What Foster Parents Wish Other People Knew

This is not something I have written. I read it on Facebook the the person who complied it sent me the link to it. It so presents many of the issues foster parents deal with and is so well written I thought it needed to be shared by as wide an audience as possible. It is my hope others will get as much out of this as I have. I am a foster care alumni having spent eighteen years in the system. I am sharing it here exactly as it appears:

Posted by Sharon Astyk on March 12, 2013

This essay is a little different than most of my stuff. It is the result of a collaborative discussion on a foster parenting list I’m a part of by a group of foster parents. I’ve paraphrased and borrowed and added some things of my own, but this is truly collaborative piece, and meant to be shared. I do NOT have to get credit for it. So if you’d like to circulate it, use it in a training, distribute it at foster-awareness day, hang it on the wall, run it somewhere else, give it out to prospective foster parents, whatever, go right ahead. This is a freebie to all! I care much more than people know this than that I get credit – and most of the credit goes to a lot of other wonderful people who want to remain anonymous, most of them wiser and more experienced than I.

1. We’re not Freakin’ Saints. We are doing this because it needs doing, we love kids, this is our thing. Some of us hope to expand our families this way, some of us do it for the pleasure of having laughing young voices around, some of us are pushed into it by the children of family or friends needing care, some of us grew up around formal or informal fostering – but all of us are doing it for our own reasons BECAUSE WE LOVE IT and/or LOVE THE KIDS and WE ARE THE LUCKY ONES – we get to have these great kids in our lives.

We hate being told we must be saints or angels, because we’re doing something really ordinary and normal – that is, taking care of kids in need. If some children showed up dirty and hungry and needing a safe place on your doorstep, you’d care for them too – we just signed up to be the doorstep they arrive at. The idea of sainthood makes it impossible for ordinary people to do this – and the truth is the world needs more ordinary, human foster parents. This also stinks because if we’re saints and angels, we can’t ever be jerks or human or need help, and that’s bad, because sometimes this is hard.

2. WATCH WHAT YOU SAY AROUND THE KIDS!!!!!! I can’t emphasize this enough, and everyone is continually stunned by the things people will ask in the hearing of children, from “Oh, is their Mom an addict?” or “Well, they aren’t your REAL kids are they” or “Are you going to adopt them?” or whatever. Not only is that stuff private, but it is HORRIBLE for the kids to hear people speculating about their families whom they love, or their future. Didn’t anyone ever explain to you that you never say anything bad about anyone’s mother (or father) EVER? Don’t assume you know what’s going on, and don’t ask personal questions – we can’t tell you anyway.

3. Don’t act surprised that they are nice, smart, loving, well-behaved kids. One of the corollaries of #1 is that there tends to be an implied assumption that foster kids are flawed – we must be saints because NO ONE ELSE would take these damaged, horrible kids. Well, kids in foster care have endured a lot of trauma, and sometimes that does come with behavioral challenges, but many of the brightest, nicest, best behaved, kindest and most loving children I’ve ever met are foster kids. They aren’t second best kids, they aren’t homicidal maniacs, and because while they are here they are MINE, they are the BEST KIDS IN THE WORLD, and yes, it does tick me off when you act surprised they are smart, sweet and loving.

4. Don’t hate on their parents. Especially don’t do it in front of the kids, but you aren’t on my side when you are talking trash either.

Nobody chooses to be born mentally ill. No one gets addicted to drugs on purpose. Nobody chooses to be born developmentally delayed, to never have lived in a stable family so you don’t know how to replicate it. Abusive and neglectful parents often love their kids and do the best they can, and a lot of them CAN do better if they get help and support, which is what part of this is about. Even if they can’t, it doesn’t make things better for you to rush to judgement.

It is much easier to think of birth parents as monsters, because then YOU could never be like THEM, but truly, birth parents are just people with big problems. Birth and Foster parents often work really hard to have positive relationships with each other, so it doesn’t help me to have you speculating about them.

5. The kids aren’t grateful to us, and it is nuts to expect them to be, or to feel lucky that they are with us. They were taken from everything they knew and had to give up parents, siblings, pets, extended family, neighborhood, toys, everything that was normal to them. No one asked them whether they wanted to come into care.

YOU have complex feelings and ambivalence about a lot of things, even if it seems like those things are good for you or for the best. Don’t assume our kids don’t have those feelings, or that moving into our home is happily-ever-after for them. Don’t tell them how lucky they are or how they should feel.

By the way, there is no point comparing my home to the one they grew up in. Both homes most likely have things the children like and dislike about them. The truth is if every kid only got the best home, Angelina and Brad would have all the children, and the rest of us would have none.

6. No, we’re not making any money on it. We don’t get paid – we get a portion of the child’s expenses reimbursed, and that money is only for the child and does NOT cover everything. I get about 56 cents an hour reimbursed, and I get annoyed when you imply I’m too stupid to realized I’d make tons more money flipping burgers.

Saying this in front of the kids also REALLY hurts them – all of a sudden, kids who are being loved and learning to trust worry that you are only doing this because of their pittance. So just shut up about the money already, and about the friend of a friend you know who kept the kids in cages and did it just for the money and made millions.

7. When you say “I could never do that” as if we’re heartless or insensitive, because we can/have to give the kids back to their parents or to extended family, it stings.
Letting kids go IS really hard, but someone has to do it. Not all kids in care come from irredeemable families. Not everyone in a birth family is bad – in fact, many kin and parents are heroic, making unimaginable sacrifices to get their families back together through impossible odds. Yes, it is hard to let kids we love go, and yes, we love them, and yes, it hurts like hell, but the reality is that because something is hard doesn’t make it bad, and you aren’t heartless if you can endure pain for the greater good of your children. You are just a regular old parent when you put your children’s interests ahead of your own.

8. No, they aren’t ours yet. And they won’t be on Thursday either, or next Friday, or the week after. Foster care adoption TAKES A LONG TIME. For the first year MINIMUM the goal is always for kids to return to their parents. It can take even longer than that. Even if we hope to adopt, things could change, and it is just like any long journey – it isn’t helpful to ask “Are we there yet” every five minutes.

9. Most kids will go home or to family, rather than being adopted. Most foster cases don’t go to adoption. Not every foster parent wants to adopt. And not every foster family that wants to adopt will be adopting/wants to adopt every kid.

It is NOT appropriate for you to raise the possibility of adoption just because you know they are a foster family. It is ESPECIALLY not appropriate for you to raise this issue in front of the kids. The kids may be going to home or to kin. It may not be an adoptive match. The family may not be able to adopt now. They may be foster-only. Not all older children want or choose to be adopted, and after a certain age, they are allowed to decide. Family building is private and none of everyone’s business. They’ll let you know when you need to know something.

10. If we’re struggling – and all of us struggle sometimes – it isn’t helpful to say we should just “give them back” or remind us we brought it on ourselves. ALL parents pretty much brought their situation on themselves whether they give birth or foster, but once you are a parent, you deal with what you’ve got no matter what. “I told you so” is never helpful. This is especially true when the kids have disabilities or when they go home. Yes, we knew that could happen. That doesn’t make it any easier.

11. Foster kids are not “fake kids,” and we’re not babysitters – they are all my “REAL kids.” Some of them may stay forever. Some of them may go and come back. Some of them may leave and we’ll never see them again. But that’s life, isn’t it? Sometimes people in YOUR life go away, too, and they don’t stop being an important part of your life or being loved and missed. How they come into my family or for how long is not the point. While they are here they are my children’s REAL brothers and sisters, my REAL sons and daughters. We love them entirely, treat them the way we do all our kids, and never, ever forget them when they leave. Don’t pretend the kids were never here. Let foster parents talk about the kids they miss. Don’t assume that kids are interchangeable – one baby is not the same as the next, and just because there will be more kids later doesn’t make it any easier now.

2. Fostering is HARD. Take how hard you think it will be and multiply it by 10, and you are beginning to get the idea. Exhausting, gutwrenching and stressful as heck. That said, it is also GREAT, and mostly utterly worth it. It is like Tom Hanks’ character in _League of Their Own_ says about baseball: “It is supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

13. You don’t have to be a foster parent to HELP support kids and families in crisis. If you want to foster, GREAT – the world needs more foster families. But we also need OTHER kinds of help.

You can:

– . Treat foster parents with a new placement the way you would a family that had a baby – it is JUST as exhausting and stressful. If you can offer to cook dinner, help out with the other kids, or lend a hand in some way, it would be most welcome.

– . Offer up your children’s outgrown stuff to pass on – foster parents who do short-term fostering send a lot of stuff home with the kids, and often could use more. Alternatively, many communities have a foster care closet or donation center that would be grateful for your pass-downs in good condition.

– . Be an honorary grandparent, aunt or uncle. Kids need as many people in their lives as possible, and relationships that say “you are special.”

– . Become a respite provider, taking foster children for a week or a weekend so their parents can go away or take a break.

– . Offer to babysit. Foster parents have lives, plus they have to go to meetings and trainings, and could definitely use the help.

– . Be a big brother, sister or mentor to older foster kids. Preteens and Teens need help imagining a future for themselves – be that help.

– . Be an extra pair of hands when foster families go somewhere challenging – offer to come along to the amusement park, to church, to the playground. A big family or one with special needs may really appreciate just an extra adult or a mother’s helper along.

– . Support local anti-poverty programs with your time and money. These are the resources that will hopefully keep my kids fed and safe in their communities when they go home.

– . If you’ve got extra, someone else can probably use it. Lots of foster families don’t have a lot of spare money for activities – offering your old hockey equipment or the use of your swim membership is a wonderful gift.

– . Make programs for kids friendly to kids with disabilities and challenges. You may not have thought about how hard it is to bring a disabled or behaviorally challenged kid to Sunday school, the pool, the local kids movie night – but think about it now, and encourage inclusion.

– . Teach your children from the beginning to be welcoming, inclusive, kind and non-judgemental, Teach them the value of having friends from different neighborhoods, communities, cultures, races and levels of ability. Make it clear that bullying, unkindness and exclusion are NEVER EVER ok.

– . Welcome foster parents and their family into your community warmly, and ASK them what they need, and what you can do.

13. Reach out to families in your community that are struggling – maybe you can help so that the children don’t ever have to come into foster care, or to make it easier if they do. Some families really need a ride, a sitter, some emotional support, some connection to local resources. Lack of community ties is a HUGE risk factor for children coming into care, so make the attempt.

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May is National Foster Care Month…How WE Can Help!

Today across the nation there are over 400,000 children in foster care, over 20,00 of these youth are “legal orphans” awaiting adoption and 25,000 of these children will age out this year. During the month of May hundreds of community events are being planned across the country to help retain, recruit and support critically needed foster parents as well as provide support and advocacy for foster youth and assist children aging out of the system.

We can get involved now to Change a Life one child at a time or pay the cost of our failure later. According to the latest statistics for vulnerable children aging out of the system this is the price we are already paying today for our failure:

Only 54% earn a high school diploma
Only 10% of those go on to college
Only 2% of those obtain a Bachelor’s degree or higher
84% become parents prior to a marriage
51% will experience unemployment due to lack of skills
30% have no health insurance
25% will at one time be homeless
30% receive some type of public assistance
37% become incarcerated
Over 40% will become involved with drugs or are alcoholics

May is an opportune time to highlight the hundreds of ways individuals, churches, schools, libraries, scout troops, civic and social organizations, businesses and government can help support these children, youth and families. I hope it will encourage you to Change a Life by:

Sharing your hearts
Opening your homes as foster parents
Offering your help youth in foster care.
Declare May as “Foster Care Month”

How You May Participate in Foster Care Month:

Wear a “Blue Ribbon” during May in support of National Foster Care Month and help organize or attend a ribbon tying ceremony to advocate on behalf of children in foster care in your community or state.

Write your Governor and Mayor requesting they proclaim May as “Foster Care Month” in your state and community.

Organize a Candlelight Vigil in remembrance of those children who have been abused, neglected or died while in out of home care.

Collect “Teddy Bears” to donate to your local police and fire departments as well as social services departments to soothe children in a time a crisis.

Create “Love Packs” for children living in foster care homes, group homes or other institutional care. (IE: hygiene items, and age appropriate toys, school supplies, story books and a teddy bear)

Organize a drive to collect suitcases and duffel bags as many foster children are moved a number of times while in care, usually their possessions in black plastic garbage bags donate suitcases & duffel bags to foster care agencies so children might move with a little bit of dignity.

Conduct a drive for goods that will assist a youth aging out of the system to get started in life on their own. (IE: alarm clocks, bedding, tools, towels and basic house wares)

Have an “Event Day” for children in foster care (IE: Sports, Zoo, Picnic or Museum Day).

Conduct a creative writing/poster campaign for school children on the subject of Children in Foster Care.

Learn more about how policy, legislative and budget priorities affect children and youth in foster care. Learn the facts about foster care and gain a better understanding of the needs of those touched by foster care. Advocate for reform of the child welfare system so “in the best interest of the child” becomes a reality to the children and youth in care.

Have a “Capital Day” in your state to educate legislatures of the need to reform the child welfare system as many children should NOT be in care in the first place.

Conduct a letter writing campaign to the news media, government officials and others of the plight of children living without parents.

Organize a “Step Out for Kids Walkathon” to raise awareness and funds to assist those children and youth in care. Sometimes, tangible items can have tremendous impact on a young life. Foster youth often lack the funds to pay for an after-school computer class, musical instruments, sports participation or art supplies. Items that most of us would consider basics, such as school backpacks or supplies for a science fair entry, also may be out of reach. Cost of donating to nonprofits benefiting foster youth: A tax-deductible contribution to fit your budget.

Become a “Mentor” or “Tutor” to a child or youth in foster care. By becoming a mentor or tutor you will give foster youth reliable support from someone who holds high expectations for them and encourages them to see a better life for themselves. To mentor or tutor a foster youth not only benefits the recipient, but it is also one of the most rewarding endeavors in life, showing a young person that you care and can be relied upon, even through challenging times. Cost of mentoring or tutoring youth: An hour or two of your time each week. Research shows that children and youth with mentors earn higher grades and improve relationships with friends and families. They also have a better opportunity of success when they age out of the system.

Make a financial contribution to programs and agencies attempting to enrich the lives of children and youth in care.

Have a “Speakers Campaign” to make presentations to your faith-based congregation, civic group, school, PTA and other associations to educate and encourage your community to come together to find families and resources that help young people in foster care thrive.

Businesses have the ability to offer foster youth a life-changing opportunity as well. By hiring young people living in foster care and training them for successful careers, employers provide foster youth with a critical start toward a lifetime of self-sufficiency. Cost of offering and promoting jobs or internships for youth in foster care: Insignificant!

Most important of all, for those children who may not be able to remain with or return safely to their birth families, thousands are needed to open their homes and their hearts and become full-time foster or adoptive parents. The lasting commitment that results from creating a new home is one that can be pursued by couples, married or unmarried, single people and partners. Cost of creating a new, loving family by parenting abused, abandoned and neglected children: Priceless! Contact your local private or state child care agency to see how you may become a foster or adoptive parent.

Many people have asked me how they can become involved in making the foster care system a better one for the children and youth as well as for the foster parents since I was once a foster child. The snapshot of ideas above gives everyone an opportunity to do exactly that.

Yes, the ideas may take time, effort and funds, however, remember these children and youth are our future. As said early in this article; “We can Change a Life NOW one at a time or we will pay the price of their and our failure later.

It is up to US!

What is Foster Care Like?

Image

I don’t think I need say anymore!Click on photo to get the full picture and words.

 

AFCARS Latest Number on Foster Care/Adoption from Care FY2009

As long as there is still one youth still waiting for a loving, nurturing caring, permanent home it is one too many!

AFCARS Releases its Latest Numbers

Released this summer, the 17th official AFCARS report reveals that, in federal fiscal year 2009 the number of U.S. children in foster care and waiting for adoption declined markedly—by 8 and 9 percent respectively. Both figures—424,000 children in care and 115,000 waiting—are the lowest figures recorded since AFCARS released its first report in 2002. In addition, the number of children adopted from care (57,000) rose to its highest level.
 

View the complete report at www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/tar/report17.htm.

Brantwood Children’s Home in Montgomery Alabama Hasn’t Had A Single Adoption in Four Years

MONTGOMERY, Ala., March 12, 2010
American Foster Kids Hold Out Hope
Brantwood Children’s Home in Montgomery Alabama Hasn’t Had A Single Adoption in Four Years
By Mark Strassmann CBS News

(CBS)  The Brantwood Children’s Home in Montgomery, Ala., is a place for kids from families broken beyond repair. They’re all between 10 and 21 years old. All are available for adoption and looking for a loving home.

Will’s a fifth-grader in his seventh school. He wonders what kind of family will adopt him, and how it will happen.

Too often, it doesn’t.

CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports there haven’t been any adoptions at Brantwood in the past four years.

“It pierces your heart,” says Kim Herbert, the executive director of Brantwood. “That’s what we want for them.”

Adoption awareness has been heightened by the Haiti earthquake — which created thousands of new orphans. In the last eight weeks, more than 1,000 of them have come to America for adoption — more than the last three years combined.

It’s a new chance many Brantwood kids will never get.

“It’s been too long for them, and that hope is gone,” Herbert said. “They count on themselves.”

In 2008, America’s foster care system had 123,000 kids available for adoption. Just 45 percent — 55,000 — of them were adopted.

Typically the older they get, the worse their chances it will ever happen. Many children are also battling the scars of mental or physical abuse.

Many states and agencies post albums of available children.

“Meet these kids,” Herbert said, “and learn their hearts. See their needs and what they’re after.”

Jack’s after a second chance. At 13, he’s the baby in a fractured family of nine. He says he’s praying for a home of his own.

They all are praying for a family – and so far that is just a dream.

Brantwood Children’s Home
http://www.brantwoodchildrenshome.org/

60 Years Ago Today!!

Sixty years ago today, in the early hours of
the morning, a young nineteen year old unwed woman
gave birth to her first child…a son.

She spent most of her pregnancy in a home for unwed
mothers as her father would not, as he said, allow a
bastard child in his house.

She was uneducated and unable to provide even the
basic needs for her newborn son.

She did what she thought would be best for
him…because she loved him. She placed him lovingly
for adoption within hours after his birth.

She would not learn for thirty-six years that her
hopes and dreams of a loving home for her son never
happened.

The son instead spent the first year of life in a
hospital nursery and also the nursery of the same home
for unwed mothers his mother had spent her pregnancy.

Despite being a white, blond, hazel eye, healthy
baby…no one came forward to adopt him.

Those first days in a nursery turned out to be
eighteen years of being moved from one foster home to
another or institution…fourteen moves in all.

During those years he would attend many schools, never
have long time friends. He at a time would find his
bed on a back porch and be forced to steal food from
other children at school to dampen his hunger pains
from being fed only one meal a day. He would face the
horror of sexual abuse at the tender age of ten. He would
feel he was worthless and attempt to end his pain
and life before age 11.

Somehow, with the help of a few mentors, hope and a
deep inner faith this baby boy was able to overcome
the years of his childhood. He received a college
education and began a professional career.

At age of thirty-one he suffered a massive heart
attack. He could not answer the doctor’s question of;
“What’s your family medical history?” He was
embarrassed and ashamed for as far as he knew…he had
no family to call his own.

He began a search for the person who he thought would
be able to provide some answers…the mother who
lovingly relinquished him thirty-two years earlier.

The search took four long years. It was a painful,
trying and at times a frustrating journey as he met
numerous obstacles along the way.

He remembers vividly the message left on his answering
machine on April 17, 1986…”This is your mother!”
They would speak a few hours later…a phone call that
would last for hours. His spine still tingles and eyes
tear up as he remembers that day now nineteen years
later.

He met his mother not many months later. It
unfortunately was just the beginning to what turned
out to be a very strained relationship at best. He,
however, had his questions answered.

That relationship ended tragically a mere twelve years
later. His mother, on her own accord this time,
rejected her son and wished him dead as she could not
bear learning her son…her first born…was gay.

Despite several attempts at reconciliation by the son;
mother and son were never to speak or see each other
again in her lifetime. She passed away just shy of
three years after turning her son away.

The son, after time, was able to forgive his mother
and to thank her for not only giving him life but
making the decision she did on the day of his birth.
Despite how his childhood was; it had been the correct
decision.

He also was able to search, find and meet his father
once. His father did not wish for a relationship and
his father passed away four years after he found him.

His half siblings, from both his mother and father’s
side, except one rejected him as their brother. The
one remaining sibling also rejected him after their
mother’s death.

The one foster family whom he considered to be Mom and
Dad, even after he was on his own, are both long
passed away.

So today is this person’s sixtieth birthday.
What should be a joyous occasion remains a painful day
as it always has been. It brings forth those memories
of a childhood he cares not to remember. Acceptance by
his new found mother as well as the rejection.

He has in recent years found and met extended family.
They have welcomed him with open and loving arms.

He will receive well wishes from friends, extended
family and others. However, in many ways he will still
feel alone. There will never be birthday wishes from a
mother, father, brothers or sisters…and his heart
breaks.

Despite those painful memories he moves forward. The
hope and faith that sustained him through these
sixty years continues to sustain him.

Yes, today is that son’s birthday. I quietly wish
him a Happy Birthday, though it may not be.

I know each detail of this person’s life…because I
am that son born sixty years ago.

Yes, today I am sixty! The wounds of the
passed have in many cases healed, however, there are
many that just scabbed over waiting to be broken open
anew…they will never heal.

I however once again…thank my mother and father for
this beautiful gift called life!

Fargo/Moorhead Youth Fill the Dome Project Exceeds Goal!

My blog normally includes articles written by me or others I find on the Internet about foster care, thus the title of my blog.

However I am so proud of the youth here in my hometown community of Fargo, North Dakota/Moorhead, Minnasota that I just have to share this story beyond our area.

In the fall of 2007 a group of local high school seniors wanted to do something as a gift to their community. They wanted to collect non perishable foods and funds to be given to those less fortunate in our community. Each year since new seniors have continued the effort.

They did not think small but decided to issue a challenge to all the local schools.

Fargo has what we call the Fargodome. It is the site where North Dakota State University plays their home football games and where numerous big time stars have given concerts. The football floor contains 80,000 square feet.

The group decided their goal would be to fill the dome floor with food items. Thus began the FILL THE DOME PROJECT.

Since that first year (2007), though the foor did not get filled, they were able to raise over 60 tons of food and over $60,000 for their efforts for 2007/2008 combined.

This year the set their goals higher than what was reached in the first two years:

Goals for Fill the Dome 2009 include: 
Raise $75,000
Collect 75 tons of food
Engage 7,500 volunteers

Fifty-eight local schools and a few outside the local community were involved in this year’s effort. Each school would have a square on the dome floor to fill with non-perishables.

There is also a square designated for the community as a whole participate by dropping off items on the designated date or to purchase a food bag from Hornbackers ( a local grocery store gain ) which would be collected and taken to the dome on the given date.

Yesterday was the culmination of the 2009 effort. Schools each had a scheduled time to brings the results of ther collection drives as well as the food bags purchased by members of the community.

Early this morning, after boxing, weighing, and placing all the food on a number of trucks for distribution the results were announced:

97.1 tons of food that came in and out of the Fargodome.
$96,000 (and counting)
2311 food bages were purchased by community members at Hornbachers
(Yes I bought a couple)
Over 2,800 people who have signed their name, acknowledging hunger is an issue in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

The Fill the Dome Project not only exceeded their goals for 2009 by a wide margin but also exceeded the total of the two previous years combined.

The Great Plains Food Bank distributes food to local pantries and shelters. Of money raised, 30 percent goes to local groups and 70 percent goes to a mobile food pantry to help in rural western North Dakota.

These same youth, in many cases, helped save the Fargo/Moorhead area by filling and laying over 4 million sandbags this srping in the effort to save our area from flooding. Without their efforts our city would have definitely suffered severe lood damage.

These youth make me proud to live in Fargo and continues to give me faith in our next generation of leadership.

Hats off to ALL involved; many less fortunate will not go without in the months ahead!!

 

Some of the food collected yesterday

 

To date (2007-2009) Fill the Dome has raised over: 

Over 156,000 tons of non perishable food items

Over $157,000

I will be nominating this organization next year for CNN’S Heor of the Year!

 Below are photos from the 2008 drive:

http://fillthedome.org/ftd/Photos.html