I almost didn’t write this. Type… delete. Type… delete. Wine. Type… delete.
How do you write the perfect blog post about an imperfect system?
A broken, understaffed, overwhelmed, and at times corrupt system.
I am often asked on my other platforms, “What advice would you give a family considering foster care?” and my gut reaction is “Run. Don’t Do it. SAVE YOURSELF,” and yet, here I am (4 years later), just a foster mama standing in front of a potential foster mama, asking her to join her in the trenches. Because, while it may be a broken system that needs to be burnt to the ground most days, my eyes are locked on the broken hearts that come into my home with nothing more than a black trash bag of the closest things the removing agency could grab in the middle of the night. I can’t do everything or fix much of anything, but I can do this.
The fact of the matter: There are over 400,000 children in “the system” nationwide, over 20,000 right here in the state of Florida. While the average age of a child in foster care is 7.7 years old, approximately 23,000 children age out every year. Twenty percent of these children will become instantly homeless. There is no gentle way to put it: We need help, and THEY need our help (like yesterday). So, if I were to give advice, here are a few things I would want potential foster families to know:
Foster To REUNIFY.
Despite what you may read in the comments of many Facebook posts, foster care is not designed to be a free adoption option. The children that are being removed from their homes, families/siblings, and cultures deserve to be cared for by a family that isn’t in it for personal gain. The sole intention is (or should be) to provide temporary safe shelter for children in need while their parents/family establish stability. We are to stand in the gap, be the bridge. If your heart is truly set on being a forever family for a child in need, I would encourage you to visit your state’s heart gallery for children who have had their parental rights relinquished and are waiting on their forever home.
Be prepared to look in the mirror.
If you are not prepared to face your own preconceived judgments, privileges, insecurities, and maybe even your own trauma, I would encourage you to hold off a little longer. The most common assumption I hear as a foster mom is children are removed for physical abuse and/or substance abuse, but sometimes (a lot of times) the struggle lies in generational cycles and poverty. Meeting families where they are, wherever they are, can often make the largest impact in motivating families to seek out support.
Have a family meeting.
If you already have children in the home, their vote counts, too. Foster care requires sacrifice from all members of the family — sacrifice of time, space, and emotional/mental energy. Adding extra members, even if only temporarily, will affect everyone. Creating safe spaces and adequate quality time for the children you are currently parenting must take priority. You cannot effectively heal broken hearts while actively hurting others.
Remember that silence is golden.
If you want to protect these babies, protect their stories. Many of you will see me share tiny snippets of our foster care journey, but the point of view is always from where I stand. My experiences, my frustrations, and my emotional journey through parenting children that deserve to go home. Their names, faces, the details of their removal, the current state of their parent’s case plan, and quite literally anything else about the intimate moments of their lives are not mine to share. They are mine to guard as if my life depended on it.
They need therapy. You will need therapy. We all should go to therapy.
It is important to know becoming a foster home will require just as much inward work as it does outward. Committing to children who have experienced trauma in any capacity will challenge everything you once knew as normal. Beyond your heart breaking for their circumstances, your mental health will be compromised, finances stretched, sleep disrupted, and social lives rearranged. While you are tending to the physical and emotional needs of your bonus babies, you cannot be afraid to step away to tend to yours and your families. Keep your therapist and favorite respite family on speed dial!
Olly olly oxen free. If I haven’t scared you into hiding completely, I hope to leave you with a little bit of encouragement. Becoming a foster mom has shown me the good in humanity. It has reminded me that I am not alone in this journey, and every single bonus baby that has crossed our threshold is loved and prayed for in some capacity. The community I have found through this experience is like no other I have ever known. Complete strangers right here in our community as well as those that live thousands of miles away, showing up for us with coffee, meals, mattresses, clothing, toys, and so much more. I can’t tell you if this is the right path for you, but I can promise you there are people who have paved the way before you and are eagerly waiting to guide you across.
Ready, set, go. Anyone and everyone are welcome to reach out if you have questions or if you are in need of a larger support community, but if you are in the research phase of your foster care journey these links may help: onemorechild.org, fssjax.org, aecf.org, heartgalleryofamerica.org.