his guard for a moment, start sharing with you about his life, and invite you into his hurt and his healing. It is a great honor to be the one trusted with these children’s stories and something unique you are able to experience when you care for school aged children.

Other benefits include being able to support older children and youth as they start to explore their interests and preferences. You can have the opportunity to see tangible growth in the child whether through a change in school grades or a new interest in a sport they have never tried before. As a foster parent to school aged children you are able to help them explore subjects that interest them, start thinking about future careers that may want to pursue, or begin teaching them life skills they will need later like how to wash their clothes or scramble an egg.

And for those parents who just cannot sit through one more episode of Cocomelon or listen to a single note of “Baby Shark”, fostering older children gives you the chance to participate in different experiences together, some that you may even enjoy. You could have the opportunity to show them your favorite superhero movies or introduce them to a great book series you can read together or take them to your favorite amusement park to ride roller coasters. Parenting older children can actually be fun and enjoyable at times, even if not every day is.

When fostering older children, you have the opportunity to provide so much more than just a safe place for them to sleep. You have the opportunity to speak into some of the most crucial years of child’s life, years where a positive adult relationship has the potential to change the trajectory of their lives. All children in foster care deserve a safe, loving, nurturing home to go to while they are in foster care and older children are no exception. Your home could be that home for an older child, you just have to say yes!

 

Want to hear more about fostering older children and teens? Check out these blog posts!

https://www.thearchibaldproject.com/blog/encouragement-from-a-foster-teen

 

https://www.thearchibaldproject.com/blog/yes-we-said-it-we-love-fostering-teens

 

https://www.thearchibaldproject.com/blog/the-joys-of-parenting-foster-youth?rq=foster%20youth

 

written by Lexie Fowler

Fostering Children With Sexual Trauma

 

When entering the foster system, social workers won’t have a full picture of the experiences a child may have gone through before removal. They will have heard of enough situations in the home to warrant action being taken, but a scared child will not be an open book. Instead, children are removed and placed either in a kinship or a foster home with the majority of the team being unaware of the full extent of the abuse that child experienced. The first goal of these foster or kinship homes will be connection and helping them to begin to feel safe again, while working with the foster team to track new information and set up supports for any abuse that is known.

 

Take Note: Of the unknown types of trauma that may occur, sexual abuse is often an area of insecurity for foster parents who may not have any experience or knowledge about helping a child pursue emotional healing in that area. This becomes increasingly difficult for nervous parents who have a child that discloses abuse much later into placement. This article from fosteringperspective.org breaks down how common it is for social workers to be unaware about sexual abuse that occurred in their original home or even in another foster home that the child moved from. It is estimated that anywhere between 70-80% of children in foster care have experienced some type of sexual abuse, or were witness to sexual abuse of others. The reality is, most children will hold on to such a painful secret until they start to feel safe, which often occurs months into a foster placement, or even longer before they start to talk.

 

Start with Education: Opening up about past abuse can feel terrifying for a child, and is a time that they will need extra support to know that no matter what they have been through they are worthy of being loved, they have a voice that matters, and they deserve to be safe. Education is one of the best starting points for foster parents. ChildWelfare.gov has a booklet that helps parents understanding signs and behaviors that may suggest sexual abuse has occurred to children and youth, along with ways to seek help and support the victim.

 

Empowering the Child: While parenting a child who is processing sexual abuse, parents will want to be intentional about giving them some control in their daily life through choices as opposed to telling them what to do. This can be as simple as providing one or two options, or helping them be a part of planning the family schedule or weekly menu. By providing areas of control you will be reminding them that they can be empowered again and helping to boost their self-esteem. You will also want to give them a safe and comforting environment that they can escape to in the home if they are feeling overwhelmed and need to calm down or be alone. It is normal for children to push boundaries while processing through painful events. Having a space to go while they are escalated or scared will help resolve conflict without adding to the problem. Children will need time and empathy to process through their experiences and come to a point of healing.

 

It is strongly recommended that you work with the child’s team to get a trained therapist involved who has experience working with children who have been sexually abused. If any new sexual abuse is disclosed by a child, it needs to be reported to your states Child Abuse Hotline and to your foster care team.

written by Deb Uber & Natalie Burton

 

Foster Parents Who “Get Too Attached”

As a private foster care and adoption agency, the staff at Nightlight Christian Adoptions have heard many express the fear of “getting too attached” to foster children placed in their home. This fear is real, scary, and full of tension: the worry that the family will grow to dearly love, bond, and attach to a child who is very likely (and hopefully) returning home to his or her biological family. This fear is one for foster families to sensitively navigate as they process what this means for their family as they live in tension with these children and/or teenagers in their home, but also one to embrace for the sake of children in care so that maybe they may grieve a little less.

Children in foster care have experienced unthinkable trauma, simply by being placed into foster care. Children come into care at no fault of their own, and many may not have experienced the kind of love, stability, and security that a family is supposed to provide but may not be able to just yet for a multitude of reasons. The inherent loss in foster care is so deep and raw for these children, as they are removed from their home, their biological family, and much of the time, their community, teachers, friends, and pets. Sometimes, they are even separated from their siblings. Foster parents have a unique opportunity to fill the gap for these children and families. And it is always the perfect opportunity to “get too attached” to these children.

These children likely have many unmet needs (educational, physical, emotional, psychological, etc.). Predominately, these children need caregivers who can provide attachment and consistent, loving care, no matter how short a period these children remain with their foster parents as their biological families work hard to bring their kids home to them. The reality is that children in foster care may not have had the opportunity to experience the kind of care they need. Foster parents can show children, the most vulnerable of our population, what it means to be a family, to have attachment, and to receive unconditional love, with the hope that their biological family will be able to do it very soon.

All children need attachment, especially those who have experienced trauma. Their relationships with their caregivers are the blueprint for all future relationships in their life. It teaches them how to interact with the world and others around them. And for a foster parent to step in, fill the gap, and pour into these children the way they truly can – the results are lifelong and eternal. Foster children are one of the most vulnerable populations in our society, and we all have a duty to step in for our most defenseless and stand in the gap, no matter how long.

Foster care is messy, but oh so necessary because sometimes families are broken and need help to get back on their feet. Foster care is also costly, as families pour into littles who may not stay. And these children deserve for others to fill these needs for them when their parents cannot for a period of time. Imagine the impact for generations to come, to love on children and families and be an instrument of impacting families in true, lifelong ways. When these children leave, they carry with them the time spent in a safe, secure home where their little souls were dearly loved and a picture of what family can truly mean. In the end, for these children and teenagers, we have a duty to risk our hearts to break so that their hearts can break a little less.

In no way does this diminish or negate the very real feelings of loss that foster parents will feel when children leave. But if we don’t do it for these children, who will? Ultimately, the grief that is so real, so raw, is always, always worth it for the children who already have lost so much.