There are over 428,000 children, on any given day, in the foster care system here in America. There is also an increasing disparity between the number of children needing foster care and the number of foster parents who are able to care for them. Fostering a child can be one of the most rewarding and beautiful decisions a person or couple will make, but it can also be one of the most challenging. To see if it is right for you, there are several important questions to ask yourself (See also: “Considerations for Prospective Foster Parents”):
1) Am I Able to Let Go of My Expectations for This Child?
Foster children come into the system from all sorts of different backgrounds and circumstances. They may have experienced realities that their foster parents can only imagine (and may not want to). Letting go of expectations and simply accepting the child for who he or she is and loving him or her unconditionally is crucial. Many foster children have experienced things that can make it difficult to gain their trust and may have left them with emotional wounds. These wounds take time to heal, and healing is not always easy or pretty. Foster parents must be able to navigate these situations with patience and love.
2) Am I Able to Say Goodbye?
Fostering does not mean adoption, though some foster children do end up being adopted by their foster parents, and in some cases, adoptions begin with a period of foster care. Unless intentionally fostering to adopt or following a path to adoption, foster parents must be able and willing to say goodbye to the children they take in and love as their own. They must also be able to handle the emotional toll it takes to say goodbye to a child who might be going back to a situation that could be difficult for him or her.
3) Am I (and My Relationships) Emotionally Healthy?
Being a foster parent is a very rewarding responsibility, but it is not without its own unique challenges. It is important for foster parents to care for their own emotional health and to maintain healthy relationships with their spouses or close friends and family. Having supportive and emotionally healthy relationships is vital to being able to foster children who may need to draw from your emotional strength in order to build up their own.
4) Am I Willing to Work With a Team?
Fostering a child doesn’t just bring a new child into your home, it brings social workers, court appointments, and doctor’s office visits. As a foster parent, you will need to be able to work with all the individuals and agencies who want the absolute best for the child you are fostering.
5) Do I Have More Love to Give?
It is often said that when you bring more children into your life, love multiplies. This is certainly true when it comes to fostering children.
For all the reasons an individual may have to choose NOT to foster, the chance to love fiercely, to love unconditionally, and to love a child who NEEDS to be loved, is a powerful reason to choose to become a foster parent. There are very few circumstances in which one can fully witness the transformative power of love—and fostering a child is one of them.
For more information on how YOU can become a foster parent, please contact your local county or city Social Services office, or contact an advocacy group for more information, such as the National Foster Parent Association.
By Laura Ricketts