Before I was a foster parent, I had some mixed views about the foster care system. To say that I was unaware and ignorant of what foster care was about is quite the understatement. I had two views of foster care. First, foster children were trouble makers, and it was their fault they were in the system. Second, foster parents were pretty weird people. Well, I got one thing correct; the second part. I was REALLY wrong about the first part. Foster parents are a little weird people, and I have been a foster parent for 13 years as I write this. We have to be a little weird to do what we do, don't we? After all, foster parents dedicate their lives to serving other people by bringing into their homes and families children who are in need, children who are often troubled, and children who many times have a variety of challenges. To be sure, foster parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done, and continue to do. Perhaps this is why so few do answer the call to be foster parents, as it is a job that requires a great deal of sacrifice from the adult, and from the family. Yet, the rewards are so very great, for all involved.
A successful foster parent is one who provides a caring environment while a birth family works on their caseload for reunification. Foster parents not only provide a caring environment, but a safe and stable one, as well. During this time, as a foster parent, you will agree to carry out all functions of the birth family. These day to day functions include assuring that the child's medical, nutritional, educational, and parental needs are met. Foster parents may also provide social activities for the child, as well, such as extracurricular events after school, city and county sports, and church related activities, to name a few. Without question, there can be much joy in being a foster parent. Watching a child in foster care smile the first time after years of abuse; teaching a child in foster care how to ride a bike; sharing a foster child's first real birthday with him after so many had been ignored in the past; helping a child heal from horrific trauma.
Yet, as we all know, foster parenting is hard work! You will often find yourself exhausted, both mentally and physically, and feel drained. There is very little money available to help you, and you will not be reimbursed for all the money you spend on your foster child. The job will require you to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no time off. You will probably feel overworked and under appreciated. You will work with children who are most likely coming from difficult and harmful environments. Some of these children will have health issues, some will come with behavioral issues, and some will struggle with learning disabilities. Many times, the children you work with will try your patience, and leave you with headaches, frustrations, disappointments, and even heartbreaks. There is a reason why many people are not foster parents, as it is often too difficult. The turnover rate for foster parents in the United States is between 30% and 50% each year.
There have been those moments when I have questioned whether or not I was making a difference. There have been those times when I have grown frustrated with the system, as I have had to stand by and watch some of the children in my home go back to environments and situations which I knew that were not healthy or safe, for that matter. To be sure, I have also watched my wife's own doubts, and her desire to no longer foster, as her heart had been broken numerous times from the many children she had grown to love, only to see them return to homes where the children were once again placed in jeopardy. It is the same for so many foster parents who have shared their stories with me. I have heard from foster parents who lose sleep each night for weeks and months on end, trying to calm and soothe a baby born addicted to crack, heroin, or meth. I have heard from foster parents who have been yelled at on a daily basis from foster teens who are so emotionally upset by their own experiences that they take it out on their foster parents. I have heard from those who have been told one day they could adopt their foster babies, only to be told another day that the baby would return instead to a biological family member the child had never met. The stories are countless, the stories are heartbreaking, and the stories are never ending. Surely, there is no earthly reason to be a foster parent. So, why do we do it? For many, like my wife and me, we are answering a call. We are answering a call to care for kids who are in need of a family, and of love. What better reward is there?
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 13 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 45 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic, and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of several foster care books, including the brand new book Love and Mayhem: One Big Happy Family's Story of Fostering and Adoption, and writes for several publications, including Fostering Families Today. Dr. DeGarmo is the host of the weekly radio program Foster Talk with Dr. John, He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website, http://drjohndegarmofostercare.weebly.com.