Okay, so this article won’t tell you the legalities of how to be a foster parent. My hope is to give you the information and advice you might be seeking before you make that step of becoming a foster parent. The better prepared you are the more successful you will be. People ask me constantly how to be a foster parent. I could write on and on about it, but here is what I think are the most important things to consider before taking the leap.
As a foster parent I learned to set aside my preconceived notions about what fostering would be like. I figured it would resemble something on the sitcoms. You know, a conflict happens, they talk it out, and within 30 minutes (with commercials) everyone is hugging and all is well in the world. Um yeah, it usually doesn’t work that way in real life. Not for any relationship, let alone one built through foster care.
How to Be a Foster Parent: Consider Your Family Dynamics
When considering foster parenting you should think about your family and it’s dynamic. Are you married (you do not have to be married to be a foster parent)? Do you have children? How will your extended family and your close friends react? These questions seem like no-brainers, but they really are the most important. You need to make sure your household is completely onboard with the decision to foster. If someone is deciding to go along with it simply because you want to do it, it will cause strife in your relationship.
Your foundation and support system is crucial in foster care. There will be added stress, just by the fact of having new members of your family. Any type of stress has a way of showing all of the cracks and weak spots. You will undoubtedly have friends or family that will not support or understand your decision. Adversely, you will have friends and family that become closer because of that very same decision.
Foster care can be right for so many families. There is a misconception that fostering is just for people that do not have children, have teenagers, or are empty nesters. My family became licensed when our biological children were 3.5 and 1.5 years old. We choose to foster very young children (0-5 years old). It fits well with our family. Think about the age range and sex of the child/children you will be willing to care for. Yes, you can choose the age, sex, and number of children placed in your home. You can always say no to a case worker about any child.
You need to make the difficult decisions on what levels of trauma and disabilities you will also consider before you ever get licensed. The reasons for a child being placed in foster care are vast, but all of those reasons have had consequences on a child. You need to think about your family and your abilities first. Making these guidelines now will make child placement so much easier in the future.
How to be a Foster Parent: Reunification can be Difficult yet Rewarding
Most of the children in foster care will not become adoptable. They will be returned home. This sounds heartbreaking and is the most common reason for people to decide not to foster. Foster children desperately need someone to think about their needs. Up to this point the most important people in their lives have been selfish. Too selfish to stop drinking, stop abusing drugs, or control their rage. If you can put aside your possible heartbreak long enough to help heal theirs, you just might be ready to be a foster parent.
While the process of reunification can be difficult, it is very rewarding. Yes, I called it a process, because it is a process. First the visits with the birth parents are supervised. Those supervised visits increase in length. If the parent is making progress with their required counseling and programs the visits continue to evolve and can become unsupervised. Then the visits gradually turn to overnight and weekend stays. Those weekends become 3-4 days in a row. The next step is reunification. It doesn’t happen like the movies depict. It is a gradual process to prepare everyone, including you.
It is actually quite beautiful to watch the same parent that had forsaken their child work so hard to get that child back. As a foster parent you don’t just help heal and nurture the child, you help heal and nurture a family back together.
I wish I had the answer to how to be a foster parent, but it is the same answer as how to be a parent. You use your heart, your mind, and your faith to guide the way. Foster parenting is extremely trying and extremely rewarding, but that is true with any type of parenting.
If you want to become a foster parent, ask someone that has fostered the “real” questions that you want truthful answers to. If you and your family have decided that you want to embark on this incredible adventure, contact your province or territory office about qualifications and getting licensed. I am always willing to discuss foster care, so please feel free to ask anything.