by John Edmondson, UMFS Foster Care parent | Read more about Foster Care and Adoption with UMFS
I am sitting here tonight as the boys are all tucked into bed. Tonight we have a 15 year old and a 6 year old (brothers) spending the weekend with us as we provide respite care for their foster family. Our 12 year old son is tucked into his bed. It seems that the boys all had a good time so far. Day one… check.
Rewind the clock some time back. I can’t really remember when the thought to become a foster parent first entered my mind. My wife and I have had our discussions hoping to maybe foster and eventually adopt a child. These discussions eventually led to hours spent researching the subject and then making contact with UMFS to ask questions and find out exactly what was involved in the licensing process.
After further discussion, we decided to take a leap of faith and submitted our application. We completed all of the required training, home visits, background checks, and dealt with our feelings of fear and uncertainty. This process took a few months to complete and as of last week we are licensed to provide foster care, respite care, and adoption in our state.
No sooner did we sign our final paperwork for licensing when we were asked if we would be interested in providing respite the following weekend. My wife and I looked at each other and decided to go ahead and jump in and get our feet wet hoping for a positive experience that will reinforce our decision to go through all of this.
I cannot imagine what it is like for a child to be shuffled to different homes. To be taken from your home and placed in the homes of strangers has to really shake your foundation and the understanding of your identity. The six year old is calling us mom and dad after the first day. This is something he started doing on his own; what is his understanding of a family if he so easily identifies anyone that is caring for him as a parent? His older brother looks out for him and advocates for him when necessary. He also acts as interpreter at the times we don’t quite understand what he is saying. How much burden and responsibility does he feel on his shoulders? He is not supposed to be a parent.
Then there are placements for respite at different times throughout the year; again children are placed in the care of total strangers. I guess if they are lucky they get to go to the same respite home to minimize adjustments. How can a child be comfortable enough to be themselves? How can they relax and let their guard down when having to adjust to unfamiliar environments and adapting to different schedules, rules, and expectations?
The fear as a parent/guardian to not screw things up can keep you from making that leap of faith. How do you gain the trust of children that do not know you? How do you get them to understand that you are truly interested in them and that they are safe to be themselves? There is the fear of saying or doing something that awakens painful memories. Children can be resilient and yet so fragile. How do you help them overcome their fears, become self confident, learn to trust?
Don’t forget the challenge of reserving judgement for the biological parents. The number one priority for a parent should be the health, comfort, and safety of your children. You should be their advocate in all matters. Teach them the morals and values to become good adults that contribute to society and to eventually have families of their own. We are supposed to learn these critical life skills from our families primarily with additional support from school, church, or other social groups. Yet all too many biological parents are often ill-equipped to take care of themselves much less face the ultimate challenge of being a parent. Their story is compounded by the fact they have baggage from the past that often has not been dealt with which has led to anger management issues, self medication, abuse, spotty employment, etc. How do the needs of the children get balanced in an overburdened system while getting the parents the help that will be needed to reunite the family?
As a foster parent, there has to be the ability to reserve judgement while working toward the long term goal for the children which is quite often to return them to their families. How do you advocate for the children and at the same time support a goal to reunite them with the very same people that put them in this situation to begin with? Does the state allow enough time for parents to overcome their demons that have been lurking in their minds for oh so long? Where is the reasonable line in the sand that says it is in the best interests of the children to permanently sever ties with their biological families? Does the system act quick enough in the interests of the children? There are so many questions with not enough answers to truly make someone comfortable with their part in this whole ugly mess.
Leap time; this is the point where we have to have enough faith in our abilities as parents, the training we received, and the support network in place. The sincere hope in our hearts is that we are able to help kids feel safe, secure, and loved. This is where we have to do our best and hope that it is good enough. And maybe, just maybe, we provide some stability and good memories. Hopefully our efforts start reinforcing the shaky foundations that the kids have as a result of the experiences that no child is supposed to have. Maybe they will see how a family is supposed to be enough to make an impact and break the chain of dysfunction that gets passed down from generation to generation. Let’s hope and pray that we get the kids before too much pain and suffering.