Foster parenting is rewarding, difficult, and demanding all at the same time. It brings with it, many new experiences and challenges which may affect the child in foster care and the entire foster family. This post covers the effects of fostering on the family, foster family grief and loss, the importance of coping and taking breaks, and connecting with others for support and information about foster parenting.
~ Used and adapted with permission from the Wisconsin’s Child Welfare System
EFFECTS OF FOSTERING ON THE FAMILY
Foster parents need to take care of their needs and the needs of their own children just as they would take care of the needs of a child placed in their home. It takes time to adjust to the arrival of a child and the resulting change in dynamics of the whole family.
A child in foster care often arrives without the preparation that surrounds the birth of a child or sibling. The phone call, the family’s decision, and the arrival of the child can all occur within a few hours. The child may be close in age (actual age or developmental level) to the foster family’s own children, and children living in the home may have mixed emotions. The entire family needs to incorporate the foster child into family activities to help the child feel cared for and secure.
Some families choose to take short “time-outs” between foster care placements in their home to re-group as a family. Families should do what they need in order to continue to provide a stable and supportive home for a child and their family.
Children may worry about what happens to the children in foster care when they leave your home. They may need to be told that it’s OK to grieve the loss of their foster brother or sister. Many foster parents keep pictures of children who have been part of their family to help family members remember the children who lived them..
(Reprinted from the Iowa Foster Family Handbook)
A Brother’s View Point
Foster parents sometimes worry about the behavior of a foster child and the influence of that behavior on their children. While there are behaviors that foster parents need to manage, fostering can also have unexpected positive effects, as the story below illustrates.
In the past year and a half, my parents have had five kids, but now there are only three. Know why? It’s because I have one brother and had three foster sisters. Our family adopted one of the foster children.
Our first foster child was a little girl who was 14 months old. She loved blocks, and could crawl as fast as a rabbit. She stayed for only two weeks and went to her grandma’s house with her three brothers and sisters. Our next little foster girl was the same age. She learned to walk and talk at our house. She stayed with us for over a year. She never really learned to talk whole sentences, though. The best she could say would be like, “I wa eat.” After a while, her dad did the stuff he needed to do to have her. He took classes and he promised he would be a good parent. After she visited him for a few days, she was given to him. When she left I was so sad. She had been part of the family, and I loved her so much!
Our third and final (for now) foster child had been in foster care for a year and was one and a half when she came to our house. She became our foster child in October of 2004, and then, in January of 2005, our family resided to adopt her.
I am so glad that my parents participated in the foster care program. I still wish my other foster sisters were in my family too, but I’m satisfied with the brother and sister I have right now. Who knows? I might get another brother or sister from foster care.
Reprinted from Fostering Across Wisconsin Vol. 1 Number 2. “Sensational Sisters” by Jacob Scobey-Polacheck
WAYS IN WHICH FOSTER PARENTS ENCOUNTER LOSS AND GRIEF
Foster families may not expect feelings of grief or loss after a foster child leaves their home. But as the child moves on, the foster family loses the unique relationship that they had with that child. Foster family members will also face other kinds of grief such as the grief a child experiences by being away from their family. Some examples are listed below.
Different Ways Foster Parents Experience Grief and Loss
- Grief felt by the child’s parents when a child is removed.
- Feelings of loss felt by the child separated from his or her parents.
- Personal grief when their foster child is reunified with his or her family or placed in another foster or adoptive home.
- Grief of other members of the foster family when the child moves.
- Grief over the abuse or neglect experienced by the child.
- Grief over not being able to make a connection with a child or their family.
A person dealing with loss may feel depressed, anxious, or angry; foster parents may miss the child who has left the home. Members of the foster family may have difficulty concentrating, cry, exhibit restlessness, have trouble sleeping, avoid social contact and intimacy, and experience appetite disturbance and fatigue. These symptoms may be distressing to the members of the foster family, especially if the grief is unexpected.
Although the move of a child may be a deeply emotional time, it is potentially an opportunity for growth and change. Foster parents can use feelings of grief to build empathy for what parents feel when their child is removed, and for the losses of the children who have to leave their own homes.
Facing intense circumstances of grief and loss can be difficult, and foster parents should allow time to work through and recover from such experiences. The box below includes suggestions for how to work through difficult times.
Tips for Dealing with Grief and Loss
- Connect with foster care and adoption support groups.
- Allow time to grieve the loss of the child.
- Think about taking a short break every now and then.
- Talk with your foster care coordinator about your needs; they want to provide foster parents with the resources they need to be successful.
COPING AND SUPPORT
Parenting children with special needs demands an enormous amount of time and energy. It is important to continually evaluate whether these demands can be managed and when to ask for additional help.
Everyone gives and receives support in unique ways. The ways we are most comfortable giving support may not be the same ways we like to receive support. Foster parents should, using the list below as a guide, establish the types of support they want to receive for when things might get stressful.
Things to think about and discuss with someone you trust:
- How do I receive support?
- Who provides me with support?
- How do I give support?
- To whom do I give support?
WHEN TO ASK FOR HELP
To continue to provide quality foster care, it is important for foster parents to let the child’s caseworker or the foster care coordinator know if they are feeling stressed. It is the foster parent’s responsibility to keep the agency informed and their right to request assistance when needed. The foster care agency should work with the foster family to connect them with resources to support the both the children placed in the foster home and the foster family.
There are aspects of fostering that only parents and families who foster can fully understand. A support group is a network of foster parents who come together to share ideas, experiences, and concerns related to the children in their homes. It’s a way for families to talk about the joys and frustrations that come with being foster parents. These groups may meet in person, through newsletters, online, or by telephone.
In some groups, the focus is on sharing among foster parents. In others, it is on advocacy. Still others focus on education and training. Groups may combine all of these at one time or another. New foster parents should check with their placement organisation to see if there is an foster parent support group that meets in their area.
It is important to remember that information about a child in foster care and their families must be kept confidential even with other foster parents. Foster parents can discuss challenges they are experiencing in a general way without sharing specific details about an individual child or family.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
To make educated decisions, it is critical for foster families to continue learning about issues affecting children in foster care. This post gives only a general overview of various topic areas. Foster parents will need additional, more specific information and training to help increase their understanding and meet the ever-changing needs of children in foster care.
The below listed suggestions are basic topics that foster parents may want to start learning more about to expand their understanding of issues related to foster care.
Some helpful topics may include:
- Effects of child abuse and neglect.
- Understanding and dealing with behavioral, emotional, or physical challenges.
- Information about bonding, attachment, and attachment disorders.
- Information about traumatized children.
- Working with children with sexualized behaviors.
- Building successful working relationships with children’s families.
This Foster Care Resources blog has an library with information about most of the issues listed above. It can help foster parents locate information on these and other topics related to foster care. Foster parents can contact the Resource Center via e-mail at: FosterCareResourcesSA@gmail.com. Local libraries and the Internet are also good sources for additional information.
- In order to ensure the best possible care for children, it is important for foster families to identify their stress levels and let the caseworker know if they are feeling overwhelmed.
- The experience of fostering children may have unexpected positive and negative effects on all the children in the home.
- Although the move of a child may be a deeply emotional time for the foster family, it is potentially an opportunity for growth and change.
- It is important to continually evaluate whether the demands of fostering can be managed and when to ask for additional help.
- It is the foster parent’s responsibility to keep the agency informed and their right to request assistance when needed.
- A foster parent support group is a network of foster parents who come together to share ideas, experiences, and concerns related to the children in their home.
- Continued learning can help foster parents understand and support the ongoing needs of the children placed in their home.