I’m excited to be starting this series of guest posts about being a single foster parent. We’re starting at the beginning, or I guess, slightly before the beginning. I wanted to know what they wish they had known before they got into this whole gig. These answers are really helpful in giving you perspective about what to look into before becoming a foster parent.
(I have done some minor editing as needed, but I haven’t changed any of the content.)
What do you wish you had known before you started?
-Going through training they kind of drill it into your head that the children will go home, that the main goal is reunification. But you don’t really know what it’s like until it happens. Although it’s not really possible, I wish I had a better understanding of what that is like, but then again, would I choose to foster if I knew? Another thing I think is very important to know, and I bet is nationwide unfortunately, is the department staff is very overwhelmed. It is a slow, grueling process and we as foster parents have to come aside our workers and advocate for our children! I wish I would have had the courage from the beginning to advocate for my children the way I do now.- Tara, New Mexico, 2 years, 4 kids
-I wish I had known about the support groups available online where experienced foster parents could provide valuable info it took me years to gain on my own, and where I’ve found support. I also wish I had known regardless of what they say, my agency staff has the least amount of say about ANYthing regarding my kids– their main function is to certify my home, assist me in staying current with my licensure, and do the initial contact with me regarding placement. I have always known more about my kids and their cases than my agency. In fact, with one placement, CPS never contacted them about anything, never copied them on any documentation, and never returned a call to them; anything they knew, they learned from me.- Suzanne, Texas, 6 1/2 years, 11 children
-I wish I had known it would be completely overwhelming at first, but would get better with time. If I had known how emotionally and physically draining the first few weeks would be, I think I would have given myself more permission to let other things go (like work and cooking, for example) and just focus on bonding with the little boy who was dropped in my lap. I felt a lot of pressure (from both DSS and my employer) to get him in daycare immediately, but, in retrospect, I wish I would have taken a week or two off of work. When his sister arrived a few months later, I was more prepared to expect a time of transition and put my work on warning that I would be less available which helped.- Heather, North Carolina, 1 year, 2 kids
-Before I started I wished I had know how lonely it would be. When you go from single and no kids to two kids it is hard to maintain relationships. I had yound kids (who go to bed early) and seeing friends just wasn’t an option.- Becky, Nebraska, 5 years, 6 kids
-I don’t think I really understood how much trauma kids in foster care have gone through and what that does to them mentally. I also had no idea how hard it is to get them the counseling and support they need- Kimberly, Pennsylvania, 4 years, 4 kids
-I have several friends who foster, so I wasn’t exactly naïve going into my journey as a single foster parent. I knew all about the policies, the logistics, and let’s be real, the drama, that come along with fostering. What I wasn’t prepared for was how quickly and how madly I’d fall in love with my kiddos. Sure, I knew I’d love them, just as I’ve loved hundreds of students, friends’ kids, and nieces and nephews over the years. But I didn’t know I’d love them so much that simply holding them in my lap for more than 5 seconds would bring me to tears. I didn’t know how intentional I’d have to be about forgiving their biological parents for the pain they’ve caused MY babies. I didn’t know how much the mama bear inside me would long to protect them and how much it would hurt to have no control over their future.- Jennifer, Georgia, 1 year, 1 child
-I wish I would have been more prepared for the emotional aspect of the whole thing. I am fairly level headed and see myself as a logical person. Logic can go ahead and be thrown out the window with foster care.- Tami, Nebraska, 4 years, 12 kids
-I wish I had known that adoption through foster care can actually happen. You only hear foster/adoption stories where it is a couple who are trying to build a family, and the children keep being reunified. I had gone into foster care thinking I’d be a temporary home for many, many children. I never planned on adopting. I adopted my 2nd placement.- Stephanie, Nebraska, 3 years, 3 kids
-I wish I had known that my heart’s desire and my capabilities would differ. I used to look at other single foster moms who had multiple kids and think that I should have the same capacity. I didn’t. It wasn’t until I took an honest inventory of what I could manage that I could truly find balance, operate in my giftings, and freely and passionately live out my callings.- Rene, Missouri, 4 years, 5 kids
-I wish someone had challenged my assumptions about my role in this ministry earlier. For most of my life, I assumed foster care and adoption was something you did when you were married, and nobody questioned that—most people reinforced it. I told a pastor about my calling to foster care and adoption—a calling I had felt for years—and he was the first person to ask me, “What are you doing about that now?” It’s the first time anyone ever acted like this was something I could do now. God never promised me marriage, but he did place this call on my life, and, married or not, that doesn’t change.- Faith, Georgia, 1 year, 1 child
-That I didn’t have to have it all figured out. That I was embarking on a journey that would change me. I wish I would’ve shown myself a little more grace. If I could sum up these last several years I would equate it to those little figures, when placed in water they grow. I was an insta-mom, overnight drowning, growing rapidly at times leaving me slightly disproportionate. Occasionally I would come up for air and realize I was changing.- Jules, Iowa, 3 years, 10 kids
-1. I was physically ready to be a foster parent. The room was made up, all of the essentials were in place. What I was not prepared for was what an emotional roller coaster it would be. The minute the phone call comes and you say yes to a new placement, your heart starts racing. At least mine does. Every time there’s a potential change to the children’s plan, I’m on pins and needles.
2. Don’t always rely on what the case manager says. Make friends with the other people on the team such as the DJO, GAL, and CASA (if they have one). You have to ask questions, they won’t just volunteer information, even if it’s something you really need to know. I have gone months without talking to my foster daughters’ case manager.
3. I didn’t understand the affect foster care would have on my nieces and nephew. It was hard to explain to them why a baby I was caring for left. I can tell the wheels are spinning in their heads because they ask really thought provoking questions that I didn’t think to explain to them before they asked.- Holly, Missouri, 1 year, 3 kids
-What are my rights as a foster parent? Who helps me with parenting for a noncompliant teen? How can I enforce my rules in my house? What are the liabilities for me if the foster youth doesn’t listen? What are my resources for sanity in the frustrating world of foster parenting? Why are these licensing requirements that are NOT published for County and State different? What is the chain of command if you aren’t getting results with your county social worker and/or agency social worker? If I have requested help and they aren’t getting service in reasonable time what help can I get? Are the placement social workers required to give me all the medical, psychiatric, emotional, familial, criminal and legal history? Do I have the right to talk to the previous placement family?- Dave, California, 5 years, 12 kids
-I was a first time parent as a foster parent, I wish someone would have told me how hard it was going to be to parent, let alone as a single parent. I was blessed to have a big support system in place prior to my first placement, so when the reality of single parenthood set in, I had that system to fall back on.- Jami, Nebraska, 4 years, 6 kids
-I don’t think there was any “single” specific that I wished I had known beforehand and the things I couldn’t grasp beforehand probably can’t be communicated. Only experience made me understand how quickly a kiddo can take full hold of my heart and my calendar. – Laura, Washington, 1 year, 1 child
-I have been fostering for 15 yrs and the training received was not what it is today. For example drug addicted babies=they cry alot. My second placement was a sibling group of drug and alcohol exposed babies. I adopted with no services in place because I was new and they certainly didn’t offer any. HOLY HINDSIGHT!- Anne, New York, 15 years, 30 kids
-I wish I knew more about the actual DCFS System, time lines, what happens in court, what happens with bio parents. A better understanding of what actually happens when placed with a child would make things much easier than wondering and waiting for somebody to help you navigate through the system. I also wish I knew how LITTLE support foster parents actually get from agencies/courts, etc. You sometimes are really on your own and while reunification is always the first to try, foster parents shouldn’t be on the back burner– we are the ones that take a lot of hits as well. I wish I would have known to have my ducks in a row on where to get help, ask for help etc prior to taking placements.- Linda, Illinois, 4 years, 2 kids
-I read a TON of blogs before I started, so I felt like I had a good idea of what I was getting myself into. I think researching trauma and attachment disorders is so important, as that is an angle of brain development and child behavior that even people who have had their own children or worked with children for years might not be ready for.- Adria, California, 2 years, 8 kids