I love talking to people about foster care. Often they tell me that they’re interested, but there’s this one thing that’s holding them back. I’ve been asking people to submit that one thing to me so I can address the issues. Some concerns are easy to clear up. Sometimes the concern is a clear reason why a family isn’t a good fit. So let me know in the comments of this post if you’ve got an issue you want me to address.
So what about the man or woman who feels like foster parenting might be the right thing for them to do, but they aren’t married? Is there a role for them in the foster care system? I love that I have friends who are asking this question. I love their hearts and the compassion they show for kids who need them. So here are my thoughts on single people as foster parents.
The ideal vs. the real. The ideal for every child is that they are able to be raised by their biological parents. Every option after that is less than ideal, but a necessary solution. In my perfect world, if a child can’t be raised by their biological parents, then they should be raised by some member of their family who is safe. If not their family, than by a loving, married couple who can make a long-term commitment to them. If not with a married couple, than by a single person. When we were adopting our son in West Africa the woman who ran the orphanage talked to us about why they were the only orphanage that allowed single women to adopt. She said, “A single Ma is better than no Ma.” That has stuck with me. These single women were adopting kids who were considered unadoptable because of their medical needs or age. There wasn’t a line of waiting two parent families for them. Their options were a single mother or spending the rest of their lives in an institution. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the women who took on that challenge. I know this line of reasoning can feel offensive. Nobody wants to feel like they are Plan C, but my concern isn’t with how adults feel as much as about what’s best for kids. Which is why I’m okay with being offended myself as I realize kids aren’t meant to be separated from their biology and that our family is in some ways a Plan C, too. The ideal isn’t always possible and in those cases I love to see how God uses the real solutions he provides.
There is a NEED for single people to foster. While ideally I think it’s best for most kids to have a two parent home, there are some cases where a single parent is necessary. If you had been abused at the hands of men, you might have a really difficult time living with one. In which case, a single mom might be best for you. I loved hearing a “graduate” of the foster care system talk about how she bounced through several homes until she landed with a single woman who had dedicated her life to raising teenage girls who would have had a difficult time living with a man in the house. This girl felt so much love from her foster mom and the foster sisters in that house and was able to experience healing. I want you to hear me clearly: It isn’t that there are situations where a single parent would be okay if there wasn’t a two parent family available, it’s that a single parent would be PREFERABLE to a two parent family. There is definitely a need and a role for the single foster parent in the system. If you’re feeling called that way, you need to seriously consider what God is asking you to do.
Evaluate your resources. Foster parenting is tough if you’re a two person team, I can only imagine how much tougher it is when you’re going it alone. You need to be sure that child is getting their needs met, you’re working with bio family and the team, making it to court dates and team meetings, etc. Can you do that? It’s probably going to require some help. It’s good to look honestly at what your resources are- do you have a community that can help, the financial ability to be sure kids get what they need, the emotional reserves to make it through the tough times. You also need to be careful that your foster child doesn’t come into your home with a job to do. They can’t be a band-aid for loneliness or be used to meet your need for a family. And I say the same thing to couples pursuing foster care who are struggling with infertility. It may be wise to get the go-ahead from a counselor/pastor/trusted friend that you are ready to give to a child who needs you and aren’t looking for a child to fill your needs (although they often do!).
Identify the kind of child you’re equipped to help. Our focus ALWAYS has to be on the needs of children. Whether it’s in foster care or adoption, the focus can’t be on finding kids for people who want them, but on finding the right home for each child. I think this becomes even more crucial when you are a single person involved in foster care. If a child would benefit from being in a home with a mom and dad and a mom and dad are available, then I think that’s where they need to go. If a child needs to be in a home with a single person, then we should be able to offer them one. Anybody going into foster care needs to think about what they are able to offer and what they aren’t. A newborn child can’t go to daycare. An older child is going to need help with homework. A child with medical needs is going to have lots of doctor appointments. You need to be confident about what needs you are able to meet and draw boundaries around what you can’t. Nobody wins when we take on more than we can handle.
Enlist the support of your community. As you think through the challenges and blessings of foster care, talk to your community— your friends, your extended family, your church. It is good to find out how supportive they are of you taking this on and let them know what kind of help you may need from them. I think this is crucial for every foster parent, but especially for the single foster parent who may have times where an extra set of hands is necessary. Find out who is willing to get background checked and do respite care when you need it, who can help with carpooling, who will be your parenting mentor, who can go with you to court. Nobody should go this alone.
Foster parenting is a rough path, but it is incredibly rewarding. Kids need homes with stability, consistency and love. You just might be the one to provide it.
Single foster parenting friends, any words of wisdom to add?