On Saying “Goodbye”

It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do.

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I’ve heard experienced foster parents talk about the grieving period when a child who’s been in the home for a while is placed somewhere else or goes back to their family. I knew to expect it – the emptiness, the quiet – I thought I was ready for it. I wasn’t.

Nothing can prepare you for the emotions you’ll experience when the time comes to send your foster kiddo(s) somewhere else.
Suddenly things you’ve taken for granted in the past months – that song on the radio he always sang to in the car on the way to school, that simple phrase they always used, the empty beds that became theirs but were never really theirs in the first place – all things that you didn’t realize made you love them more every. single. day.
After our first foster children left, we avoided spending much time at home for about two weeks. It was eerily quiet and suddenly our four bedroom house seemed way too big for comfort.

Image result for saying goodbyeEventually I was able to take comfort in the knowledge that the kids were alive and well somewhere. That even though it felt like I had lost a child forever, the truth was I hadn’t. I could still see them if I wanted to. Knowing the pain I felt in my grieving period after saying goodbye, I don’t ever want to know what it feels like for a parent to actually lose a child. I can’t even imagine the utter devastation. If I had been in that place, I probably would have decided to sell our house or do anything to avoid being reminded of that child.

Right after we said goodbye, a lot of people asked us if we’d do it again. Without hesitation both my husband and I said, “yes.”

Maybe we’re just crazy.

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How to Talk to Foster Parents

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Believe it or not, every time I inform someone who doesn’t know me well (e.g. a colleague, an acquaintance, etc.), that I’m a foster parent, I’m met with this look of confusion/ admiration/ speechlessness/ i-don’t-know-how-to-respond-to-this-info, type expression.

And then people will usually respond with something like, “oh wow, you’re so cool” (that’s one of the better responses I’ve received recently), or “oh, okay…{awkward silence}” or “you’re doing such a good thing.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad people are trying to be supportive, but sometimes it gets so awkward because of how people respond to the information that sometimes I’d rather keep that part of my life to myself.

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But I really need to tell people that I’m a foster parent. And most of the time I’m a black hole for encouragement, because fostering can get really discouraging at times.

So here’s my handy dandy guideline for talking to foster parents, especially when someone just informed you that they are, in fact, a foster parent.

It’s really complicated…get ready…

Wait for it…

 

 

Talk to us like you’d talk to any other parent.   Image result for wow

 

 

Crazy, right?!

 

 

 

When someone informs you that they just had a baby, would you say, “oh you’re doing such a good thing”? Probably not.

Because that’s a given. It’s a good thing to rear a child and it’s a daunting task, no matter who you are.

More-than-likely, you would offer the new parent a bit of encouragement or advice if you’ve already been in their shoes, such as, “don’t worry, you’ll get sleep eventually” or “don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re doing a great job” or simply, “congratulations.”

Foster parents really need the same type of encouragement. We need to hear, “you’re doing a great job” rather than “you’re doing a great thing.” Notice the difference in vocabulary there. Telling us that we’re doing a great “thing” is not helpful at all, because if I’m being totally honest with you, dear reader, I don’t always feel like I’m doing a great thing. And there are moments when I don’t feel like I can continue with a placement, or when I don’t feel like fostering is a good fit for me or my family. These are moments of weakness that I hopefully will move beyond, but if I happen to be feeling that way the same moment I hear “you’re doing a great thing,” it just makes me feel guilty on top of all the discouraging thoughts or circumstances I might be going through at the time.

Because foster placements aren’t always permanent. In fact, they rarely are permanent situations. Be sure to read my upcoming post on “Saying Goodbye” for more on that.

However, the things you would tell new parents of babies are usually the things new foster parents need to hear as well. “Keep up the good work.” “You’re doing great, hang in there.” “You’re not a failure, everyone feels this way when they first start out.”

On a slightly separate note, I’ve noticed that the same people who don’t know how to respond initially to learning that I’m a foster parent also tend to be really curious but don’t know if they can ask questions, or how to ask those questions for that matter.

Image result for ask questionsReally, it’s okay to ask questions about the kids. Again, the parents will probably want to talk about the new kids living in their house. However, please keep in mind that they are under orders to not “gossip” and can’t give you all the gory details of the case (because, believe me, the details are usually gory). That doesn’t mean that you can’t ask questions, however. All it means is if you ask a question that is too personal to the case, the foster parent will politely tell you that they can’t answer that. It’s better for everyone that way. Curiosity doesn’t usually do any harm, however, and the foster parent will appreciate that you cared enough to find out more.

So all you need to remember the next time you meet a foster parent is to treat them and talk to them like any other new parent you would meet. No, they might not have an infant in their home at the moment, but accepting a new foster placement is really very similar to bringing home a baby for the first time. They don’t know the child(ren) and they haven’t had the luxury of nine months to prepare for that child either.

Also, if you’re feeling extra generous, a free cup of coffee that comes with or without adult interaction will go a LONG way. Believe me, we probably need the caffeine and if we ask for it, we definitely need the adult interaction. Anyway, that kind of gesture truly shows that you care and appreciate the work of foster parents and is a way of encouraging them without the need of too many words.

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That’s all for now…

Shauna

 

 

Getting Attached

One of the most common comments I’ve come across often rings something like, “I couldn’t foster because I’d be afraid of getting too attached.”

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Believe it or not, that’s something that scared me at first too; getting attached and then having to send the kids home. Sometimes they’d be going home to what I’d even consider less-than-ideal environments. To make matters worse, as a foster parent I would have very little say in the matter, even though I might have loved that child for the past six months as if he were my own.

The truth is, I will get attached and I should.

These kids need attachment. They need you to love them as if you were their birth mother. Fostering is a bit different from adoption in that most kids are adopted as infants so the adoptive parents have the option of not indulging that news to their child until a later date or ever. In those circumstances, the bio-parents are lovingly (albeit painstakingly) giving up their legal parental rights to the adoptive family. It was their choice, and in most cases, the bio-parents chose the adoptive parents through stringent recruitment processes and private agencies that protect them. In a fostering situation, something went wrong in the bio-home. Something went so wrong, in fact, that someone (a neighbor, another family member, a teacher, etc.) noticed enough to be prompted to alert authorities. It could have been as violent as a call to the police for suspected domestic violence or something as simple as the child going to school in the same clothing everyday. The child might have even been in a loving home but her parents both died in a car crash. The bio-parents never chose to give up their rights or asked for their daughter to be removed. It was not their will. Of course, a baby wouldn’t be fully aware of what was happening to her but at the end of the day, that six-month-old girl is still traumatized.

Older foster children know you are not their parents. They know that something went wrong, even if they don’t know all the details. These children need the attachment of their foster parents even more because most likely they are hurting, confused, angry, terrified. That’s the best case scenario by the way. Too often than not, on top of the previous emotions, they are traumatized, have PTSD, are broken (literally and figuratively), may be ill, are undernourished, abused, and neglected. They bring all of this into a completely new environment full of completely new faces, smells, tastes, touches, sights and sounds. They probably don’t have more than a trash bag’s worth of possessions, but they can have more baggage than most adults.

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They need you to get attached because there’s a chance that very primal need has never been met before.

I’m going to come out and say it because I was guilty of it too: choosing not to become a foster parent for nothing more than being afraid of getting too attached is probably the most selfish reason not to become a foster parent.

You will get attached and you should.

Yes, it will hurt when that sweet chubby-cheeked little boy leaves to go home. You will miss all the giggles and you will miss all the tears. You will probably even miss the episode in which he threw up dinner all over you. Your house will be quieter, emptier.

But you filled a little heart with hope and warmth and safety. You filled a little heart with the promise of love and self-worth, even though he didn’t recognize it. That little heart will hold onto that for years and years to come.

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You will recover from the detachment because you gave a piece of your heart to heal another. That kind of wound heals. That kind of wound changes you, yes, but for the better.

Getting Started (A 10-Step Guide)

Hi all, this is Brett, and today I’ll be helping you learn how to get started in the fostering/ adoption process.

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Step 1) Do your research. Use our “Web Resources” and “Educational Materials” pages to link to lots of information and organizations to find out more about what fostering and/or adopting is all about.

Step 2) Contact a local organization. After you’ve found out what organizations (private or public) are near you, pick one and then find out when they’re having their next “orientation.”

Step 3) Go to orientation. This is a required part of the training process.

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Step 4) If you’re still interested in becoming a foster/ adoptive parent after orientation, find out when your organization is having their next training session. This information will be provided at orientation, as well as any initial costs associated.

Step 5) Go to training! Learn! Read! MAKE FRIENDS!!!!!!!! (They are going through the process with you and will become a valuable resource!) Have fun!

 

Step 6) Go through an exit interview. Most placement and/or training agencies have an exit interview after all training has been completed. This is their way of checking in with you and seeing where you’re at in the process.

Image result for paperworkStep 7) Fill out the ridiculously long application. Be as honest as possible. Yes, there are VERY personal questions involved.
Step 8) Commence your home study. This is a long process. Sounds super scary. It’s not. It’s just really, really, long.

Step 9) Complete your CPR/ First Aid training and Health Evaluations (you can do this during training but it’s recommended to wait because these expire every so often so the more recent, the better. It also helps during the recertification process when all of your requirements (home study, health eval, CPR, etc.) expire around the same time. Less to remember.

Step 10) When you have been approved for licensing and a placement, wait for a phone call. This could happen within 24 hours of your certification or could take a long time, depending on your parameters.

On Taking In Teenagers

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Today, I’ll be discussing the matter of taking in teenagers in a foster situation. A lot of people are scared of them and I’m not really sure why. Okay, yeah, they’re moody and these particular teens come with issues. Bad issues. But they still need somewhere to call home.

I happen to teach teens for a living. And yes, there are a few who have unstable home lives. It’s not easy being a teen, hormones raging, conflicting thoughts about where their future is headed, stress from wondering why their boyfriend didn’t call, all the stuff that comes along with being an average teen, and then add to that the burden of not having adults available to truly guide and lead.

There’s a movie that came out a few years ago: The Blind Side.  Most people have heard about it because Sandra Bullock won her first Oscar for the role she played. It’s one of those tear jerkers that somehow make an impression on our lives. I want to take a moment to dig into that story and how it would have looked in reality.

Michael Oher was alone. He was a teenager (and intimidatingly big, I might add) and had no one until one day a mother (not his own) took pity on him and opened up her home. That had to be scary. For one, she most likely had no foster training and no idea what to expect. Because of that, she also most likely didn’t have any counselors or therapists helping her and her family deal with taking in a troubled teen. He had no file, no medical history. I’m sure some part of her worried that he would steal things or terrorize her children. But she opened up her home anyway. Why? Because Oher was in desperate need. foreverkids | "Aging Out": Life After Foster Care  “My friend was in the foster care system for most of her life. She was living in a group home, and when she turned eighteen she was told to pack up. She packed up and they gave her a bus ticket.”:

We all know what happened from there. Michael Oher went on to become a major NFL star. I wonder where he’d be today if that mother hadn’t seen his desperation. She saw beyond his race, his size and his age. She saw a child in need.

Ironically, the actor who played Oher in The Blind Side, Quinton Aaron, has a similar story. I wonder where he’d be (another large teenage male) had someone also not opened their home. Certainly he wouldn’t have starred in a movie.

I decided to write about this because I’ve come up against the question, “are you sure you want to do that?” a lot when it comes to accepting a teen placement in my home. Yes I’m sure. These kids are in one of the most critical stages of their lives, quite possibly the most critical stage in their lives. Do I expect to turn out a major NFL star or some other great achiever by taking in teenagers? No. I don’t expect much, honestly. But I hope. I hope that my influence will make a difference in their lives. I hope that they will learn important skills for surviving the adult world while they are in my care. I hope that I can have a hand in changing their lives for the better.

Now, I do need to address one issue. Just because we’re willing to accept teenagers into our home does not mean we’re equipped to handle certain behaviors. That’s the nice thing about how the system works. Yes, I know, it’s not the best system in the world, and a lot of public placement agencies are incompetent. They are, however, very good at finding the right fit for every child. Where I live, there’s actually a home that specializes in helping and caring for extremely troubled adolescent males. The county doesn’t really know why this particular home is so good at helping these young men cope with their pasts and control their emotions but does that really matter if these young men are able to redirect their lives from one that would inevitably lead towards incarceration or even death to one that leads toward a successful future? Maybe even a college degree and a decent job?

I have to pin this because it made me laugh. It also made me sad. Number 1 is the only real reason I need (w all need a family). Number 2 is a simple benefit. 3-5 are just there to show us how silly it is to think we can't love a child that needs love because they have lived too long....: All that being said, there are still plenty of teens (who people tend to ignore because they want babies and toddlers) who are good kids with difficult pasts that just need adults in their lives whom they can trust and be loved by. These are good kids. They just need people in their lives who can really help them succeed.

 

 

 

 

Check out your local Heart Gallery to learn more about the teens in the US who are waiting for their forever family. Will you answer their cries?

The Stupid Things People Ask and Say

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We don’t have a placement yet, but in this process of learning how to become parents, we’ve come across some really ridiculous questions and statements. Some are just downright insulting and some stem from lack of education on the subject. Either way, we thought this topic deserved its own post.

During training, we were warned that we’d come across certain comments and questions that might bother us or put us in a precarious position in front of our kids. We just never thought they’d really happen. Some people were well meaning in their statements, but nonetheless, the statements still hurt. So I, Shauna, one of the authors of this blog, began thinking about the things that people would never say to a pregnant woman or expecting couple that they say all of the time to people hoping to become parents through fostering or adoption.

Stupid Question #1                 Image result for question mark

Why do you think there are so many bad foster families out there?

Gee, I don’t know. Maybe you think there are so many bad foster families out there because those are the only ones you hear about. I personally know a lot of really amazing foster/ adoptive families whose children turned out just fine thank you. I could ask a similar question: why do you think there are so many bad parents out there?

Stupid Question #2

Which ones are yours?

What do you mean, which ones are mine? They are all mine, meaning, I’m currently raising and taking care of all of them. Who gives a rat’s tail which ones I personally birthed and which ones I didn’t?! Does it really matter at the end of the day? Just so you know, foster kids don’t like being distinguished as different or “other.” Asking that question in front of them just reminds them that their first experience with family was a broken one.

Stupid Question #3

Are you sure you want to do that? (Referring to choosing to foster children over the age of one).

Would you ask a pregnant woman if she was sure she made the right choice? No! Of course not! So why are you asking me if I’m sure I want to become a parent through the foster system?

Related imageStupid Statement #1

Kids cost a lot of money. 

Oh really? I thought they were free. Again, you wouldn’t say that to a pregnant woman. Of course kids cost a lot of money. Don’t you think people choosing to become parents through fostering/ adoption haven’t considered that? Not to mention, foster/ adoptive parent’s finances have been scrutinized for stability factors by the county, state, and federal government, not to mention any private agencies they used during the process.

Stupid Statement #2

You have no parenting experience.

Hmm. Neither do half a million new biological parents. They, however, weren’t required to go through hours and hours of extensive training, pass federal background checks/ fingerprinting, get physicals and have a doctor sign a form deeming them healthy enough for parental duty, tolerate extremely invasive interviews from complete strangers, or have an inspector study their home for safety violations. Mind you, perhaps if all biological parents were required to go through the same training/ interviews, etc., that foster parents have to go through, we wouldn’t have need of a foster system at all.

Stupid Statement #3

Good thing you felt called into this life (referring to revealing infertility issues)

I felt called to foster/ adopt long before I ever found out about my infertility. In fact, I think I was 13-years-old when I first decided I wanted to adopt a child or children one day. The fact that you think my heart for adoption is a good thing because I’m infertile is actually a very hurtful comment and certainly doesn’t help me heal from the possibility of never having biological children. Are you suggesting that all infertile couples should therefore adopt? Knowing what I know about fostering/ adopting, it’s not for the faint of heart, or for people who have infertility baggage they haven’t healed from yet. Infertility was never a reason for us to foster/ adopt. We just happen to have that specific heart for opening up our home to children in need, regardless of our ability to conceive.

There are other questions and statements that feel like lemon juice on a wound, and we might write about them one day. These were just the top three questions and statements that we’ve come across, more often than not, and felt they merited some attention. If you know someone going through the foster/ adopt process, please educate yourself and don’t say these things around them. They will most certainly not appreciate it, even if you are well-meaning.

Welcome to The Fostered Child!

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Thanks for stopping by! This brand new blog came about during one couple’s humble journey through the fostering and adoption process. It wasn’t long before lack of resources, common knowledge about the subject, or people to connect to became evident, so this blog seeks to solve that problem! We’ll be posting about things like: myths about the foster system, domestic vs. international adoption, baby vs. child adoption, becoming foster parents, parenting resources and educational materials, commonly asked questions, how to get the process started once you’ve decided to become a foster/ adoptive parent, and so much more.

We don’t claim to be experts but can offer the “parent” side of things and hope that you will benefit from what we’ve learned and are still learning as we continue down this journey.

Right now, there’s not much posted (we just got this up and running!) so please check back on a weekly basis to see what we’ve added.

Have a wonderful day!