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In Praise of the “Single Serving Size” Foster Parent


In the world of foster care, there is a certain subset of foster parents we like to glorify. You know all about them because they were probably featured on your local news. Over the last couple decades they’ve served 67 kids. The news footage showed them flipping through a photo album of all the kids they’ve helped and sorting through Christmas cards they’ve received from those children over the years. It’s heartwarming and inspirational.

But it’s a rarity. And it shouldn’t always be the goal.


I get to provide support to foster parents through my foster care agency. I watch bright-eyed newbies join our community with enthusiasm and idealism. I watch seasoned foster parents grieve the losses of this life and struggle with knowing if they should keep at it. I see people who continue to be passionate and those who feel drained. In it all, I have come to believe there isn’t one right way to do foster care, and there’s definitely a need for the “Single Use Only” foster parent.

It would be great if foster parents were trained, licensed and then were able to serve continuously for decades. It’s great to have wisdom and that wisdom comes from experience. It’s helpful to have people who understand the system and are well-connected from years of networking. But sometimes God calls you to serve one child, with your whole heart. And that’s it.

We sometimes use the phrase “burned out” to describe the one-and-done foster parents. We don’t want people to burnout. We want to prevent it. I feel that’s a big part of my job as I support foster parents. But I think you can be done providing foster care without “burning out.” I think for some foster parents, God gives you exactly what you needed for the time you needed to provide the right care for this child. And then you were done. You fulfilled your calling. You did exactly what you were supposed to do and now you don’t have to do it anymore. You’re not burned out, you’ve just completed the task you were given. It’s not quitting, it’s finishing well. Finishing strong.

For some foster parents, it takes everything they have to do that one or two placements right. But when that child or those children go home or get adopted, these foster parents are some of the most passionate advocates. They have seen it for themselves, up close and personally. They want to make a difference. They take the story they lived and they bring it with them everywhere they go. Their foster care work doesn’t end when the placement does.

I don’t want to just glorify the foster parents who took 10, 20, or 67 kids. I especially want to be mindful that it’s possible to be a foster parent for decades and not do it well. Doing it for a long time or doing it for lots of kids does not necessarily mean you did the right thing. Some foster parents continue on long past the time their commitment to excellence has been drained. We have to know our limits and be willing to recognize when it’s time to be done.

As a community, we need to recognize the need for the Single Serving Size foster parent. We need to acknowledge and value their passion for foster care and the skills they bring to it. We need to be thankful for their full investment in the kids they have cared for. And when they’ve been a home for kids with special needs whose care has been especially intense, we need to honor the difficult road they’ve walked.

Each foster family comes into this with a unique set of skills and gifts. They have their own calling. There is not one right way to do this, except to be aware of what you can do and what you can’t do. Healthy boundaries are wise and necessary. If someone tells me they can only do it one time, for one child, that may be exactly what you are called and equipped to do. I honor and support you knowing that about yourself and your family. (And I also know that sometimes that one placement can turn into more when you’ve got the support you need and don’t feel pressured.)

Foster Parents to A Child or Two,

I’m so thankful for you and for your investment in these children. You have done good, hard work. Please continue to use this passion and education you have to help make needed changes in the system through your advocacy and involvement. You are needed. You are valued. You are an inspiration. If I ran the local news, you’d get that heartwarming profile piece, too. The love you’ve given to these kids will make a difference in this world. I fully believe that.

*I love this story about a family who exemplifies this kind of calling.*

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  1. These are good words. God isn’t going to ask us “Why didn’t you do as much as those people?” but it is very tempting to start valuing quantity over quality, in this and in so many other areas. There is always someone doing more than you; it’s not a competition. I need to hear this!

  2. We are a “one and done” family. We decided to only take one child/sibling group at a time so we could attend all meetings and court dates. We wanted to give the same amount of attention to each child and their situation. For me,more unrelated kiddos also meant twice the appointments, twice the visits, twice the workers, etc. Turned out, our home became our little one’s permanent home. We closed our license. While sometimes I feel like we should do more, I know God called us into foster care for that time and for our child. Thank you for writing this!

  3. Maralee, this is a great post. Our first placement is nearing 20 months. When she goes home we will take a break and I’m not sure when we’ll jump back in. I have children with special needs who need me and need my energy. I answer to God for these ones already in my family; it is my responsibility to parent them as well as I can. Our foster daughter is wonderful, AND I need to focus on my other children more. Foster care is a great journey and I’m so glad we said ‘yes’ when God called us.

  4. So true hubby and I are foster/foster to adopt parents. (Took few well since aug break b c of some things ). We are redoing our license and will be getting back into it soon.

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