Lessons I Learned as a Foster Parent
There were many lessons learned over the course of my time as a foster parent. People ask me all the time what they should know about fostering and I always give them the same brief list of things I learned the hard way.
Lesson #1: Social Workers are not your friends.
This is a very important lesson to learn early on in your fostering career. It will save you a lot of time and trouble later on. No matter how nice your social work, licensing worker or placement worker seems to be, don't make the mistake of thinking you can have a deep friendship with them. Don't ever tell a social worker something personal about your life that you don't want everyone else in the office to know. And most importantly, don't ever tell a social worker something that can come back to bite you in the ass later. There is a very clearly defined line between friends and social worker, don't cross it.
Lesson #2: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If a placement worker calls you with this fabulous child who has no issues whatsoever and is just a delight to be around, be scared. Be very very scared. Then ask every question you can think of, including but not limited to: Why is this child in care? Is this their first time in care? Is this their first placement? If not, why are they being moved? Can I talk to the previous foster parents? Some social workers are not above blatant lying in order to secure a placement for a difficult child and the closer it gets to 5:00pm, the more sugar coated the lies become!
Lesson #3: Foster moms can be back-stabbing bitches.
You know that old saying "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?" This applies to other foster moms. I have only one very close friend who is a foster parent. We were friends before I became a foster parent. The other foster moms that I struck up friendships with ended badly with lots of tears - theirs, not mine. Some foster moms like to be competitive, they will sabotage your placements, talk bad about you to social workers, and they'll do it all behind your back. Some foster moms are in this for the glory and praise, not for the kids. You'll know this type when you see them - they always look like manic meth heads with a perpetual smile on their face and a willingness to do anything to get into a social worker's good graces. These bitches will take you down! I recently shared the incident that taught me this lesson.
Lesson #4: Be very careful who you voice your complaints to.
Social workers talk. They talk a lot. They talk about you if you're talking about them. If you have a legitimate complaint about something a social worker has done, take it to their supervisor. Don't bitch about them to their co-workers because that co-worker will immediately run to the social worker in question and spill everything you just said. It's a fact.
Lesson #5: Be prepared to back up everything you say.
Document everything. Keep records about everything. I cannot stress this enough. This can save you a lot of time, trouble and heartache down the line. I documented everything and I know some other foster moms laughed behind my back and called me "anal retentive" but guess what? That documentation save my bacon more than one time and even saved a case from getting thrown out in court.
Lesson #6: Know your limits, but keep an open mind.
In your training class, you will be asked to decide about the type of children you are willing to accept. In my state, you are allowed to choose age range, sex, race, disabilities and behavior issues. Now personally, my husband and I chose ages 0-3, any sex, any race, mild to moderate disabilities and mild behavioral issues. As new foster parents as well as full time working foster parents, we had to be realistic about what we could handle. As we got further into fostering, we relaxed those limits somewhat - we broadened our age range to 0-6 years, any sex, any race, moderate to severe disabilities and moderate behavioral issues. I would encourage you to really talk to more seasoned foster parents and get an idea of what you think you can handle. A lot of new foster parents are so excited to get a placement call that they accept the first child that they are offered, regardless of what the needs of that child might be. Plus a lot of new foster parents don't want to say no for fear that the placement worker won't call them again. Trust me - they'll call you. They would much rather you turn down a placement that might be stretching the limits of your abilities than to have to move that child in 2 weeks because you discover you are in over your head.
Lesson #7: Being an effective advocate takes practice.
With few exceptions, great foster parents are made, not born. Most great foster parents started out insecure in their roles. They did what was asked of them with no questions asked, even when they didn't think it was the right thing to do. They didn't voice their opinions for fear of making the social worker mad enough to take the child away. Over time, they become more involved in the child's case. They begin to offer opinions and suggestions when appropriate. They step up to the plate as the person who knows this child the best at that particular time. Foster parents live with these children 24/7, 365 days a year. Who better to be an effective and active advocate for that child? Now obviously I'm not talking about making case decisions, that is not your job. But requesting a developmental exam for a child in your home who you think is lagging behind? That's your job. Documenting and reporting negative behaviors that occur every time a child has a visit with a birth parent? That's your job.
Lesson #8: This is not your child.
Perhaps the hardest learned lesson of all. When all is said and done, this is not your child. My county was very active in using the MRS (Multiple Response System) and the Shared Parenting Model. Foster parents were expected to interact with birth parents. We were required to participate within the team. We were encouraged to provide pictures at every visit. We were expected to share relevant information with the birth parents. We were also expected to respect the birth parents' wishes about the care of their child whenever possible. For example, another foster mom I know had a pre-teen girl who came from a strict religious family. The family wanted that child to attend the church of their faith despite the fact that the foster family was a different religion. The foster family was expected to make that happen. There were many families that I found it extremely easy to practice Shared Parenting with. Then there were others that I wanted no part of. It was a balancing act.
Those are the lessons I have for today. Those of you who are experienced foster parents - you can wake up now, the lesson is over. Those of you who were fans of my old blog, Postcards from Insanity, I hope you will come over and check out my new blog, Confessions of a Semi-Domesticated Mama. I don't blog about foster care, but I'm still funny and this week I even posted about the time I peed my pants at Target. You know you want to read that. See you soon!