At this point in our society, foster care is at times necessary to keep kids safe, and when implemented and utilized correctly, foster care can yield success. But, it is always, at least to some extent, messy, traumatic, and problematic. Anyone involved with foster care hates aspects of it. Professionals and foster parents want to quit often and many do, and the children and birth families want out desperately.
So many parts of foster care are worthy of disdain, but what I hate most, at least today anyways, is the uncertainty of it. As an adult, I can scarcely wrap my head around the maybe’s, the what if’s, and so on, but what bothers me most is the inability I have as a foster parent to answer those questions, what if’s, maybe’s, and such of the children I am responsible for, those whom I am seeking to give “felt safety” to—a sense of security. I can’t make them any promises for the future.
We live in daily uncertainty. These questions break my heart:
- Can we have a party at Chuck-E-Cheese for my birthday?
- Can I be a pirate for Halloween?
- I do not want to move again! What if I get moved this week? What if they come tomorrow and tell me to pack my bags?
- What if my parents’ rights are terminated, and I never get to see them again?
- What if I never see my siblings again?
- What if my next home (insert something undesirable to the child here)?
- I miss my house. I miss waking up in my own bed! What if I never get to sleep there again?
There is so much unknown about their futures, and this can drag on for months and years. There is such a feeling of powerlessness and lack of control for us and them.
What Can I Do About Uncertainty?
With my adopted children I can now promise that as long as I’m alive, I am their mom forever, I will keep them in contact with their birth families, I will continue to go to bat for them fighting for their best interests and helping them overcome difficulties from their past. I cannot tell foster kids even what their near future holds. I cannot promise them everyone in their lives will react in certain ways, but there are some things I can do.
- Safe Adults – Safe Relationships
I can seek to help them build trust in safe adults in their lives, so I will not make promises I cannot keep. I will not ensure them that [X] will or will not happen when I cannot guarantee that it will or will not. I will let them know I will do everything in my very limited power to ensure something does or does not happen. I will promise to go to bat for them and fight with everything I can for their best interests. I can make sure the decision makers know how the kids feel and what their wishes are.
- Felt Safety and Security
I can do the best I can to make them feel safe and secure while they’re here and give them hope for their futures, but even for a teen who is just a few years away from escaping, the present is most often too daunting and overwhelming to see past. I can show them examples of adults who were in their shoes who made it.
- Assisting With Fears
I can walk them through their fears, helping them understand the ones which are irrational, and helping them think through what the worst realities could be and what they can do about them. This will help take away the overwhelming power of these fears.
- Feel Better With The Little Things
I can do everything in my power to make them feel just a little better. I can print out pictures for a birth mom and buy her a birthday card when they’re sad they’re missing her birthday. I can arrange sibling visits. I can make sure they have good experiences in my home and document it for them to remember in the future, wherever that future may take them.
- Validate Feelings
I can validate their feelings and provide a listening ear.
Now It’s Your Turn!
What do you hate most about foster care, and what are you doing about it?