My wife, Kristin, and I spent nine years in the foster care system as caregivers to more than 23 children. Six of those children never left our care and became a permanent part of our family from 2008 until 2012. Our years in the system were trying, but also filled with lots of beautiful moments.
Thankfully, we made it a point to live with as much peace as possible. As a result, we still have relationships with many of the children we fostered, as well as their families.
I won’t say that the journey was easy. It wasn’t. Any time you care for children who have gone through significant loss, abuse, neglect, or trauma, it’s going to be difficult. The resulting behaviors from the trauma they’ve experienced can be difficult to handle and downright exhausting. I don’t want to scare anyone, but I do want to be real.
However, the world misunderstands a majority of what foster care really looks like, as well as what it does for vulnerable children. This is due in part to many media stories that either vilify foster care or paint an untrue rosy picture.
So, to help shed light on the truth, I reached out to several foster parents and asked them to share what they think are some of the biggest myths about foster care, followed by what is actually true. (Big thanks to the McGee, Goerges, Smith, Wallace, and Starkey families for their contributions to this list.)
Foster parents just do it for the money.
Foster parents love these kids with their whole hearts and would do anything to keep them safe.
Do foster parents receive monetary support for fostering? Yes, they do. But it isn’t much. In fact, when you’re caring for a child who needs therapeutic care, recurring medical attention, speech therapy, etc., the money is quickly consumed by that, as well as providing clothing, extra services that help with their development, and more.
Fostering teenagers is scary. They will steal from you and hurt your family.
Teenagers can be fun and sweet and will steal your heart just as much as the little ones. Just spend some time watching The Fosters (which is one of the most accurate shows portraying foster care) and your heart will change!
When we fostered teenagers, we had a great experience — even when one of our teens pushed our boundaries. Teenagers in general get a bad rap. The truth is, teenagers are looking for permanency and stability just like children who are younger than them.
We recently reconnected with one of the teenagers we fostered who disappeared in a huff shortly after her time with us ended. She’s healthy, responsible, and smart. She’s a true success story, and we hear many of these types of stories often. In fact, one teen who came to us through foster care ended up being adopted by us. She’s now a great mom and the manager of a salon. Talk about success!
Babies are easy, don’t have as many problems, and won’t remember anything that happened to them.
WRONG! So wrong.
Babies, even ones removed at birth, will have trauma. They also may have other disabilities.
From my experience, trauma, even when it’s pre-natal (e.g., drug or alcohol consumption while pregnant) will have lasting effects on a baby. When a newborn is exposed to domestic violence, it plays out in the way they react to tense situations later on in their life.
They remember. Trust us.
Birth parents are horrible people and you shouldn’t love them.
Building relationships with birth parents is the gateway to really helping children. Sometimes, birth parents have experienced as much trauma as the child in care.
I could write an entire book about building healthy relationships with birth families. We believe in this wholeheartedly. In fact, it’s a must for signing up for foster care or adoption, as far as we’re concerned. Birth parents are not horrible people. They are human beings just like you and me. They make mistakes just like you and me. They deserve love just like you and me! Some of our closest relationships today are with our children’s birth families (or first families as we like to call them).
Children don’t want to be with their birth parents or shouldn’t want to be with them.
Children usually want that, no matter the hurt.
When one of my families sent this myth to me, I began a slow-clap. This is absolutely one of the biggest myths out there about foster care. Even years after some of our kiddos came to us through foster care, and were since adopted, they still want to be with their birth parents. We do everything in our power to have regular connection and interaction with our children’s first families as a result. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do!
Kids are resilient from being removed numerous times.
They are only resilient for a period of time. Then, their resilience fades and trauma takes over.
The fact is, lots of attachment issues develop as a result of being bounced from foster home to foster home. This is why we are big advocates of foster parents staying the course, even when it’s hard. We live in an era where there are maximum resources available to help you succeed and parent your children to the best of your ability.
Department Of Child Services (DCS) has the final say for kids in care.
Judges have the final say and will disregard DCS recommendations.
This is one of the most frustrating aspects of foster care. When you ask and ask and ask a Case Manager and they agree, but then it’s completely reversed by a judge, it’s defeating. The best remedy for this is knowledge. Simply knowing that you are walking into this, or the possibility of this, can at least give you insight and help you prepare.
Foster care isn’t worth it. It’s dark, and there’s no hope for you or your kiddos.
There is tons of hope, it IS worth it, and there is so much light and goodness on this journey.
We are living examples of how much light and hope there is in foster care. But here’s the truth — it may take years to discover this. Remember, you are parenting kiddos who have come from some very, very tough places, and it will take consistency after consistency to see change occur.
Honestly, it takes years for trust to formulate and permanency to take full effect. In fact, it took us around three to four years to see positive results. We did see slivers of light along the way, but holistic change took some time.
But is there hope? Oh yes, there is. There always is when you’re talking about helping to transform another human being’s life.
In a lot of ways, foster care is what you make of it. Yes, you are parenting kiddos coming from hard places, and sometimes it’s exhausting to deal with extreme behaviors day after day. Yet, consider the light you are bringing into a child’s life. Consider the stability you have the chance to offer.
My personal belief? You are changing the future when you choose to love children from vulnerable places.