Just For Foster Dads – By Dr. John DeGarmo
Without a doubt, fathers are just as important to the nurturing and development of a child in foster care as a mother. Yet, much research has shown that the love of a father is different than that of a mother. Leading child psychologist Erik Erikson stated that a father’s love and a mother’s love are quite different, indeed, when he said that fathers “love more dangerously” because their love is more “expectant, more instrumental” than a mother’s love.”
To be sure, successful foster fathers, or foster dads, recognize that they need to utilize different abilities, skills, and resources when working with children in foster care.The placement of a child into your foster home is a life changing experience for a foster child. Placement disruption is the term used when a child is removed from a home and placed into the custody of a child welfare agency, and thus into a foster home. For many, it is a frightening time, as the fear of the unknown can quickly overwhelm a child. Others are filled with anger, as they emotionally reject the idea of being separated from their family members. Feelings of guilt may also arise within the foster child, as the child may believe that he or she may have had something to do with the separation from the birth and/or foster family. Some children experience self doubt, as they feel that they simply did not deserve to stay with their family. For all, it is a traumatic experience that will forever alter the lives of foster children.
As a foster dad, it is important to properly prepare for the child’s arrival beforehand, if possible. While there are certainly those times when you do not get much, if any notice before a child is placed in your home, as a phone call might only give you a few moments notice. Yet, if you do have time, try to get as much background information as you possibly can about the child in foster care that is being placed into your home, and into your family. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to prepare for the arrival of a foster child is to educate yourself with as much background information and history as you can about the child. Do not be concerned if you have a large number of questions for your caseworker when you are first approached about of a placement of a child in your house. While the caseworker may not have all the answers, you will find valuable information by asking. After all, the more information you have, the better prepared you are to help meet the child’s needs.
Some questions to consider include:
-How old is the child?
-Why is the child in care?
-How long might the child stay with you?
-Will the child need day care supervision?
-Does the child have any learning disabilities or special needs of any kind?
-Does the child have any anger management or extreme emotional issues that you need to be aware of?
-Is this the first time the child has been in foster care?
-Is the child’s medical shots up to date? Are there any medical concerns?
-Is the child from the same town? Does the child need to be enrolled in your local school system?
-Does the child have clothes?
-Will you need to buy diapers and baby wipes?
As a foster dad, it is important that you embrace being a role model for your foster child. Indeed, you may very likely be the first positive role model the child has had in his life. So many children come into foster care from broken homes and broken families, suffering from neglect, abuse, and abandonment. For thousands of these children, their concept of a loving parent has been twisted, distorted, and perverted by the abuses and experiences they previously had before moving into your home. For some children, you will be the first father figure in their lives, while others will compare you to the father or father figure that they were living with previously.
Whatever the situation, these children will be watching your every move and every action, and listening to your every word as they learn from you what a loving and caring father is supposed to be like. You are this example; you need to be that loving and caring father for them.
Duties and Responsibilities
For many years, the perception of the stereotypical father figure was that of breadwinner and disciplinarian. The father would go to work during the day, come home after a long day at work to a cooked meal by his wife, place his feet up on the couch after dinner, read the paper and watch the evening news. Along with this, he might dole out some discipline to the unruly child in the home, all the while leaving the housework and child raising to the mother in the home.
Today’s foster fathers must be much more involved in all areas of child care, not only for the benefit of the foster child, but for the benefit of all who live in the home, as well as the marriage, itself. After all, a marriage is a partnership, and those partnerships that share the responsibilities in a 50-50 ratio are the ones that are the healthiest and strongest.
Children begin to learn how to form healthy and positive relationships with others during infancy. Sadly, for many children in foster care, these opportunities did not come when they were babies, and as a result, the child in care struggles greatly when trying to form a healthy relationship with another. When a baby or infant is placed into a foster home, foster dads should help with the feeding of the baby. The time spent with a baby while feeding it is often instrumental in good mental health, as it can be a time of laughter and joy, sharing fun moments over a bowl of baby food, or while holding a child in one arm and a bottle in the other. Indeed, babies and infants learn about trust as they are nurtured during this time. Dinner time and/or bottle time can be instrumental in helping a foster infant develop feelings of trust and love, and a foster father can help to lead the way in this. Furthermore, nothing spells love to a small baby than the father, or foster father, singing to the child; telling stories; and simply acting silly with the little one.