Letter to a New Foster Parent

Photo by Mathyas Kurmann on Unsplash

This week, I heard from a woman who is a brand new foster parent.

She and her husband had a child with them for a respite weekend—he was the first foster child placed in their home—and after he left, they were asked to become his permanent foster home (until he aged out of the system, which would have been a number of years.)

She wrote to ask for my input.

She shared that, when they signed up for foster care, it was because of a mentorship program that pairs older kids with foster parents who mentor them to adulthood. The commitment in that program is one to two years. This child was much younger than the kids they had felt compelled to serve, and the commitment would have been much longer than they were prepared for.

She also shared that she felt a desire to say “yes,” but her husband felt that they needed to stick with their original plan and commitment. Guilt was setting in for this new foster mama, because after only a few days with this child, she had grown to care for him a great deal and was very concerned for his well being if he did not find a home soon. She did not want him to feel rejected by them (and experience yet another rejection in his young life).

I am familiar with this scenario. If you are a foster parent for long, you probably will be too. I thought I would share my response to her in case others reading this are in a similar situation. I hope you find this helpful!

Hi there,

This is a really tough one. And something I am familiar with. 

My first thought is “go with your gut.” And when I say that, I mean both you and your husband. If one of you feels good about going forward with the placement of this child, but the other does not have a solid “yes” in his gut, I would pass on the opportunity. For my husband and me, ultimately, it has been our “gut” that has led us, and we have not been wrong yet. We took once placement of a child when we didn’t feel a solid “yes” in our gut, and that scenario did not work out. We have said “yes” a number of times times. We have said “no” many more times than that. So go with your (unified) gut. If you’re not unified to say “yes,” then you must say “no.”

Stick with your plan to foster for up to two years through the mentorship program until or unless you both feel led to change your plan. The thing about foster parenting is that there are ALWAYS going to be more kids that need you than you can care for, and the social workers will ALWAYS ask you for more than you might be willing/able to do. (And who can blame them? They are desperate to find good homes for their kids, and you fit the bill! Of course they’re going to ask!!) 

When we started our journey, our commitment was six months. The children in our care were not free for adoption, so we were asked to commit to keep them until their mom’s next court date. After that court date, we were asked to commit for another six months (until the next court date), which we did. (Ultimately, after two years, we adopted them.)

But we have had other kids we knew we could not keep long-term because of how their presence affected our kids. For example, we had one who was a serious biter. He was non-verbal, but very smart. His frustration with not being able to use words to express himself was very evident. He kept biting our two year old, and it always happened when I wasn’t looking! I would get my toddler ready for his bath and see huge teeth bruises on his back, arm, and even his head! I cared a lot for this child, held him for hours every night when he was going to bed, and loved him. Besides the biting, he could be really sweet! But we knew he couldn’t stay, because we could not keep our other child safe. In that case, we had only committed to a week, which gave his social worker time to find him and his brother a home together. In that case, giving them a safe and loving home for long enough to find a home for them to be in together (with no other kids!) was the best we could do for them.

Another child was with us for respite care several times and then needed to leave his current foster home. We knew him well by that point and were able to commit to him, so he moved in with us. Another child came to us as an emergency (through no fault of her own), and we agreed to keep her for one week so her social worker could find her an adoptive home. We fell in love with her immediately and knew in just a few days we were prepared to let her stay with us as long as she wanted to stay with us. We told her social worker to stop looking, she found her home.

So it’s really different each time. We had one baby who was a preemie and needed a lot of attention, but because we also had our three kids, who were toddlers and a high-needs elementary schooler at the time, we had to ask them to find him another home. (In that case, we had started as an emergency “he’s being released from the hospital tomorrow and needs somewhere to go” and then after a few days agreed to be his placement. After seven weeks, we knew we couldn’t make it work for everyone—including him. He needed a lot more attention than I was able to give with three other small children to care for. That was the one time we said “yes” when our gut said “no.”) He ended up going to a single foster mom and she has become a really good friend. We were able to stay in touch with that little guy, who is three now and has been reunified, and because his foster mom is still in touch with his mom, we still get to see him sometimes. That’s one of the reunification success stories I love to share.

Ultimately, I would say if your husband is reticent to make this commitment, don’t do it. It’s not worth it to your marriage, to the child (if it doesn’t work out), etc. There will be plenty of kids who fall within the parameters you are comfortable with. You can do respite care for now and keep your commitment level low. You might find that another child comes in and you both “know” you want to let them stay longer/forever. But if that’s not the case, just keep your commitment short and stick with your plan. You are still making a difference, even if you can’t be his forever family!

As for the whole idea of “not supposed to get too attached,” that’s not true. You SHOULD get attached. The kids need that from us. I remember every child we’ve had. I keep their pictures in frames in the stair case leading upstairs in our house. I’m still in touch with a lot of them—two of them came to my daughter’s birthday party over the weekend, in fact! Keep his picture somewhere and his name in your heart. These kids need to matter to us a lot — even when we aren’t able to give them a “forever home.”

I hope this helps. Best wishes on your foster parenting journey!


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