Fostering children from hard places is not a task for someone who has never raised children or had any experience with childhood behavioral issues. It will be unlike anything you have ever imagined and should be considered a career and not a family building option. These children require a lot of support, attention, and focus. They will need your advocacy at school, in treatment team meetings, at doctors’ and therapists’ offices. Sometimes they will require you to work late at night due to night terrors, running away, or other behaviors. There will be times you will miss meals or have family gatherings interrupted with meltdowns. You may also have more interaction with your local police than you ever thought you might.
It will be important to understand their abuse issues and how it will affect your family life. If you have biological children, please keep in mind, living with foster children will impact them. Children from hard places will find it extremely difficult to trust you because their trust has been destroyed multiple times by adults who have broken promises. Because they have been victims of abuse at the hands of their biological parents, they will struggle to feel safe and secure anywhere. Your home will be no different, even if you do everything possible to ease their fears. Your relationship with them will require a lot of patience, more than you might ever expect. I have likened these children to frightened, hurt wild animals–they are in survival mode. They will need foster parents who understand this and are able to remain patient even when they are raging.
You can’t expect children from hard places to respect your possessions or home. Just as you would baby proof your home, you must foster proof your home as well. Put away items that have a lot of sentimental value to you. Someday these items might become targets when your foster child is raging, sometimes on purpose. You can also expect damage to occur to walls, doors, woodwork, and furniture. These children can take out their feelings on inanimate objects until they learn appropriate coping skills. Therefore, it wouldn’t be advised to place important family antiques or heirloom quilts in a foster child’s bedroom.
Set structure and maintain it as best as possible. Foster children need consistent structure so they know what to expect on a daily basis. This consistency helps them build trust in you and lets them know you aren’t going to change things to cause them more harm. Talk to former foster parents and try to replicate previous structures. This will make the child’s transition easier because they don’t have to learn new rules and expectations.
Utilizing tag team parenting and respite is key to parenting foster children. Implementing a tag team parenting structure is needed because foster children will require a lot of energy and focus. Staying hypervigilant 24 hours a day, 7 days a week takes its toll, causing emotional and physical illnesses. Take advantage of respite services as much as possible, including sleep away camps during the summer. Sleepless nights begin to deteriorate your mental, physical, and emotional health. To be a successful foster parent, you have to stay fresh and focused. Build a network of friends who can give you a break at least one night a week. It might seem like a lot now, but you will need it when your stamina begins to wan. Above all else, don’t feel guilty when you use the resources. The biggest mistake I ever made as a foster parent was not using respite.
Follow through with counseling regardless if the child thinks they need it or not. Talking about their abuse history and feelings can leave the foster child feeling highly vulnerable. This is a necessity when any child goes through foster care because of the emotional damage that occurs when removed from a parent. These traumas will impact the foster child for the rest of their lives and getting help as soon as possible has proven to be beneficial.
Understand most of their behaviors stem from their emotions. There will be times when the foster child will lash out for no reason. These meltdowns can happen when things are going well and can be confusing for the unexperienced foster parent. Foster children act out when things are good for several different reasons. It will be important to talk to them after these episodes to figure out why they are self-sabotaging.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fostering children from trauma. If you are serious about taking on this challenge, be prepared to experience moments of success and moments of failure. And create a network of professionals and other experienced foster parents to support you through this journey.
Written by Gelana McCloud