Foster Care Is Not About Me

One foster mama's journey through loving and losing and understanding that foster care is not about her, but rather serving the vulnerable youth of our nation's future!

 

One of the most common questions I get asked as a foster mom is this: how can you give your whole heart to a child when you may lose them?  Or, said another way, what if you get attached and then have to give the child back?

I deal with this more extensively on my blog, but for here and now, I’ll give you the short of it.

I won’t lie—attaching and then losing a child is really, really painful. I know, I just went through it. We had a baby boy in our home for a few months; for those months, I was mama-Ash. He was here. And then one day, he wasn’t anymore. I took him to daycare and someone else picked him up. I remember packing his clothes the night before, sitting on the floor with 13-month old clothes all around me, soaked in my tears. I had fallen in love with the kid.

After a little time of mourning, we opened ourselves back up to fostering, and now we have a new baby girl in our house. She’s been here over a month. We are learning her just like we had to learn Baby Boy.

And people wonder. They ask questions. They stare at me in disbelief. But how, how could you do that to your heart? What about all that attachment?

I could go into an extended discussion on this, but here’s the boiled down answer, in two parts:

1. The attachment everyone is so scared to offer is exactly what a child needs during traumatic seasons of life.

Children aren’t like adults when it comes to their mental and emotional development. In order for them develop normally and avoid certain disorders that come from dissociation and abandonment, they desperately need child-to-adult attachment.  Without attaching to an adult, they simply won’t make it on the same level as a child who does have attachments in his/her life. If you hold back love from a child, you ruin their chances.

An adult can make it through traumatic seasons in a way a child can’t. We have fully developed brains. We have bodies that have sorted themselves out hormonally. And do you know how we got there? Solid, emotional attachments to adults.

Again, the one thing most people hold back out of fear is the primary thing foster kids need to thrive. That’s why I don’t hold back. That’s why I offer love with no conditions. It doesn’t matter if the child stays with me or goes.

And for goodness sake, if the child does leave me, don’t I want him to go with his best chance of success in the future? Don’t I want sturdy bonds built under him so he can develop normally and be given the same chance as the next kid? Wouldn’t you want your child to have unconditional love if he, God forbid, had to live in someone else’s home? Attachment gives him that chance, and so I give it whether I’m scared or not (though yes, I am most days!). In fact, I see the pain on the other side as evidence that I gave the child the bonds he needed to grow. That pain tells me I invested everything I was supposed to! In my blog I go into more on this issue, describing how my spiritual life helped me come to this conclusion; however, for time’s sake, I’ll head to the next point.

2. It’s not about you.

When I started my foster-care journey, I was quickly informed about all the statistics. This many kids end up staying in the system. This many kids end up adopted. This many kids end up transferring to an extended family member. This many kids end up reuniting with their parents. All my questions to this information sounded like this:
Can I love with those odds? Can I really do this? Can I really offer my whole heart knowing it might wobble out the door in the arms of a social worker one random Wednesday morning? Should I give my heart away knowing that a lot of these stats don’t land the child in my home long-term?

I was at a foster-care-small-group of sorts one night, and during the discussion, it hit me very clearly: all my questions start with the word “I.”
There are children, who are daily being pulled out of all sorts of situations they cannot handle mentally, emotionally, or physically, and my questions about it have nothing to do with them everything to do with me. How can that be?

Why don’t any of my questions have to do with the child?

For example, what will happen to them if I say no? Will they find another home? Or do they go to a group home? How many families have open space in their house in our county? How many parents are already at max capacity and need other parents to step in? How many kids are in a group home right now because there’s no one saying yes?

These questions represent a perspective shift—on what foster care means for the child instead of me. It’s a perspective shift I try very hard to help prospective foster parents see while they are considering the idea of becoming parents to kids in the system.

It’s just not about us. It’s about what’s best for this child and his/her family at the end of this road. That doesn’t mean the risks aren’t real and the pain doesn’t happen sometimes. It does. But all of that—the risk, the tears, the pain, the wonderful memories, the attachment offered—is in service to helping the child have his best shot in life.

At the end of the day, I didn’t think I could stand before God or the children who need attachment and safety, and say, “Sorry, I know you needed help in the hurt you were going through, but I was too scared to get hurt, too. So I left you in yours. ”

At the end of the day, for me, fear was understandable, but it wasn’t a good justification for leaving foster kids to fend for themselves. Fear just isn’t a good reason for inaction.

And more than that, the fears the kids are dealing with during this season of their life should matter more to me than my own fears. If we are in a battle for whose fears should hold more weight, it should obviously be the kids. So, fearfully, I entered in their mess, their fears, their family situation, their hurt, and I can’t remember life before it now. It’s still scary, of course. But I know I’m giving them what they need to make it.

Also, there’s another part to this—it’s not about you when it comes to the child, yes. But it’s also not about you when it comes to their family.

One thing foster care training helps you see is that you aren’t always the best end-of-the-story for the child. Sometimes the child should go back to his/her parent. Sometimes you shouldn’t break up a family if it has a shot of staying together. Sometimes the parents work really hard to fix what went wrong and they should be given the gift of loving their kids for the rest of their life, in their own home. Often it’s about their family becoming a whole and loving place, not yours. It takes a while to get your head out of your own family and see others, but when you do, the experience feels much different.

I hope these two pieces of perspective help prospective foster parents. It’s not an easy road, but it’s a worthy one, and I pray often that more will join myself and my family in it. There’s nothing like it.


Ashley, Foster Mom
www.ashleymgorman.com

Above photos by: Blest Studios, available for travel world wide!

We Are All Valuable

Read one mom's journey of realizing the need around her to open her heart to loving others, regardless of her own fears and inabilities.

 

My name is Cara and my family and I adopted 3 girls, siblings, from foster care in 2012. Four years later, we fostered their baby brother who is currently back with his mother. The Lord broke our hearts for what breaks His. That's the simplest explanation for doing this. But, also, we believe that there was no good reason to say no. My girls needed a mommy and I could be that for them. At the time, my husband and I had no biological children but we had 2 extra rooms and 2 hearts full of love. Is it the hardest thing we've ever done? Yes. Is it the best thing we've ever done? Absolutely.

Like a lot of people, I thought that older kids would be too hard and so we asked for young kids. When we got the call for our girls, the oldest was 6 and I almost said no to her. 5 years later, I have witnessed the restoration of a broken heart, fear turned to bravery, and apathy turn into passion. And I am a better person because of her.


 

Fostering has taught me that we are all valuable. Kids from "good" homes and kids from broken ones, parents with their crap (mostly) together and parents who just can't make safe choices. We are all valuable and in need of love, compassion, dignity, and a voice.

I would encourage people out there that if you have love, you can foster. It will be hard, but that's not a reason to say no. You don't have to be and cannot be perfect. You just have to jump in and often things start will amaze you from the moment your feet hit the water. Open your eyes to see the need, open your heart to hurting children, and your feet will begin to run in action.

Cara Griswold, Foster Mom
Instagram: @cegriswold
restorefostercare.org

Obedience is Costly

One woman's journey as she navigates through the fear and unknowns of becoming a foster parent!

 

Hi! I’m Hallie, I’m single, 31, and in the final stages of becoming certified to be a foster parent!
Since I was 16, vulnerable kids have touched my life in a number of ways. I volunteered at Austin Children’s Shelter with friends in high school, and I rocked precious NICU babies born with drug exposure during college in Memphis. In law school, I represented kids who’d been removed from home due to neglect or abuse in their court cases, and later became a CASA volunteer. I loved hanging out weekly with teenage girls in a group home in Dallas, perfecting our “life skills” (not sure I was qualified to teach those) and volunteering in the teen parent home at the Austin Children’s Shelter. These young people are amazing, and God has put them on my heart continually for a long time. Becoming a foster parent feels like the next step God’s asked me to take. I didn’t think I’d be a single foster mom, but my plans were not God’s.

When it comes to becoming a single foster parent I would say I’m a bit apprehensive and curious. Even more than parenting biological kids (which I haven’t done), there are a lot of unknowns in foster care - I probably won’t know who is coming to live with me, their backgrounds, their full medical history, their parents, or the the kind of mac n’ cheese they love. I’m sad already for the loss and pain they will have suffered, and what their biological family will be going through. But I’m equally excited.

For me, there’s a holy level of fear that’s right and good with things worth doing. When my fears arise, I try to figure out the root of that fear. Sometimes I’m afraid because I know that obedience is costly. And sometimes I’m afraid because I’m not in control or capable.

The former happens a lot, and that’s what I hear often from others. “Won’t fostering be hard? Won’t you miss out on your own life? Won’t you get attached to kids that might leave? Won’t dating be harder?” Simply, yes. It will be hard, I will miss out on some other things, and you better believe I’ll get attached. But I think these questions and fears, whether mine or others’, miss the mark. This isn’t about me, my feelings, or my schedule. I am fostering because I believe it’s a role God has for me in this season, and because I have the capacity - physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially - to do it. That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard, or painful, or sad. But it is right. Sometimes obedience requires self-sacrifice.

Fears of inadequacy, lack of control, and the unknown are different. I really want to do right by my little people, and I’ve never parented. I don’t know whether I’ll have a week or a year with a child. The more I think about it, I’m more aware of my need for God to prepare me and sustain me each day of this journey. I may not be control, but He sure is. I don’t know the future for this child, or for me, but He does. And because He loves these children and me more than I do, I trust Him with our lives.

My advice for single people out there thinking about becoming a single foster parent is…Do it! Talk to other single foster parents (there are lots of us!). Talk to your community and figure out what your support structure will be like. Single and married foster parents alike tell me that one thing can make or break your experience fostering: community. While not everyone should be a foster parent, everyone can support foster care - whether by becoming certified to babysit for foster parents, delivering groceries, hosting a shower for new foster parents, cleaning foster homes, praying for foster parents, biological parents, and children, or attending court hearings with foster families. There are unlimited ways to help. When I decided to take the plunge, I sent emails and wrote Facebook posts about my journey, and invited others to join me on it. I now have a team of over 40 people eager to help me in various ways. This is not a solo journey, and that makes all the difference in the world to me.

If you’re wondering whether you should foster, I’d suggest a few steps. First, if you’re a praying person, I’d start there. Ask God what to do with your pull towards kids in foster care. Give God your “buts” and “hows”- whether it’s how it will change your life, how it might affect your biological children, what people will think, or your emotions - and ask him to filter out any “buts” or “hows” that shouldn’t stop you. Talk to people around you who know you well - do you seem equipped or could you be equipped to foster well? Will the people around you support you, in the easy ways and the 1 a.m. Walgreens-run ways? Talk to other foster parents, and hear their stories. Find a great foster care agency, one with rave reviews from foster parents and resources to help you when you need it. At the end, if you feel God tugging you towards foster parenting, go. Be confident that God knows what you need to do what He asks you to do, and be brave for the little ones who’ve had no choice but to be.

Hallie, Single Foster Mom To Be
Instagram: hgraves03

(Photo of Hallie above with a child is her sweet nephew, she hasn't received her first placement yet )

Present Over Perfect

One Foster Dad's journey of realizing he doesn't have to be perfect, just present, to love and help heal vulnerable children. 

 

My wife and I have been foster parents for two years now. We have had a total of five children, one was adopted by another family, one was reunified with his parents, one was adopted by us a year ago, and our current two, siblings, we will adopt in a couple of months. 

In the last two years, we have experienced more loss than we have ever experienced in our entire lives. We have experienced the emotional ups and downs that are inevitable when you allow intimate access into your life. We've experienced exhaustion, stress, heartache and a packed schedule of appointments and visits. But along with all that, we have also experienced joy like we have never experienced, our faith has deepened, and as our family has expanded and contracted, we feel our hearts beating more and more in sync with the heart of God. There's no doubt that foster care is hard, sacrificial work, so why would we willingly subject ourselves to this kind of life?

Simply because our God never gives up.

My wife and I both come from families of divorce. We experienced loss at a young age that was beyond our control. Our parents definitely made the best decision for us at the time, but that didn't change the sting of loss that occurred. Because of this, we feel deeply connected to these children that come into our home and into our family. 

There were fears before entering the world of foster care but my biggest fear was the fear of not being enough for these kids. Would I be able to love them through it all? Would I be able to be the father to these kids that I never had growing up? As we enter our third year of foster care, I've realized that I will never be the father that they need - only God can do that, I can simply be used by God to show these children a small picture of the Father's love for them. This is what has surprised me about foster care – I didn't have to be perfect, I didn't have to have it all together. I didn't have to love these children perfectly… What I needed to do was be present with them, and allow love to live, move, and speak through me. 

 

The first 2 years of foster care for us were all babies. Although these babies all come with their own unique set of challenges, they can not run from you, or say no to you, or tell you how much they don't like you. But an 8 year old can…

A few months ago when another foster baby came into our home, we found out that she had an older eight-year-old brother. He began visiting with us to get to know his baby sister. We immediately fell in love with this child and, after we found out that his mother's rights had been terminated, we prayed about adopting his sister and him. We felt that it was clear that we needed to explore this possibility so we had him over a few weekends and this past month he came to live with us. This summer we will have the supreme privilege to adopt them both, and we all so excited!

 

These children that are in foster care don't need a perfect guardian, they need a present parent. They need a parent that is all in for them and with them. And the reality of that call is that you will sacrifice much of yourself, your life, and your family's life to be present for them because you would do the same for the kids that were born into your family. Jesus stepped into the muck and the mire with us. My wife used this analogy once. She said it's like these children have fallen into deep pit and, as foster parents, we don't yell down to them or send a rope down, we jump in with them, not to rescue them, but simply to be with them. To sit next to them when they are alone and scared. 

This call for our family has drastically increased, our faith and grown us closer than we have ever been before. 

Shaun Lafferty, Foster and Adoptive Dad
Instagram: @slaffs

Breaking Down the Fears of Foster Care

Read one Texas mom's wisdom and personal journey of breaking down fears and pursing love in today's Foster Care Feature!

 
foster care

In sharing about my family's journey in foster care and adoption, there is an invisible line between avoiding private information and being too forthcoming. I tend to dance back and forth across that line, carefully protecting my boys' stories and our family's vulnerability, yet attempting to share enough to be transparent and honest.

We were licensed foster parents for 5 years and just recently closed our home this past winter after finalizing our third adoption. We began researching foster care when our biological kids were 3 and 2 years old, and were licensed and open for placement a year later. During those years, we fostered 5 boys, adopted 3 of them, and witnessed the beautiful and successful reunification of 1 boy with his mom.

Prior to fostering, all I knew were the stereotypes. Stories of “bad” parents who willfully neglected or abused their children. These stories made me fearful of biological parents and territorial over their children, even before having a foster child placed in our home. Our first foster placement arrived in the middle of the night without any personal belongings aside from the clothes he was wearing, exactly like the stories I’d heard. But over the following months, his mother worked diligently alongside CPS and a counselor, attended every monitored visit and sent me letters thanking me for the care we provided her son. Her hard work and grace showed me a different picture of foster care - the love of a mother despite separation and scrutiny, the terrible circumstances of growing up in poverty, and the strong desire to do better for her children. He was successfully reunited with his mother, and while we grieved when he left our family, we equally rejoiced that his mother changed her world for the benefit of her son. I’m thankful that our first foster placement was a successful reunification, that walls were torn down in my heart and my prejudice towards biological families with kids in care was brought to light. The histories of our boys is not one of bad parents who we should work against and fear. It’s a deeply layered story of poverty, addiction and mental health issues that often reaches back multiple generations.

To enter into foster care is to welcome these issues of poverty, addiction and mental health, and the resulting trauma, into your life and home. I don’t say this to be scary, but to say that the hours of training, the required books and support groups, the frequent visitations are there for a reason. To come alongside hurting children as they heal is a battlefield, and one that requires realistic expectations, support from others, and the wisdom of those who are experts in the field of trauma and trust.

For those wanting to become involved in foster care, find the foster families. We know the resources, the agencies, the state minimum standards, the laws, and the greatest areas of need in our communities. Ask us questions and share your heart, but be prepared to have your beliefs challenged and your heart broken. The need is so large, and all parties involved need support. Primarily the kids in care. They bear the weight of the trauma as well as the expectations to heal within the time frame given - before their state support ends, before the adults in their lives give up, before they lose the Medicaid benefits that cover the expense of medical and psychological treatment. Support is also needed for the caseworkers working endless hours, the agencies working to maximize every penny in every dollar they are granted, and the foster families dedicating their lives and opening their homes.

 

But to support foster families, you may have to look hard, because we, the foster parents, often hide the struggles and pain of foster care behind brave smiles and large coffee cups. We do not want the public to see the struggle, the mess, the life disruptions and blame us for choosing this brokenness. Or even worse, to blame the children. We are walking rough roads alongside hurt children and hurt biological families, so to protect the child, their parents, and ourselves, the truth of the hard is often not fully shared. You may have to seek us out and serve without being asked.

The team that came alongside and supported us over the past 5 years is incredibly precious to me. A few friends showed up with coffee, dinners and childcare help, though I never vocalized the need. Even more impactful was when they sat with me as I cried for the broken hearts, bruised bodies, fight or flight behaviors I didn't know how to manage - and did not ask questions. Agency case managers, CASA volunteers and CPS caseworkers who love their kids long after they are removed from their caseload are forever my family's advocates and champions. Doctors and therapists who know the gritty details of rare diagnoses, developmental delays, sensory processing disorders and the deep, sinister impact of trauma, yet regularly validate the growth, development and healing that is slowly but surely taking place. Family members who accept and love each boy as they do my biological kids. And fellow foster and adoptive mamas, many of whom I have yet to meet in real life, yet we've somehow connected through online support groups, Instagram accounts and text messages to echo "me too" and together heave a collective sigh, because we understand the struggles and victories that come with each waking (and more often, sleeping) moment in our kids' lives.

Each of our boys has impacted my family profoundly. From the 3 week stay to the forever, we will always remember each of their names, their stories, and their moms. And I will also always remember their caseworkers, CASAs, and the ways friends provided for us as we walked through the hardest yet most rewarding and blessed years of our lives so far.

~Leslie, Dallas, Texas

Instagram: @leslieastamps

Above photos by: Shelly Niehaus

Family Is A Choice

Read how one family continues to say 'yes', even through heartaches and goodbyes, for the betterment of their community and the next generation!

 
foster care

My name is Shelby, my husband and I are foster parents and we are passionate about foster care.

When we say we are passionate about foster care, we mean we are passionate about these children, their families, and our community. It means that there is no way we could walk away from foster care, there’s undoubtedly a need, and we have proven to ourselves that we are capable. It means we don’t dust off our feet and hide from the hard – the kids cannot – and so we stay in the trenches with them.

Foster care is hard, it’s heart wrenching, it’s ugly, and it pushes us to limits we didn’t even know that we had. But it’s worth it. It’s worth the nights I can’t sleep because I feel like worry is crushing my chest, the countless prayers I whisper for these babies to be safe, the times I sat with the birth families and rooted for them, the awkwardness of talking about the ‘hard stuff’ & their past mistakes, and the many tears I’ve shed. It’s worth the questions: “am I enough?”, “can I keep going?”. Because the answer is yes. One day it may be a hearty shout and one day it may be a faint whisper but the answer is always yes. Because, the children are worth it; and because even with all its hard, foster care is redeeming and beautiful.

I had many fears and preconceive notions before entering foster care. One of them was the fear of getting too attached. Many people warned us, asked us how we would be able to handle when a child leaves, asked us “are you sure?”. My biggest fear was that what these people, these friends (that were all well-meaning) were putting in my head was true. Could I really say goodbye, and if I could, did that mean I didn’t love the child enough?

I soon found the answer. Being able to get ‘too attached’ was exactly what these children need. They deserve to get all of me - all of my heart, all of my effort, all of me as a mom. I don’t and I can’t hold them at arms length for the sake of keeping my own heart protected - because it’s not about me, it’s about them. Although, saying goodbye is never easy - I’d go through the heartache of a goodbye a million times over again for being there at that hello.

 

I want the world to know that we are in so many ways are a ‘normal’ and complete family – just looks a little different than most. Our family includes children we have adopted, children currently with us, children that have been reunified, and many of their birth families. The number in our house grows, it shrinks, & it rarely stays the same - but we are a family. We struggle, we soar, we laugh, and we have sorrow, just like your family. Family is a choice and we choose every day to be one.

Foster care has taught me so many things. It’s taught me to be more gracious, because I truly have no idea what someone might be suffering through. It has taught me about the deep need for connection and attachment and the very real troubles if those basic needs aren’t adequately met. It’s proven to me more than ever that love is an action. It’s an active choice we make every second of every day. Foster care has taught me the importance of caring for the families affected and helping them rise up as well. And ultimately, foster care has taught me that we all need to come together if we truly want to change what we’re seeing.

Finally, when you turn on your news or scroll through Facebook and see a drug busts, a car crash, a robbery, a homicide - there are usually children who will feel the ripple effect. They will be faced with an uncertain future, their world will be shifted, they will be scared, alone, traumatized. What happens next? This is the gap. Foster parents fill that gap. We stand with one hand reaching out to their family the children are now being separated from, and with the other hand we gently hold theirs. We need more people willing to stand in that gap. There simply aren’t enough good foster homes and the ramifications of that are horrific. So, the next time you see a news article circling around Facebook don’t just click the share button with the praying hands emoji - let’s put our words into actions and be the ones to reach out and pull up.

Shelby, Foster and Adoptive Mom
Instagram: @raisingmyarrows