I was able to spend some time chatting with a new set of foster parents who had recently joined our association. This loving husband and wife were parents to twelve children; biological, adoptive, and foster children. I was so very impressed by their selflessness and dedication to children, as they devoted their lives to helping children. Indeed, over the last twelve months while traveling across the country working with foster parents at training conferences, I have met many such foster parents, working tirelessly to help children in need.
A successful foster parent is one who provides a caring environment while a birth family works on their caseload for reunification. Foster parents not only provide a caring environment, but a safe and stable one, as well. During this time, as a foster parent, you will agree to carry out all functions of the birth family. These day to day functions include assuring that the child’s medical, nutritional, educational, and parental needs are met. Foster parents may also provide social activities for the child, as well, such as extracurricular events after school, city and county sports, and church related activities, to name a few.
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Yet, as we all know, foster parenting is hard work! It may just be the hardest work you ever do. You will often find yourself exhausted, both mentally and physically, and feel drained. There is very little money available to help you, and you will not be reimbursed for all the money you spend on your foster child. The job will require you to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no time off. You will probably feel overworked and underappreciated. You will work with children who are most likely coming from difficult and harmful environments. Some of these children will have health issues, some will come with behavioral issues, and some will struggle with learning disabilities. Many times, the children you work with will try your patience, and leave you with headaches, frustrations, disappointments, and even heartbreaks. There is a reason why many people are not foster parents, as it is often too difficult. The turnover rate for foster parents in the United States is between 30% and 50% each year.
There have been those moments when I have questioned whether or not I was making a difference. If you read my book Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Journey, you know, then, my wife’s own doubts, and her desire to no longer foster, as her heart had been broken numerous times from the many children she had grown to love, only to see them return to homes where the children were once again placed in jeopardy. However, when we consider no longer taking in children from foster care into our home, we are remin.ded that the need is strong, and are encouraged by the stories of others, such as the family I met at the Christmas party.
As we begin this new year, I want to remind you that what you are doing is important. What you are doing matters. What you are doing is truly making a tremendous difference in the lives of children in need. Though you may feel exhausted at times, and though you may feel that you are not making an impact, you are changing the life of a child. You are planting a seed in the life of a child in foster care that WILL grow, and WILL bloom. You may not see this transformation while the child is living in your home; this seed may not blossom until much later, but it will blossom if you plant it with love, water it with your tears, and nurture it with your time and compassion.
It is my hope that you continue caring for children in foster care. There are so many children in care, yet so few willing to help. May you have the strength and resources, compassion and support; and may you continue to change the life of a child in foster care.
Dr. John DeGarmo
For more, purchase Dr. DeGarmo’s training book The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe, and Stable Home.