Becoming a Foster Parent
The Children Need Our Help
In Missouri a potential foster parent or family must attend classes to be introduced to the foster and adoptive process. There is a presentation of the rules as well as “real life” stories from foster parents.
My wife, Mandy, and I were experiencing some anxiety about this process. Not from the point of view of whether we wanted to be foster parents or not, but more from the fact that we don’t really know what to expect. Mandy was experiencing some anxiety of whether we would be approved to be foster parents. We discussed this for many nights prior to the first class. She knows we are caring individuals but, as foster parents, you are placed under a lot of scrutiny. I was not concerned about getting approval to be foster parents. I had seen the parents of foster children for many years in my practice. I knew we were good enough parents and would be more than adequate foster parents. Still, the scrutiny of the foster parent process does induce some anxiety in most people. Actually, I would think a person that has a little “healthy” anxiety about the process will make them an even better foster parent.
The First Class
The night of the first class arrived and we headed to the local university satellite building to take this first big step of becoming foster parents. The class was held in one of the university classrooms. Actually this was a classroom I had previously taught college classes in and a matter of fact, it was a classroom I took a class in when I was an undergraduate.
We tried sitting in the back of the room. Yes, we are the typical Backroom Baptist. The moderators were sitting in the front of the room and would not allow us to sit in the back. We had to move almost to the front. On this first night, there were five single people vying to become foster parents, four married couples (including Mandy and I) and one lesbian couple participating in this particular class. I was impressed with the amount of people who were interested in becoming a foster family. However, I wished there were more.
The “evil” moderators, who made us move to the front of the room, (just kidding about the evil part’) introduced themselves and then went around the room and asked us to identify ourselves and why we wanted to become foster parents. One of the moderators is an actual current foster parent, has adopted 6 children in the past 10 years, and has one biological child, who has special needs considerations. The other moderator is a Social Worker with a Master’s Degree, who works for an organization, who assists families and Children’s Division with the foster and adoptive process.
The moderators told many stories that may discourage some people, who are not passionate about the process. They told stories about children, who did not adjust well to the system and caused problems in the foster families. They told stories of foster families, who did not know what they were getting into. They showed videos prepared for the foster care system to introduce, discuss, and promote the foster care system. The moderators stated they wanted to be honest with all of us, because it would save a lot of time and money for all involved if they were honest and help with the decision to go through with this process. I appreciated that.
Many people in the class asked many wonderful questions. I did not ask very many, because to be frankly honest, I had about heard all this in my 17 years of working with the Department of Mental Health, The Division of Youth Services, and my role as a Psychologist. I was interested in hearing about other families’ concerns about becoming foster family.
The moderators defined what foster care and adoption was. They explained how family foster care and adoption fit into the larger child welfare picture. I never thought of it but the Children’s Division uses foster care and adoptive services to carry out its mission to protect children and strengthen families. I knew it was for protection, but I never really thought of the later as a part of the Children’s Division. I thought they just referred those services out. Nope, they do it all. Yes, they do refer some out when the problems are greater than they can handle.
We had a very good discussion about why children and families need family foster care and adoptive services. Most parents, who have their children removed, are angry about the process and there has to be a lot “worked through” before the children can return home. The foster families proved a time for the parents to work through what they need to without the added stress of the children. These parents need to get their own lives straight before they can provide adequately for their children. If not, they are ruining their own lives and potentially harming the life of the child.
We identified the value of helping children and youths stay part of their families and culture because strengthening families is the first goal of the child welfare system. Reunification with the biological family is the main goal. This may not seem right but the basis for this is also psychological. Children need to be with their biological mother and/or father. When the biological parent(s) cannot adequately take care of them, the Children’s Division steps in and removes the child. Hopefully, the parent(s) can straighten up. If not, long term foster care or adoptive services are needed.
The moderators did a good job identifying what foster parents and adoptive parents are expected to know and do as a member of the professional team whose goal is to protect the children and strengthen the family. I believe the “real live” stories told by the moderators help with this process. No since beating around the bush. Potential foster families need to know the truth.
One older lady seemed to intrigue me. She was asking a great number of questions and you could see the anxiety building up in her as the class progressed. She seemed to become overwhelmed just with the talking going on. I was concerned that she may be one of the people that did not know what this job entails. Being a foster parent is a lot different than raising your own children. This lady had raised her children to adulthood and was currently raising one of her grandchildren. She seemed to have done a nice job, but fostering is completely different. More rules and more scrutiny when working with Children’s Division.
There were some fascinating personal stories told on this night. I loved hearing about the foster care system and some of the good things people were doing. My mother was a foster parent, kinship type. Kinship type is either a family member or someone who is very familiar with the family and child that could take the child in quickly. My mother found this rewarding and I was very proud of her for doing it. She would like to do the regular foster parenting classes and I will encourage her once Mandy and I are done with the process.
Some other people in the class would rather talk about personal matters, such as their children that were not significant to the discussion of foster parenting. This bugged me somewhat. However, I had experienced this as a professor and as a student and when this happens, I just zoned off.
I thought about how great my wife was going to be as a foster mother. She has the parenting techniques down pat. I still have a lot to learn. She is teaching me quite a bit. I have gained some valuable experience with my step-children. These are things that no textbook or graduate level psychology class could teach me. My experience as a psychologist and Mandy’s natural parenting techniques will make us better foster parents.
But back to reality. The first night, the class last the entire 3 hours and Mandy and I were exhausted from the long day. My thought was we might have more of these when we become foster parents, with more stress, but the rewards will be worth it.
Lastly, in the class we talked about the benefits of family foster care and adoptive services for the children and families. We also discussed the rewards of fostering and adopting for foster families and adoptive families. When we went around the room in the beginning and told why we wanted to do this, one person said for the money. I was “floored.” For one, it is not enough money. They state does the best they can to give some money to help, but you don’t do this for the money. Secondly, I cannot believe someone would say that in the class even if they were thinking it. Yes, Mandy and I discussed the finances of our situation and determined we could afford to have foster children. The little money from the state will help but will not be enough. I hope the person that said that was just joking. I would hate to see a child placed in the environment where they were just looked at as household revenue. These children need love of the heart, not love in the pocketbook.
I hope this blog post is getting you thinking about become a foster parent or at least appreciate those who are. I am trying to describe it as accurately as possible. Please, check back and read the post as they become available. Feel free to ask me any question about the process. Make today and every day a great day. Remember the children need our help.