Serving Opportunities: What is it Like to be a Foster Parent?

Did you know there are approximately half a million children in foster care in the United States? There is an enormous need for families to serve this foster child population . . . and it doesn’t necessarily require a full-time commitment.

Today I am excited to interview a wonderful Christian mom who is serving the Lord in this way. Jennifer is a homeschooling mom of three biological children, ages 7, 6 and 4 months. She is also a foster mom of a one-year-old baby who was placed with her family at 10 days old. She has an amazing heart for the fostering ministry and I pray that her story will encourage you to consider how your own family might make a difference to foster children in need.

If you have any questions for Jennifer about fostering or her experience, please leave them in the comments!

 

What led you to fostering?

 

My husband, Raymond, and I have always placed a high value on the importance of family. Before we got married, we both felt a tug in our hearts to help children in need. At the time we thought working with street children or orphans overseas might be a part of God’s plan for us, but when we learned that our oldest child had special needs that could not be met overseas, we began to look for other ways to get involved in ministry with children in need here in the U.S.

I started asking Raymond about foster care once we got over the shock of my son’s diagnosis of autism. Raymond was hesitant, so I let the subject go. About a year later, he saw an ad for foster parenting in a local magazine (like the kind you get at Subway!) and asked me if I thought we should go to the orientation later that month. Of course I said yes! That was the way (logistically) we got into fostering.

Spiritually, I really believe that foster parenting is a calling, and I believe that the Lord had planted a seed of compassion in our hearts long ago both for children in general and for foster children, and that seed is just now coming to fruition. Who knows what else He has in store for our lives or for the lives of those children whom we invite into our homes?

 

If you were to summarize your fostering experience to date overall, what would you say?

 

I have never felt more like I was doing what I was called to do. I would say that foster parenting is one of the most rewarding, yet gut-wrenching experiences I have been through. We have a lot to learn, but we are open and willing to let the Lord use us and teach us as we care for these little ones.

 

How has fostering impacted the parenting of your other children, both positively and negatively?

 

As I mentioned, we have a child with special needs already and when we started considering foster care, we were concerned about how he would react to having new children in and out of the home, and also about what kind of placement would fit the best with our family dynamics. Many people are so eager to help that they don’t limit what kind of child they will take. The problem with that is that not every child will mesh with every family. It’s important to have a conversation about what kinds of children you are willing to bring into your home, and what kinds of placements may not be appropriate for your situation. For example, if you are a working mom, taking in a child with a lot of medical needs may not be appropriate for your situation. Or, if you have very young children, taking in a child who has a history of aggression may not be appropriate. For us, we had very specific (and some would say limiting) parameters as to what type of child we would agree to care for.

Because the Lord gave us the insight to have this conversation before having a child come into our home, our fostering experience has overall had a very positive impact on our children. Our foster child has brought out an empathy and openness in our autistic biological child that we had never seen before. I really believe that having the experience of seeing us care for a helpless infant with so many needs drew him out and into relationship all the more.

Logistically, fostering has impacted our lifestyle in that we have to accept having an “open home” where people from the Department of Human Services (DHS), our fostering agency, etc., regularly come to visit. We have rules that we must follow and several trainings we have to make time for. That has been an adjustment. We also have had to learn how to attach to our foster child while at the same time accept that she is NOT ours and ultimately we have very little control over her future. I suppose some of these things can be considered negative, but I’m not one to look at experiences as strictly negative or positive – they are more just opportunities for learning and growth.

 

How has your foster baby been received by your other children? Have you done anything “special” to encourage the relationship between all of your kids?

 

We have only had one placement, but so far she has been well received. We have raised her from infancy, and my children look at her like their biological sibling.

It’s so important that your biological children know that your foster child has a mom/dad/family of his or her own, as well as being a part of your family. You don’t want your children thinking that the foster child will always be with you because the truth is that in most cases the foster children you care for will eventually go on to live elsewhere. You also need to teach your kids to respect the family of the foster child, whether that be in conversations or when actually meeting and spending time with the birth family.

 

How has fostering impacted your faith?

 

One thing fostering does is show you how little control you really have. Our foster daughter is like my own daughter in many ways. But the reality is that I have very little control of how long she will be with us or where she goes or if she leaves our home. Every couple of months we have a court date and the judge rules as to her placement and her birth mother’s parenting plan. Also, any relative who comes forward who is fit to foster her would mean that she would be leaving our home. You have to learn very quickly to lean on God. Our mantra is “God knows.” We look at the judges’ rulings, at the birth mom’s decisions, at the social worker’s plans and all we can do is lift our hands and remember that God knows and loves these precious children and we have to trust that he will protect them much better than we can.

 

What are common misconceptions about fostering?

 

I think some of the typical misconceptions are that 1) people do it for the money, 2) people collect kids and treat them badly and 3) only a certain “class” of people do foster care. I think those are all perpetuated by negative media stories, though of course there are people who really shouldn’t be fostering or who are doing it poorly.

Beyond that I think one of the big misconceptions is that “If I don’t do it, someone else will.” This is just not true. In our state, there are 9,300 foster children. The number has risen by something like 1,000 since January. Our shelters (which is where foster children go while workers look for foster parents) are full. All of the foster homes are full. All of the emergency homes are full. And some children spend the night in the DHS office on a cot waiting for a home to take them. The truth is that there just aren’t enough foster parents for the need.

Another misconception is that you have to be a foster parent to help foster children. This is not true. You can become a respite provider, taking foster kids when foster families need a break or go on vacation. You can do only emergency care and have kids in your home only a short while. You can be an alternate caregiver (basically a certified babysitter for foster kids). You can donate toys and clothing for foster kids. There is so much you can do without making a full-time commitment.

 

Based on your experience, what are the key questions a family needs to consider before pursuing fostering?

 

  •  Can I handle the emotional ups and downs of not knowing how long a particular child will be in my care?
  • Can I attach to a child knowing they may leave my home in a short time?
  • Can I handle a child with special needs (whether that be attachment issues, medical, emotional or other)? What level of needs can I handle?
  • Is my lifestyle conducive to fostering? Can I make time for transporting to visits (some states will transport for you), medical appointments, school, etc.?
  • Can I respect the birth family and do my best to help them connect with their child even when their parenting or lifestyle choices may be offensive to me?
  • What will I do if the child in my care becomes available for adoption?
  • What kind of placement (age, gender, personality, type of abuse they have suffered) am I willing/able to care for?
  • What things could I absolutely not handle? For example, we would not take sexual abuse cases because we feel that we could not support reunification (reunification means returning the child to his/her birth parents). We also won’t take HIV positive children because we have young children and it’s difficult to take universal precautions.
  • How many kids could I handle (if you have multiple kids from multiple families, you will have visits for each on different days)?

 

If someone is interested in fostering, where do you suggest they start to learn more and take next steps?

 

You could start just by going to your state’s Department of Human Services website. You can simply Google “your state, foster parenting” and find many resources. We personally went with a contracting agency, so you can also look up “your state or county, foster care, agency”. There will be numbers you can call and classes you can attend to learn more!

If you have any questions for Jennifer about fostering or her experience, please leave them in the comments!

6 Comments

  1. David Crain on July 30, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    Christian Mom:
    Your interview with Jennifer is a valuable service with serious useful advice for people who want to consider fostering. Jennifer is a super mom with the ideal foster family to help children with such insurmountable needs. Thank you, once again, for another beautiful posting.



    • Jennifer on July 30, 2012 at 11:59 AM

      Thank you for the kind words! Would love to see you all next time we are out in CA! 🙂



  2. Regina Jennings on July 30, 2012 at 11:10 AM

    Thanks for the interview, Jennifer. Would you recommend fostering for a family who is considering adoption?



  3. Jennifer on July 30, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    Regina, Whether a family chooses to adopt privately, internationally or through foster adoption, there will be many trials and setbacks, so I don’t necessarily think one way is easier or harder than another. Some of the aspects that make adoption through foster more difficult, in my opinion are that:
    1) some states do not have straight foster in order to adopt programs, so you would have to become a regular foster parent and hope that a child in your care becomes available.
    2) in most cases, foster children will have at least one relative or other kinship person who can care for them, so you will likely see many children leave your home before one becomes available for adoption,
    3) you will have (most likely anyway) lots of contact with the birth parents, and you will need to learn to respect their parenting choices at visits and do your best to support reunification efforts
    4) many children in foster care have been damaged physically, emotionally, etc and can have a difficult time attaching to you as their adoptive parent. Some have lasting effects from prenatal drug use or from neglect or other forms of abuse. Many need continued therapy throughout childhood
    That being said, here are some pros of adopting through foster care:
    1) you can begin bonding with your child as soon as they come into your care, even before you have officially adopted them. There is a good chance that we will end up adopting our current placement (though that is not why we chose to foster) and so we have already built a bond with her.
    2) adopting through foster care has low or no financial cost, many families would be great adoptive parents, but don’t have tons of money saved up in order to adopt
    3) you will have a chance to have an open (as appropriate) relationship with the birth family, including aunts, uncles, etc. This is wonderful for your adoptive child. Course, you do not have to. If it isn’t right for your family.
    4) many times you can get a placement for the gender and age range you prefer. For instance, because my son has autism, we really wanted a girl so my son could keep his own room and the girl could share with our daughter. We also chose only to accept newborn to 18 months with no history of aggression, no known sexual abuse, and no HIV positive. We waited only two weeks from licensing to placement, and our worker called us with four possible matches. We accepted the first one she told us about.

    So, as you can see, there are pros and cons to it. It’s really up to the individual family. I think it’s wonderful to do foster to adopt, but I also think the process can be a bit excruciating! So it really depends on what the adoptive family thinks they can handle. 🙂



  4. Regina Jennings on July 31, 2012 at 6:12 AM

    Thanks for the thorough reply, Jennifer. God bless you and your family!



  5. Julia on August 3, 2012 at 6:05 PM

    Jennifer,
    Wow, I am so impressed by your willingness to serve and to open your home while your children are so young! That would be the hurdle for me I think, but even though we have one child now (through fertility meds, as I had ovarian cancer) and are beginning to try for another very soon, I definitely think it is something worth considering. I never knew that you could select which types of children/placements you and your family would be okay with, and to me that is huge. I definitely understand a lot of your restrictions, especially for families with young children at home. If you don’t mind, I have several questions for you, but please don’t answer anything that you don’t want to. I notice that you have a 1yr old foster daughter (that you might adopt at some future point), and also a 4 mo old child. Would you recommend fostering a child that is older than a biological child, or is that part of why you requested a non-violent 1-18mo old? How would you compare raising the foster daughter to raising your other children as infants? Was it particularly more challenging? Did you know anything when you got her about her medical history/ fetal alcohol/birth defects? Are you able to take her to the pediatrician and those things or is there a lot of bureaucracy involved in general infant medical care like that? How do you feel your biological children are doing as far as understanding that their “sister” might leave them at some point? How do you balance protecting them from that hurt/loss while still encouraging a bond? I am certainly not judging, just curious, but I do wonder since you have put so much thought and prayer into this and believe it is right for your family, what you do to prepare for that? Are you planning to foster any other children, whether or not you are allowed to keep your foster daughter with you? How would you decide if your family was ready for another placement, either after adopting your foster daughter or if she is removed?
    Thank you so much for being so open and literally opening your family to us. I have long thought about domestic adoption (as I said we used fertility meds for our first daughter and always wanted more children, so I knew I might need to look at other options), but I lately have been hearing so much about both foster and foster to adopt. I love the way that you see it as a ministry, It definitely is but so often it isn’t looked at that way. And one more question, if you don’t mind, do you often have several new people (DHS, foster agency, birth family…) in and out of your home and do you worry about their effect on your children? Have you ever worried about safety of having your home be “open” to so many people with ties to possibly a negative culture?
    Again, thank you so much and God Bless. You can answer me personally at my email if you would prefer. Sincerely, Julia