How to know if foster care is right for your family
Someone recently asked me: “What are the pros and cons of foster care?”
As a foster mama myself, I loved the question, but even more than that, I loved the question beneath their question, which was: “How do I know if foster care is right for my family?”
As a foster mama who has been “in the trenches,” so to speak, for 2 and a half years, adopting one child out of foster care, and currently fostering another, my answer might surprise you: there are no cons of foster care.
This answer is probably most surprising to people who haven’t been involved with foster care themselves, or who don’t know much about the foster care process.
So let’s start with the “pros,” which I think are more obvious:
The Pros of Foster Care
There are innocent, sweet children that need a loving home and a safe place to live.
You can make a difference in their lives.
Our pastor once referenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon on the Good Samaritan, where he preached that every person who walked by the man laying on the side of the road thought to themselves, “what will happen to ME if I stop and help this man?”
But the Good Samaritan thought, “what will happen to HIM if I don’t?”
And for myself, and my family, that has been the answer to how we knew that foster care is absolutely right for our family.
Sure, we could worry about what’s going to happen to ourselves, to our family, to our biological children if we do foster care…and I’m not saying we never have!
But the question remains: what will happen to those children in the foster care system if we don’t step up as foster parents?
So our goal is to love them and keep them healthy and safe while we have them in our homes, and if it ends up being a long term placement, or adoption, great.
And if their biological parents are able to get their lives back on track, or a biological family member who is safe and willing to care for them steps up to do so, then that is great too. In fact, the whole goal of foster care is reunification with biological family whenever possible.
Both are a win. There are no cons. Both are beautiful endings to a story that started out broken.
The Hard Part of Foster Care
For the sake of full disclosure, I will add this: while I say there are no cons to foster care, I will also say that there are certainly many difficult things about it.
But if you think about it, it’s impossible to live a life free of difficulties. Anytime you care for ANYONE, there is risk involved.
The care that I gave to my biological children, before we ever fostered, or set out on the path to adoption was also very hard! I definitely experienced my share of hardship as a young mother, caring for babies and toddlers. We all do, right? Truthfully, that phase of my life stretched me to what I thought was my limit back then.
And I think one of the coolest things about foster care is that it stretches you to a NEW limit. And some may read that and think, “um, that sounds like a con to me!”
But I promise you, it is a pro, for sure.
While it’s not comfortable to be stretched to your limit, that’s how we know we are living full life.
We could take the opposite approach and avoid anything that could stretch or grow us, but I think by doing that, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to experience greater joy and deeper love than we would have ever thought possible.
So, in summary, there are no cons to foster care. There ARE hard parts to every hard thing that we do.
I would never discourage anyone who’s wondering if foster care is right for their family by saying something like, “you’d better think twice before you actually do it!”
I would, however, encourage anyone who is exploring foster care for their family to make a calculated decision for your family, and certainly decide together what is best for your family. Here are a few things to consider as you do just that:
Is your family currently dealing with a major trauma or loss?
If your family is currently grieving the death of a pet, loved one, or loss of any kind, it’s probably best to wait until your family has a calmer emotional climate, so to speak. If you have recently experienced loss or heartbreak of any kind, make sure you have a handle on that before you invite a big change like a foster child into your home. I highly recommend talking to a therapist or trusted family friend to get their honest feedback on what your family might be able to handle right now. You can always choose to do foster care down the road, and you’ll likely have a better experience when you have more confidence that your family is ready for another big change.
Talk to your biological kids (if you have them)
One of the main concerns I hear about foster care is regarding biological children already in the home, which is completely valid. I encourage you to talk to your children about foster care, at each step of your journey. There are age appropriate ways to discuss why a child may need a foster home, why you are considering it, and what it might feel like when a new child enters your family. Allow your children to express themselves freely, and assure them that this is an ongoing family conversation.
Start with one class
If you’re still not sure if foster care is right for your family, that’s ok! You don’t have to make a decision right now. But I would encourage you to take the first step, and just see how that feels. Typically, that means reaching out to your county or city’s social services department and asking to attend an open house. There is no pressure whatsoever in these settings; you’ll simply be able to learn more about how foster care works in your local area and have the chance to sign up for additional classes if you choose to. You’re always in control, you can always say yes or no to fostering at any point, so don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself! Take your time, and notice how you and your family are feeling every step of the way.