For years, foster care has been misunderstood, unfairly judged, criticized through local media and television shows, and the subject of harsh headlines. It’s time to set the record straight…
We spent 9 years in the foster care system, as care-givers to more than 23 children. Six of those children never left our care and became a permanent part of our family from 2008 until 2012. Our years in the system were trying but also filled with lots of beautiful moments. Thankfully we made it a point to live with as much peace as possible. As a result, we still have relationships with many of the children we fostered, as well as their families.
I won’t say that the journey was easy, because it wasn’t. Any time you care for children who have gone through significant loss, prolonged abuse or neglect, or chronic trauma, it’s going to be difficult. The resulting behaviors from the trauma they’ve experienced can be difficult to handle and just downright exhausting. I don’t want to scare anyone, but I do want to be real.
However, the world misunderstands a majority of what foster care really looks like, and what it does for vulnerable children. This is due in part to media stories that either vilify foster care, or paint an untrue rosy picture that misrepresents. Not all, but many.
So, to help shed light on the truth (the real truth, nothing but the truth) I reached out to several foster parents and asked them to share with me some of the biggest myths they know of, or have heard, about foster care, followed by what is actually true.
Myth: Foster parents just do it for the money.
Truth: Foster parents love these kids with their whole hearts and would do anything to keep them safe.
Do foster parents receive monetary support for fostering? Yes, they do. But it isn’t much. In fact, when you’re caring for a child who needs therapeutic care, recurring medical attention, speech therapy, etc., the money is quickly consumed by that, as well as providing clothing, extra services that help with their development, and more.
Myth: Fostering teenagers is scary and they will steal from you and hurt your family.
Truth: Teenagers can be fun and sweet and will steal your heart just as much as the little ones. Just spend some time watching The Fosters (which is one of the most accurate shows portraying foster care) and your heart will change!
When we fostered teenagers, we had a great experience. Even when one of our teens pushed our boundaries. Teenagers in general receive a bad rap, and are widely misunderstood. Truth is, teenagers are looking for permanency and stability just like children who are younger than them.
We recently reconnected with one the teenagers we fostered, who disappeared shortly after her time with us ended. She’s healthy, responsible, and smart. She’s a true success story. We hear many of these type stories often. In fact, one teen who came to us through foster care ended up being adopted by us. She’s a great mom and the manager of her office. Talk about success!
Myth: Babies are easy and don’t have as many problems
Truth: Babies, even ones removed at birth, will have trauma and may have other disabilities.
The age-old myth about babies is that “They’re only babies, they won’t remember anything that happened to them!” WRONG! So wrong. It’s a proven medical fact that trauma, even experienced prenatally (drug or alcohol consumption while pregnant) will leave lasting effects on a baby. When a newborn is exposed to domestic violence, it plays out in the way they react to tense situations later on in their life. They remember. Trust us.
Myth: Birth parents are horrible people and you shouldn’t love them.
Truth: Building relationships with birth parents is the gateway to really helping children. Sometimes birth parents have experienced as much trauma as the child in care.
I could write an entire book about building healthy relationships with birth families. We believe in this to the bottom of our being. In fact, it’s a must for signing up for foster care or adoption, as far as we’re concerned. Birth parents are not horrible people. They are human beings just like you and me. They make mistakes just like you and me. They deserve love just like you and me! Some of our closest relationships today are with our children’s birth families (or first families as we like to call them)
Myth: Children don’t want to be with their birth parents or shouldn’t want to be with them.
Truth: Children usually want that no matter the hurt.
When one of my families sent this myth to me, I began a slow-clap. This is absolutely one of the biggest myths out there about foster care. Even years after some of our kiddos were in our care through foster care, and now adopted, they still want to be with their birth parents. We do everything in our power to have regular connection and interaction with our children’s first families as a result. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do!
Myth: Kids are resilient from being removed numerous times.
Truth: They are only resilient for a period of time and then their resilience fades and trauma takes over.
Fact is, lots of attachment issues develop as a result of being bounced from foster home to foster home. This is why we are big advocates of foster parents staying the course even when it’s hard. We live in an era where there are maximum resources available to help you succeed and parent your children to the best of your ability.
Myth: Department Of Child Services (DCS) has the final say for kids in care.
Truth: Judges have the final say and will sometimes disregard DCS recommendations.
This is one of the most frustrating aspects of foster care. When you ask and ask and ask a Case Manager and they agree, but then it’s completely reversed by a judge, it’s defeating. The best remedy for this is knowledge. Simply knowing that you are walking into this, or the possibility of this, can, at least, give you insight and preparation.
Myth: Foster care isn’t worth it, it’s dark, and there’s no hope for you or your kiddos.
Truth: There is tons of hope, it IS worth it, and there is so much light and goodness in this journey.
We are living examples of how much light and hope there is in foster care. But here’s the truth: it may take years to discover this. Remember, you are parenting kiddos who have come from some very very tough places and it will take consistency after consistency to see change occur. It took us around 3-4 years to see positive results. We did see slivers of light along the way, but holistic change took some time. It takes years for trust to formulate and permanency to take full effect. But hope? Oh yes, there is. There always is when you’re talking about bringing life-change and transformation to another human being’s life.
The fact is, foster care is what you make of it in a lot of ways. Yes, you are parenting kiddos from hard places and sometimes it’s exhausting to deal with extreme behaviors day after day. But consider the light you are bringing into a child’s life. Consider the stability you have the chance to offer.
My personal belief? You are changing the future when you choose to love children from vulnerable places.
Mike and Kristin Berry are the authors of the Confessions of an Adoptive Parent blog and the book The Adoptive Parent Toolbox. They are the parents of 8 children, all of whom are adopted. Mike and Kristin’s passion is to reach overwhelmed, weary, and stressed out parents, all over the globe, with this message: “There is hope…..you’re not alone on this journey!”