Note: This post contains mention of abuse, drug use, and addiction.
Caring for foster children is such a meaningful role for parents to take on, and it's a subject that deserves to have some light shed on it.
I recently asked foster parents of the the BuzzFeed Community to tell us what they wish people knew about taking in foster care children.
On Reddit, user gringas4lyfe also asked foster parents to share their experiences. Here are some of the enlightening responses.
1."There is literally nothing special about me and my partner that makes us able to be foster parents. The narratives of 'you must be so strong' and 'I could never do that' just stop more folks from helping children."
2."We are not trying to steal your children. We have absolutely no say in whether or not your children are taken from you, how they are taken if they are, and/or when they are coming back, if in fact that is the county's plan."
"Yes, we have adopted two children through the system. In both cases, the situation was that the fathers were out of the picture (in one case he was unknown; in the other he denied paternity), and the mother admitted that she could not care for herself and a child. The adoptions are open, so the kids know their mothers and why they are part of our family now. It's not always an easy situation, but we think it's best for the kids."
3."No one should ever go into fostering or adopting thinking they are giving some sort of 'happy ending' for the kids and their love is enough to heal them, as some narratives on social media would have you believe. The majority of kids taken into care have attachment disorders and other needs arising from their early lives."
4."Not me, but my cousin has a foster daughter she's in the process of adopting. She is 8 and has been with my cousin's family on and off for five years. My cousin was her daycare teacher, and when CPS came and investigated, they asked if she'd be willing to foster her. The little girl has been sent three times to live with different biological family members who have stepped down within weeks."
5."Former foster care worker here. It is the HARDEST thing to do being a foster parent. Foster parents have absolutely no say in anything. The only thing they can say is that they will or won’t take the child. Parents still have to sign off on playing sports, haircuts, piercings, etc. Foster parents usually have no say in court, and the workers rarely do either."
6."If you foster, thank you. My ex and I fostered six kids for short terms in a year's time. The worst, absolute worst thing about doing it was, after having the kids for months and having mutual attachment happen, the phone call or visit from CPS saying the kids needed to be turned in to them for family assignment."
7."The foster care system is not about the children — it’s a legal proceeding for the adults. In liberal states, children can be in foster care for years — or a decade — before being freed for adoption or returning to family. No one leaves the foster care system unscathed — not the children, not the birth families, not the foster parents." —nycfostermom
8."We took in my biological great niece and nephews from one foster care home, and we took the foster care classes and had the kids two years before we could adopt them. The first thing is these kids usually come with nothing but the clothes on their backs. We bought all their clothes, toys, everything that they needed. It broke my heart when they were so excited to get new clothes."
9."Becoming a licensed foster or adoptive parent is hard AF, especially if you have any mental health diagnoses. In a world where basically every human on the planet can be diagnosed with some form of a mental health issue, still most counties will intentionally make the process more difficult for you if you reveal this information. Meanwhile, those with physical disabilities aren’t statistically as limited during the process."
10."When you say, 'I would never be able to give them back,' or, 'I would get too attached,' it’s super annoying because it implies that I’m heartless and you would care for kids more than I do."
11."I've been a foster mom for over 10 years. What I want all parents who are thinking about becoming a foster parent to know is you will barely receive support from social workers – you can join a wraparound organization. But be wise when picking the right organization."
"If the kid files a complaint against you for anything, you will be investigated. Even if the county knows the kid is lying. Being a foster parent is no walk in the park. If the child needs extra clothes or items, reach out and ask the CASA worker. This person works for the courts and is an advocate for the child. Don't even bother reaching out to the child's attorney. You can never reach them. Also, you as a foster parent will need your own support system. If you think a child will not fit into your home environment, then don't keep the child for six months or longer and then kick the child out. Love each and every child that comes into your home as if you birthed them into the world."
12."You don’t need to be married to be a foster parent. In our state-mandated (Massachusetts) training class (six-week training class that meets once a week for eight hours at a time), 80% were single people. We are licensed both independently and as a couple because if we ever split, we both want to continue fostering." —No
13."I was a foster parent and then adopted my son. Our county foster system is filled with incredible people who have been matching adults with children's needs and doing an excellent job at it. I've met parents who have taken in hundreds of children."
14."I have two foster boys who are teenage twins. It's been absolutely marvelous and awesome, and they're forever welcome in our home (I won't formally adopt them since they're about to be 18). I'm so grateful for them, the experience, and the family we've made." –abqkat via Reddit
15."We've been a foster family for nine years now; we have four of our own children and 26 foster children. Our children are mostly grown up and have moved out of the house (except for the youngest two, who are both in high school). I work full time outside of the home, and my wife is a stay-at-home mom. It's awesome being a rock for children entering our care."
"Every situation is different, so that initial approach is also different. However, every child needs the same things: love, safety, and stability. And don't assume that a child is in care because of a traumatic event; it could be as simple as the parent(s) needing to care for themselves before they can care for the child. We are a family unit.
But then comes the system. ... There is something that makes it all ineffective and at times cruel. In many provinces and territories, you'll find huge differences in their structure from one county or town to another. We've seen one community move a sibling group from foster/respite homes maybe a dozen times over a period of a month. No child is going to feel safe or loved in that situation.
Bottom line: There has never been a problem with a child; children come into our care with problems. The system creates more problems than it solves for foster families and especially the children once they are in care."
16."Foster parents do not receive enough education on the trauma and how to help the child heal as much as possible. I never received any information on attachment issues and how they never go away." –Chloedancer123 via Reddit
17."I'm a foster parent. I have two awesome kids who were adopted through the foster care system. They came to us almost four years ago; our adoption has been finalized for just under a year. In addition to them, we have fostered one other child and four respite care placements who were with us for short periods of time."
Note: Some answers have been lightly edited for length and/or clarity.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline is 1-888-950-6264 (NAMI) and provides information and referral services; GoodTherapy.org is an association of mental health professionals from more than 25 countries who support efforts to reduce harm in therapy.