An honest look at the life of a foster parent
By Amanda Preston
In Canada, there’s a growing gap between the number of children in government care and the number of families available to foster them. The children being apprehended far outnumber the foster homes, leaving vulnerable children in their current adverse living conditions. Christians are increasingly asking what they can do to help close this gap. After you’ve read the following honest portrayal of what fostering is really like, I hope you’ll consider whether fostering might be the right fit for you.
For parents thinking about fostering, attachment is a primary concern: How would I ever handle a child leaving my home? The simple answer to this is God. On our own, it’s not possible to handle many of the hardships thrown our way. But through Almighty God, what seems impossible becomes less daunting. For example, a child often leaves a foster home to be adopted. These forever families are well screened and government approved. It’s an exciting time for the child and the new parents. To share in the joy of another parent being matched with your child for the first time is truly amazing. Other times, kids are reunited with extended family such as grandparents or aunts. Witnessing these touching moments helps ease your separation worry when the child leaves your care.
There are, however, occasions when the circumstances are not joyous. Children might get returned to homes you judge to be unsuitable and fear to be unsafe. Or a child may leave after being in your loving care for an extended period. Regardless of where they’re going, your grief is intense. Foster parents have felt all these emotions at different times and with different children. But knowing that by fostering you make a difference, providing love and care for a child when they needed it most, helps you get through it. Whatever the outcome, you know you have answered God’s call to care for the fatherless.
Attachment aside, another challenge for foster parents is working with government bureaucracy. When a child is under government care, a social worker is their legal guardian. You must obtain the worker’s permission for everyday activities such as getting school forms signed, dental visits or trips outside Canada. Many simple tasks require extra effort and creative planning.
Another reality of fostering is the sense of living in a fish bowl. Everyone has an opinion about your foster children, your family, your parenting skills and your decision to foster. When you’re living under this seemingly constant scrutiny, you need to examine the curiosity of those who haven’t experienced fostering. They haven’t attended extensive training on the variety of special needs you may be dealing with. They don’t appreciate the unique precautions you must take regarding safety or attachment. It’s hard to comprehend until you’re on the inside of the fostering fish bowl. Although living in the centre of a glass dome is an everyday reality, God gives us grace to bear with the harsh comments and unsolicited advice from uninformed onlookers.
Finally, you should realize that most children in foster care struggle with some degree of special need. It could be attachment, repeated moves, neglect or abuse, developmental delays, autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, or trauma from the loss of a loved one. Navigating the tricky pathway of parenting a child with special needs is never easy. There are days when you wonder what on earth you’re going to do next. Other days, your child melts your heart as they discover a new skill or say they love you for the first time. While children with special needs are demanding, it’s important to remember they’re not impossible to care for. With experience comes comfort, and with comfort comes a lessening of fear and frustration. Educational opportunities abound, and relying on God for wisdom and strength makes the journey bearable.
Fostering is not always easy. Admittedly it comes with challenges. But fostering also offers you the joy of giving a child a loving family, a secure home during one of the most trying times of their life. Fostering fulfills God’s call from James 1:27 to care for those in need. It truly is one of the most amazing experiences, and a blessing to you and your family!
Amanda Preston and her husband, Daniel, are the proud (and tired) parents of four beautiful children. They live in Langley, BC, and are leading a ministry in their church to promote adoption. You can follow their blog at Ahomeforeverychildbc.blogspot.com.
© 2011 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.