I recently spoke at a foster parent association about grieving the loss of a foster child after the child is placed in another home, or returned to a biological family member or birth parent. Indeed, this is a very difficult part of being a foster parent, as relationships are made, attachments are developed, and love is shared. Any time a child moves out of a foster home can be an emotional one.
One thing that struck me about this foster parent association was the relationship they shared with each other. There was a great deal of laughing, both with each other, and at each other, in good nature, of course. It was apparent that the relationships between the members were strong ones, and that they enjoyed each other’s company. The foster parents felt relaxed, comfortable, and looked to be in good spirits.
Foster parents face stress and pressure from a variety of sources. It is often difficult to be a foster parent, which may be one of the reasons why there are not many foster parents currently serving. There is a strong need for good foster parents, yet the number of those who serve as foster parents continues to decline each year. One way to keep foster parents in service is to provide support. Foster parent associations can provide this support.
A good and healthy foster parent association is one where members can find the support they need from their fellow foster parent. Not only do foster parents understand one another better than the general public, they can appreciate what each has gone through, and can provide suggestions, help, and advice that applies directly to the situation, advice and help that others do not simply appreciate nor understand. Fellow members have probably “been there, done that,” before, and can offer advice based on their own experiences in the foster care system. An association can also be a place where foster parents can relax, unwind, and even share frustrations and grievances without having to be worried about judged or criticized by outside forces.
As foster parents across the United States, and in many countries, are required to have a certain amount of training hours each year, many foster parent associations host training sessions during their meetings. Resources and information can be shared by experts in particular fields, and foster parents can acquire valuable insight into various topics and areas that only applies to the foster care system.
There are those foster parent associations that meet in venues that provide child care, and even meals. For example, the foster parent association I belong to meets in a local church every other month. While there, we have a meal together, provided by the members of the church, a meal that is cooked and prepared for us beforehand; one less task that a foster parent has to do, thus making our job as foster parents a little easier that evening. Following this, the children are taken care of by these church members in a supervised location, while training sessions are held for the foster parents in attendance. The evenings are often ones I look forward to; prepared meals, supervision of foster children, fellowship with other foster parents, and training hours, all in one evening.
Indeed, if you are not part of a foster parent association, it would be wise to join one, as the benefits are many. If there is not an association in your area, it is not difficult to start one, yourself. Simply contact your local child welfare agency for help and assistance, search the internet for suggestions, or you may contact me for advice on beginning an association on your own. Take advantage of the fellowship, the training, and the support from a foster parent association. Cheers!
-Dr. John DeGarmo