Now that I've been fostering for a few years, I often get questions about my experiences from newcomers to Foster/Adopt Land. One of the most frequently asked questions:
"What are some of your biggest foster care mistakes?"
I know we've all had them. Everything from logistical mistakes to letting our emotions get the better of us at times... I posed this question to our "Foster Friday" panel members to get their take on the subject, and here are some of their responses.
Debbie ("Always and Forever Family") - One of my biggest fostering mistakes...
I'd ordered two copies of pictures, one for us and one for the family member our girls were taken from who we were about to visit. I put family member's pictures in a small album and gave them to her at the visit.
Two days later I got a call saying legal dad was in town and wanted a visit in 3 hours. And the visit was 90 minutes away! So we rushed to feed three girls lunch and get them ready. Had to fix their hair!! And I just grabbed the second set of pictures to give to him. I gave them to him in the envelope that came from the store which had my email address and phone number. About two days after the visit I got a call from him on my cell phone. Huge mistake! But I'm glad it was to him and not the other family member since he lives out of state and seemed like a decent guy. Don't think I'll ever make that mistake again!
And from my email, he could find me on F@cebook and find my blog! So I quickly changed my blog email address and searched the web for my email which pops up in comments I've left on blogs sometimes. I deleted all that I could.
Andrea ("Live with Laughter")
My Biggest Mistake:
Our first placement was 12 weeks old. He obviously was on formula. I had heard horror stories about the local WIC office. I didn't want to deal with them. So I used my own money to buy all his supplies. Our next placement was a little girl, 8 months old, still on formula. Once again, pride cometh before the fall and I used my own money.
Then came Baby M, a tiny 35 day old. I knew I couldn't afford his special formula, so I sucked it up and went into the WIC office. I was flabbergasted, it was so simple. In and out in 15 minutes with formula checks in hand. His whole formula usage, I maybe had to buy 3 cans myself.
I was kicking myself for not wanting to use the WIC office. I worried about what people would think using WIC checks. We now have two children on WIC and I don't care one bit about the scowls I get from people in line when I use my checks.
I would place my mistake in trust that the system would have set me up with WIC like they promised. When it didn't happen, I just let it go. Also, I let my pride get in the way. A big mistake! Thankfully, both my babies are on WIC and I've actually received compliments from their workers for doing it myself.
(*Note from Mimi - I wrote about the WIC stuff myself a while back! I had made the same mistake, and won't be making that one again. :-)
Cherub Mamma ("Cherub Mamma") - My Biggest Mistake
I've tried like crazy to come up with an official post to submit. All I can come up with is the mistake that I honestly thought I was prepared for how bad it could hurt sometimes. In reality, I had no flipping clue! There is no way to prepare for the emotional realities of foster care other than to just do it.
On the other side of that coin, I also had no idea how strong I really am. I've weathered through things that I couldn't ever imagined and I'm out on the other side alive. I guess my mistake there is that I didn't give myself enough credit for what I really could do.
aka. Mimi -
I've certainly made some doozies over the past four years, but I think my biggest mistakes occurred early on in my first three placements. "Newbie" mistakes that I definitely learned from, and now life is much, much easier... (As "easy" as foster care can be, that is... :-) Here is a list of what I consider to be a few of my biggest mistakes over the years:
- Not acknowledging my own limitations - I have to admit, I still struggle with this one occasionally. When you have a heart that is bigger than your brain, you tend to take on more than you can chew. Know your limits when it comes to ages, number of children, behaviors, etc. and don't be afraid to say "no" if you have doubts about a potential placement. It's much better to say "no" up front than to have to disrupt a placement later. I learned that the hard way.
- Allowing myself to believe a caseworker when they said that a placement would most likely end up in adoption - When Booger Bear was placed with me, my caseworker said from day one that his case would probably go to adoption. I made the mistake of believing her. From day one, I just knew that Booger was my son. When I lost him after nearly a year, I thought I'd never be whole again. Since then, I made the conscious decision to go into each placement expecting and actively promoting reunification regardless of what the child's caseworker tells me about the potential of adoption. Do I want to adopt? Yes, but it's not the "be all, end all" of my fostering experience. If/when I finally am able to adopt, it will be a happy surprise. Do I love my children with the same ferocity as I loved Booger Bear? Absolutely! Does it still break my heart to pieces when they leave? Without a doubt. But the pain is different. I mourn the loss of my child, but I don't have to combine that with the loss of "what should have been." Because this is foster care, and as much as we might want differently, what "should be" is a healed family rather than a broken one.
- Allowing my 1st agency to run my life - As foster parents, we must adhere to "Minimum Standards" that often seem crazy-ridiculous in order to maintain our licenses. As a new foster parent, I assumed that one of the "rules" was to basically do whatever my agency or my children's caseworkers told me to do whenever they told me to do it or I'd lose my license and my kids. When my agency told me to jump, I asked "how high?" Turns out, I allowed my 1st agency to walk over me and nearly lost my job because of it. After a year of being pulled in ten different directions, being "required" to be in three different places at once, and having my agency expect me to leave work every time they called in order to run an errand for them, I'd had enough. Now I am very firm on when I will leave my job for CPS. And surprise surprise! My agency is still operational, I have easily maintained my foster care license, and my children's caseworkers have all managed to survive.
I think for me, the one thing that has helped me the most has been to slow down, take a step back, and make a conscious effort to think with my brain as well as my heart. When you're fostering for the right reasons because you genuinely care about these children and want the very best for them, it can be all-consuming when it comes to the emotional toll it can take. For me, thinking only with my heart led to much more pain, frustration, stress, and heartache than I would have experienced had I allowed myself to use my brain as well. Not always an easy thing to do for those of us whose hearts tend to lead the way...