In the education world, there are all types of families. Back in the day, you could assume the kind of family a child came from, mom, dad, 2.5 kids and a dog. Depending on what area you live in, you might have seen Ward and June Cleaver types all the time during drop-off and pick-ups. But now things are different. Now a child can come from a broken home, a single parent household, a home where the grandparents raise the children, or if you are lucky, a foster family. I say lucky because if you take a moment to get to know them, you might find out that foster parents and their families are unlike any other. My wife and I have been fostering for the past three years and it has been some of the hardest and best years of our lives. In those years, we have come across a lot of misconceptions that people have about the children who have come to live with us, and so we have put together 5 facts that every educator should know about foster parents.
1. We are still getting to know the child, just like you are.
Before you receive any placements you are able to set parameters on what type of children you feel prepared to care for. When we first got licensed, we said that we were willing to take up to two boys, preferably siblings, age 5-11. Our first call was for a girl who was age 16. Hilarious right? But, we said yes, and somewhere down the line they found someone else for her to stay with, so we waited for the next call. Our second call was for 3 brothers. Again out of our spectrum, but again we said yes, and this time, they were coming. The boys got here less than a week before school started, so my wife and I, who had no children previously, had to figure out, how to enroll them in school, all the while getting to know these precious little lives that were so broken by the world. At the same time while we were getting to know them they were getting to know us. One things I found sanding was that they didn’t understand why people didn’t fight more in their new school, like they did in their last one. One of our sons would try to be perfect at home, and would act out at school, with aggressive behaviors that we couldn’t even reconcile with the mild mannered little boy we saw at school. His brother was the opposite. We learned some children are so used to chaos, they can’t stand it when there is peace in their daily lives. So they will create chaos at school, or at home to try to feel normal again. So if you see something awful, tell us. If you see something awesome, tell us. Keeping us in the loop will help us continue to piece together the puzzle of a child we are trying to love back to life.
2. The emotional age of children from trauma is half of their age.
These kids are not in our homes because something awesome happened. Children come into the foster care system because somewhere along the way, someone failed them. None of this is their fault, but they are the ones who end up getting taken from their homes, from their families, from everything they know. Afterwards they are put in a home with strange people, who they don’t trust, who tell them that they are safe now, but why would they believe these strangers, when the ones who were supposed to love them weren’t up to the task? Trauma has a dramatic affect on the brain, so don’t be surprised if a 4 year old is displaying behaviors that seem more like the terrible twos, or if a potty trained 3 year old reverts to bedwetting, thumb-sucking behaviors at the slightest distress.
3. Our foster children are more than their diagnoses
If the children have been through a few foster homes, their case file might be larger than the bag of their belongings, and they might have a few letters that were attached to them along the way. Anxiety, ADHD/ADD and a few others might not throw you, but when you start hearing things like Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and Reactive Attachment Disorder, take a moment before you judge. Some of these children have lived more lives in the2-5 years of their life than you have seen in 30. It would be so refreshing to come into a school and talk to a teacher who has some knowledge of how to deal with a child, who rarely seeks comfort when distressed.
4. There are a lot of appointments
We have a lot of appointments and visits required, so give us grace if our schedule looks different each week. The amount of strangers you have in your home on any given month, as a foster parent is enough to make you question your sanity. Each foster child has their own CPS caseworker, a foster agency caseworker, a court appointed special advocate, and a lawyer, who come to visit each month, and who may require visits with the bio parents weekly, and separate visits with the siblings, if they are not in the same home together. On top of those visits, a child could have a counselor, appointments for speech, play therapy, occupational therapy, …. did I already say play therapy… never mind, physical therapy, or any other number of specialists who require weekly visits outside of sick, well child visits and dentist appointments. Depending on the level of need of the children in care, our schedule could constantly be in flux. Trust me, we know these children need routine, and we would love to have them there at the same time every day, but more often than not, that is just not a reality for normal people.
5. Our job as foster parents is to try to put back together something we didn’t break (we don’t expect everyone to understand, but it would be great if you loved them with us).
These children deserve better than what life has handed them. None of this is their fault, and they are powerless to do anything about it. They need as much love and attention as you can spare, and honestly, sometimes we, as foster parents do too. Fostering is hard. Period. It’s an emotional roller coaster that can change on a daily basis. Don’t tell us we are awesome to foster, and how you could never do it. We are not, and you could. You just have to realize its not about you, it’s about them. Our job is to love them without guarding our hearts, so open-handedly that if they leave we are brokenhearted and yet grateful for the time we got with them. Don’t tell us that we’re great; tell us that you’re with us.