Foster Care: Why Foster a Child
Last updated: March 22, 2023, at 4:56 a.m. PT
Originally published: March 1, 2018, at 9:43 a.m. PT
So You're Thinking of Fostering...
Welcome to our Foster Care blog. Find tips and tricks, honest thoughts and feelings, and all kinds of insights into fostering kids. Thank you to Sharon Astyk for your candor.
Foster Kids Are Not Fake Kids
Some of them may stay forever. Some of them may go and come back. Some of them may leave and you’ll never see them again. But that’s life, isn’t it? Sometimes people in your life go away, too, and they don’t stop being an important part of your life or being loved and missed. How they come into my family or for how long is not the point. While they are here they are my children’s real brothers and sisters, my real sons, and daughters. You love them entirely, treat them the way you do all our kids, and never, ever forget them when they leave.
Don’t pretend the kids were never here. Let foster parents talk about the kids they miss. Don’t assume that kids are interchangeable – one baby is not the same as the next, and just because there will be more kids later doesn’t make it any easier now.
Most Kids Will Go Home, Or To Family, Rather Than Be Adopted
Most foster cases don’t go to adoption. Not every foster parent wants to adopt. And not every foster family that wants to adopt will be adopting/wants to adopt every kid. It is NOT appropriate for you to raise the possibility of adoption just because you know they are a foster family. It is ESPECIALLY not appropriate for you to raise this issue in front of the kids. The kids may be going to home or to kin. It may not be an adoptive match. The family may not be able to adopt now. They may be foster-only. Not all older children want or choose to be adopted, and after a certain age, they are allowed to decide. Family building is private and none of everyone’s business. They’ll let you know when you need to know something.
When You Say "I Could Never Do This", It Stings
Letting kids go is really hard, but someone has to do it. Not all kids in care come from irredeemable families. Not everyone in a birth family is bad – in fact, many kin and parents are heroic, making unimaginable sacrifices to get their families back together through impossible odds.
Yes, it is hard to let kids we love go, and yes, we love them, and yes, it hurts, but the reality is that because something is hard doesn’t make it bad, and you aren’t heartless if you can endure pain for the greater good of your children. You are just a regular old parent when you put your children’s interests ahead of your own.
Don't Hate Their Parents
Nobody chooses to be born mentally ill. No one gets addicted to drugs on purpose. Nobody chooses to be born developmentally delayed, to never have lived in a stable family so you don’t know how to replicate it. Abusive and neglectful parents often love their kids and do the best they can, and a lot of them can do better if they get help and support, which is what part of this is about. Even if they can’t, it doesn’t make things better for you to rush to judgment.
It is much easier to think of birth/adoptive parents as monsters because then you could never be like them, but truly, birth/adoptive parents are just people with big problems. Birth/adoptive and Foster parents often work really hard to have positive relationships with each other, so it doesn’t help me to have you speculating about them.
They were taken from everything they knew and had to give up parents, siblings, pets, extended family, neighborhood, toys, everything that was normal to them. No one asked them whether they wanted to come into care.
You have complex feelings and ambivalence about a lot of things, even if it seems like those things are good for you or for the best. Don’t assume our kids don’t have those feelings, or that moving into our home is happily-ever-after for them. Don’t tell them how lucky they are or how they should feel. By the way, there is no point comparing my home to the one they grew up in. Both homes most likely have things the children like and dislike about them.
Don't Act Surprised That They Are Nice, Smart, Loving, Well-Behaved Kids
One of the corollaries of #1 is that there tends to be an implied assumption that foster kids are flawed – we must be saints because no one else would take these damaged, horrible kids. Well, kids in foster care have endured a lot of trauma, and sometimes that does come with behavioral challenges, but many of the brightest, nicest, best behaved, kindest and most loving children I’ve ever met are foster kids. They aren’t second best kids, they aren’t homicidal maniacs, and because while they are here they are mine, they are the best kids in the world, and yes, it does tick me off when you act surprised they are smart, sweet and loving.
Watch What You Say Around The Kids
I can’t emphasize this enough, and everyone is continually stunned by the things people will ask in the hearing of children, from "Oh, is their Mom an addict?" or, "Well, they aren’t your real kids are they?" or, "Are you going to adopt them?" or whatever. Not only is that stuff private, but it is horrible for the kids to hear people speculating about their families whom they love, or their future. Didn’t anyone ever explain to you that you never say anything bad about anyone’s mother (or father) ever? Don’t assume you know what’s going on, and don’t ask personal questions – we can’t tell you anyway.
We're Not Saints
We are fostering children because it needs doing, we love kids, this is our thing. Some of us hope to expand our families this way, some of us do it for the pleasure of having laughing young voices around, some of us are pushed into it by the children of family or friends needing care, some of us grew up around formal or informal fostering – but all of us are doing it for our own reasons because we love it and/or love the kids and we are the lucky ones – we get to have these great kids in our lives. We hate being told we must be saints or angels because we’re doing something really ordinary and normal – that is, taking care of kids in need. If some children showed up dirty and hungry and needing a safe place on your doorstep, you’d care for them too – we just signed up to be the doorstep they arrive at. The idea of sainthood makes it impossible for ordinary people to do this – and the truth is the world needs more ordinary, human foster parents. This also stinks because if we’re saints and angels, we can’t ever be jerks or human or need help, and that’s bad because sometimes this is hard.