|Length of stay in U.S. foster care (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|Children sleeping in Mulberry Street (1890) Art. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Think about the gambit of emotions and you have what it means to be a foster parent. It can be joyful, a handful, frustrating, depressing, exciting, and everything in between, however in the end you will be helping children that are in need and there is not better feeling in the world although it is not for the faint of heart to say the least.
Here are some things to consider before becoming a foster parent:
1. Are you ready for all the responsibility of being a foster parent? Not only is it taxing on the emotions but it it also requires a great deal of time. Not only do you attend classes in order to prepare you for being a foster parent (and no matter how much they try it is difficult to teach you all that you need to know), but when you have the children you are their taxi service which means running them to school (often their school will be far away), time to take them to meetings with their family, court dates and so on.
2. Are you emotionally ready to handle the responsibility of taking care of someone else's children that are not able to take care of them at the time and the problems that they may have? In our time as foster parents we had a 14 year old girl with a 5 month old boy and her sister who was 15 and a alcoholic, we had a boy who was possibly sexually molested, we had children whose father was told by his girlfriend that it was either her or his kids and he chose her, and a 6 year old girl whose father would beat her so bad that his hand would bleed. The other emotional aspect you will have to deal with is when the children leave, if they have been with you for many months it can sometimes be hard to deal with when its time for them to leave, how well will you be able to handle that?
3. Once you get past the first to questions you need to decide how much room you have available for foster children. Every state is different but under the regulations we fostered under you needed to have at least 60 square feet of space per child. Sometimes under special circumstances such as you are willing to take in a large group (we took in a group of 4 at one time even though we technically had enough space for three). You also have to consider that you must purchase all the furniture for the children which can add up. In our case we bought a set of bunk beds, three dressers, a standard bed, a crib/bed combo, lamps, night stands, and clocks. Other things that you will be required to have is a locking cabinet for any medicines and potentially harmful chemicals that you may have in your house.
4. The next thing you need to consider is what ages of children are you willing to foster. As you can probably tell by some of the stories I mentioned we fostered all age ranges. Some people only want to take infants hoping that they will be available for adoption at some point. The thing to take into consideration is that the wider range of ages that you are willing to take in, the more likely you will be getting foster children. Once again it depends on what you are ready for and looking for out of foster care. No one way is right, it just must be right for you.
5. Do you have a support network? You need to have people who you can call on to laugh, cry, vent, and just be able to talk to. Our foster care system had a network in our neighborhood that we could call on and they would also have times to get together and have some fun. You also need to have a someone that you can talk to one on one to deal with personal issues that may arise. In my case the crises time occurred some time after we adopted our kids, but fortunately I had a very special friend who was willing to listen and give advice, and just be there when I needed them. Have that support network in place ahead of time.
Being a foster parent may be one of the most rewarding things you can do. The task will not be easy but knowing that you will be providing a ray of light to a child that needs is worth it. A foster child may only be with you a short time, but you can have a dramatic impact on that child's life even if you don't see the results, know that you will be making a difference.
This past June we celebrated 3 years since adopting our children and later this month we will celebrate the time they came to us. It has not been an easy journey, but I wouldn't change it for anything.