Mythbusting for Foster Parents
As a community committed to caring for those in need, Christian families looking for ways to reach out and serve often think about foster parenting. Barna Group reports that 31 percent of Christians have seriously considered foster parenting (compared to 11 percent of non-Christians). Strikingly, only 3 percent have actually become foster parents.
Why the discrepancy between those who are interested in the opportunity and those who have actually gone on to serve in this way?
While there are many practical reasons that could prevent people from taking on foster children, negative perceptions of the foster care system—such as front-page stories of social worker neglect and the belief that most foster parents are only in it for the money—loom large in America, including among Christians.
Whether from movies, media, or word-of-mouth, people worry that they will be unable to take on the responsibility of welcoming a child into their home for foster care or will become frustrated with the demands of the system itself. The Dave Thomas Foundation, which advocates for orphan-care in the U.S., cites this negative view as the most common reason people choose not to foster.
As with most things, it helps to know the facts. We are more comfortable and more willing to commit when we are well-educated about a cause. As an attorney and advocate who has spent 14 years working for and volunteering with foster children and their families, I'd like to offer the nearly one-in-three Christians considering becoming foster parents a realistic look at the demands and benefits.
Five Truths About Fostering
1. It's hard.
Foster parenting, like all parenting, is hard. Even the "easiest" of children takes blood, sweat, and tears to raise, not to mention ceaseless prayer, late nights, and patience in the extreme. In addition to the "normal" hardships of childrearing—junior high drama, high school heartache, toddler tantrums, and the like—foster kids come with additional difficulties born of abuse, neglect, and being removed from their home of origin. Even newborns and infants are not always exempt from these "scars," having experienced things such as in utero drug exposure or witnessing scenes of extreme domestic violence.
2. You have to build a relationship from the ground up.
Foster parents lack the bond of carrying a child in utero, birthing the child, and raising the child from day one (although prospective parents can request placement of newborns and infants). Yet, foster parents still create and sustain special connections with their children, often resulting in a long-term relationship up to and including adoption. Bonding techniques vary depending on age of the child, but the two constants are to be wholly accepting and loving, and to let the child take things at his or her own pace. Remember: Even when children are removed from the worst of homes, that home is all they have ever known, and most would not have chosen to be removed. The hard truth is that while you have chosen to open your home to a child, they have not asked to be there.
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