If you follow my podcast, you likely heard my interview with Kevin, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who shared his story and gave some wonderful insight for those foster parents who are caring for children—especially boys—who are victims of sexual violence. I am so grateful for Kevin’s willingness to share about his experiences, and how he has experienced healing and freedom from the trauma of his youth.
When Seattle radio personality Laurie Hardie heard our interview, she invited me to come on her show, Spotlight with Laurie Hardie, and talk about foster care. Laurie is a foster grandmother, and she shares my passion for spreading the word about foster care. Our interview aired on five radio stations in Seattle last weekend, and I am so grateful for the chance to ring the bell about foster care.
Most people go through life not giving a second thought to foster care.
I aim to change that.
I want everyone to care. I want everyone to realize that foster care is everyone’s concern.
No one becomes a foster parent thinking they will end up having to disrupt the placement of a child.
When we bring a child into our homes, we feel committed and hopeful. We are determined to love that child to the very end. I have written about the value of waiting it out with a challenging child—a piece I wrote is actually now part of the Caregiver Core Training curriculum in Washington. I have talked with so many former foster youth who ring the same bell: the ones who showed up day after day, who didn’t give up on them (or give them up), are the ones who truly changed their lives. I was a brat, but they didn’t abandon me. I ran away, but they took me back. I was in juvy, and when I got out, they brought me back home. Staying is huge for foster youth. Having someone who is there through thick and thin makes all the difference in the world.
I advocate for staying with a child for as long as possible.
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But there are times when the only option is to move a child from their current placement.
It hurts them, to be sure, but sometimes there simply is not a viable alternative. Sometimes, circumstances beyond anyone’s control necessitate moving a child from one foster home to another, or from a foster home to an inpatient or residential treatment center.
Some common reasons a child might move include:
A medically fragile child whose physical needs are beyond a foster parent’s capacity to meet;
A foster family relocating out of state;
A foster parent being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness;
Volatility and/or violence between existing children in a home and a youth in care;
Circumstances in which a child is a danger to themselves or others and a foster home is not set up for the significant mental health needs of the child;
Mental unwellness—either in a foster youth or in a foster parent;
Foster parents who are simply not equipped or able to handle the trauma-related behaviors presented by a child in their care;
A youth persistently requesting a change.
These are just some of the common reasons kids moved from their foster homes. When this happens, there is no one to “blame” for the decision—it has to happen. Could someone have done more research ahead of time and prevented this unsuitable placement? Maybe.
But maybe not. Placement coordinators are desperate to get kids out of shelters and safe houses and temporary sanctuaries and into real homes. Sometimes—most times—that means a child is moved into a home long before a foster parent or social worker has time to consider whether the placement is a good fit. When a child first comes into care, there are a lot of moving parts. Getting a child into a home for the night is the goal. A “suitable” placement is not necessarily an “ideal” placement.
And when a placement turns out to be less suitable than was hoped and a move has to happen, there is plenty of fallout. The child is often re-traumatized by yet another move and message of rejection. The foster parent is often grief- and guilt-stricken.
It’s a real mess.
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Sadly, reaching the point of having to move a child can mark the end of a person’s journey as a foster parent. I have known too many foster parents who were so burned out by the time the decision to disrupt their placement was reached, they were done. Or, maybe they weren’t burned out, but their confidence in their fitness to serve as a foster parent was tattered. Feeling like an utter and complete failure, they call it. We tried, they say. We’re just not cut out to be foster parents.
This is a real tragedy, mainly because, for every child in foster care with extreme and severe needs (mental, physical, emotional, etc.), there are plenty of other children who are typical, high-functioning youth who really would thrive in the simplicity of a stable, loving home. Might they have some emotional or behavioral challenges? Of course. Trauma wreaks havoc on a child. But in my experience, most children in foster care are not setting fires or harming others. While that kind of thing can and does happen, it is not the norm. But when a foster parent, especially a new/first-time foster parent, reaches the point of ending a placement, especially if it’s due to a child trying to set a fire or harming others, they are wary of giving it another go.
If you’re one of those foster parents—if you have been burned by a really challenging placement that left you feeling like an incompetent failure, and you’re pretty sure you’re done—I hope you will reconsider. A failed placement does not make you a failure as a foster parent. Think of how much you learned through this experience! You know better now what questions to ask, what your core competencies are, how to engage with the state support services, and how to involve the team before you get to the point of no return.
You also never know when your “failure” is actually a means of getting a child to a better place for them to thrive. We have had to move children on a few occasions, and each time, I felt awful. One was a preemie who needed more attention than I could give with three other children in the house. I felt so guilty when I asked to have him moved—I felt like a failure. It was not his fault. He was perfect. He just had a lot of NAS-related needs that I could not meet. He went to a single foster parent who was able to devote all of her attention to him. He thrived in her care, and now that he reunified with his parents, she remains in his life as an “auntie.” He would have missed out on so much goodness if we had insisted on “making it work.”
Another child we had was really aggressive toward our youngest child. We could not place our toddler in harms way for the sake of making a placement work, so we had to decline being his long-term placement after a week or so in our care. He “bounced” to another home, then back to his mother, then back into foster care, where he ended up being placed with a family that is now in the process of adopting him. He is thriving in their care, where he is the youngest child in the home. He would have missed out on so much if we had insisted on “making it work.”
It stinks when a placement falls through. Placement disruption (or placement breakdown) is not anyone’s goal for a foster youth or foster parent. But when it happens, it’s important to realize that it’s not the end of the story—for the foster parent or the child in care. In many cases, it’s a necessary part of getting a child the help they need and into a home where they can truly have a chance at flourishing.
Our latest Flourishing Foster Parent Coaching Call focused on how to discern “when to say when” as a foster parent. If you are a foster parent who would benefit from being part of an online community with others who understand the journey you’re on, consider joining us!
In the last episode of A Fostered Life podcast (Episode 11), I introduced you to Tonya Foulkrod. Our conversation covered a lot of ground, so I broke it up into two parts. In Episode 11, which was Part One, we heard about Tonya’s early experience as a foster parent and how she and her husband became involved with the mother of the child who was placed in their care, leading them to start a ministry focused on offering a more holistic way to support families in crisis.
In this episode, which is Part Two of our interview, we learn more about what Three Strands does and how their community approach to supporting families in crisis offers struggling parents wraparound support to help them gain skills and cultivate relationships that significantly improve their chances of reunification.
Be sure to subscribe to A Fostered Life podcast so you don’t miss a single episode!
For more information and resources for foster parents, please visit afosteredlife.com, where you’ll find blog posts, recommended reading, youtube videos, and social media links all designed to help foster parents feel more equipped for their foster care journey. It’s my prayer that no foster parent ever feels like they’re going at it alone.
If you enjoy this podcast and you’re interested in supporting my work at A Fostered Life, please go to afosteredlife.com and click on the tab “Support My Work.” That will take you to my Patreon page, where you can become a patron of the podcast and YouTube channel. Just one dollar a month helps offset the cost of producing these resources and enables me to offer them freely to new and prospective foster parents. I’m so grateful for the support of my patrons. I also give a few perks to my patrons, so please head over to Patreon and check it out.
If you’re a foster parent who is feeling like you’re out there on your own, consider joining The Flourishing Foster Parent, a community designed to encourage, equip and connect foster parents.
One more thing, if you’re enjoying this podcast, please take a moment to rate A Fostered Life on iTunes. It would help me out so much. Thanks for listening and thanks for caring about foster care.
Be sure to subscribe to A Fostered Life podcast so you don’t miss Part Two or any other episode.