“Was he a crack baby?”
“Is her mom in jail?”
“You get a lot of money for doing this, right?”
“But aren’t you worried about something bad happening to your family?”
Harsh, I know. As foster parents, we’ve had all of these asked of us, and more over the years.
For decades, the foster care system and foster parenting have both carried a stigma. Several, to be accurate. The vast majority of the world just doesn’t get it, nor do they comprehend why a person would take a child into their home who isn’t biologically theirs. Foster parents have been criticized, accused, labeled, even judged.
I know. I can speak to this for two reasons: a long, long time ago when I was much, much younger, I misunderstood foster care. Several years later, when I was in my 20s, we became foster parents and served in that capacity for nine difficult years.
I can’t blame the world, and I really can’t fault anyone for misunderstanding the system. After all, it’s in our nature to stand at odds with things we don’t understand. Plus, we live in a world that has portrayed foster parenting in a rather ill light through television shows and movies.
Unfortunately, it has led many to believe some very untrue things about the foster care system. Over our nine-year experience, and after caring for 23 children of all ages, we learned the truth.
Here are the five biggest misconceptions we’ve incurred during our nine years as foster parents …
1. Foster parents are just in it for the money.
If you posed this statement to any current foster parent, most likely you would get a laugh from them, or they would ask (honestly), “Where’s the money then?” Fact is, foster parents do not have a lot of extra money lying around. The money we do receive from the state goes to feed, clothe, and care for the children placed in our care.
Sure, there have been reports of parents who take advantage, bring more children into their care than their home can accommodate, but that is few and far between. Any extra money, above regular salary, goes directly to caring for the children’s needs.
2. You’ll be stuck with an out-of-control child.
Fact is, you might. But most likely you will have a child placed in your care who needs consistency and unconditional acceptance because the world they’ve come from is chaotic and traumatic. Yes, many children in the foster care system have behavioral issues, but then again, so do children from traditional families.
It comes down to a heart and mind perspective. If a person enters into the system on edge about the potential of an unruly or disobedient child, then that edginess will direct most of their reaction. Likewise, when you enter with an opened heart and mind, your perspective will be compassion.
3. The foster child will pose a threat to your permanent children.
This is also a “maybe.” But the bully at your child’s school also poses a threat. So does the neighbor boy or girl down the street. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything here: you will have your hands full and there will be a lot of adjusting that needs to happen.
But never allow the fear of something that may or may not happen dictate your decisions or emotions. Keep strong boundaries in place in your home and with your family and the children in your care and it’s highly likely that your family will be safe.
4. Birth parents are junkies.
There are many cases of addiction within the foster care system, and that’s why a child is removed from their birth parent’s care. But this is not always the case. Sometimes, the choices of others have caused children to be removed from the care of their birth parent. You just have no way of fully knowing. The best response is not to judge … period. And never jump to conclusions with any situation.
5. Foster care will jeopardize the safety of your home.
Again, it could — I won’t lie here either. Sometimes foster parenting can do this, and sometimes it takes the life out of you. But, natural disasters can also jeopardize the safety of your home. So can burglars or drunk drivers (if you live at the end of a street). We have cared for children whose birth parents were incarcerated for violent choices. We’ve had birth parents who put us in tricky situations during visitations. But we’ve never felt unsafe. We’ve never allowed fear to control us. Fear only has the amount of power you allow it to have over your life. If you give it unbridled access or control over you, you will always be worried that your home is in jeopardy.
The important thing is to not believe everything you read, hear, or watch on television. Like I said in the beginning, the vast majority of the world misunderstands foster care and many carry unfair judgement. It’s not necessarily intentional; it’s just the way it is. The important thing is to lean into those who have been in the trenches of foster parenting. Those who have real-life experience, who can speak from an honest place.
Fact is, foster parenting is a beautiful thing. It’s one of the most compassionate, caring acts of service a human being can enter into. Is it easy? Absolutely not. It’s filled with trials and tribulations. But anything that changes the world, and brings light into dark places, will be.
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