Fostering is usually discussed in really broad brush strokes. It wasn’t until I started the process myself that I understood how damaging these generalizations can be. The fact is, if you’ve only ever heard misconceptions about fostering, you’ll be much less likely to do it. After all, who would ever enter into a legally-binding process that keeps you stuck with an out-of-control child that’s a danger to your family? That doesn’t describe fostering at all.
While there are obviously examples to the contrary, most foster experiences are emotionally gratifying to both the families and the children placed with them. You’d never know that from misconceptions you might hear (or assume). Let’s take a look at some common myths and the reality behind them.
Myth: I don’t have the training or experience to foster a child
Reality: You’ll be surprised how equipped you already are. One would assume that in order to foster, you’d need to already have the experience of raising a child. While already being a parent would help in some areas, it’s just not necessary to raise a foster child. And no, you probably don’t have the training you need to foster a child – but that’s why you’re required to get at least 36 hours of pre-service training before you get licensed. From there, you’ll be required to get 40 hours of training every two years. This training gives you the tools you’ll need to be an awesome parent to any foster placements in your home.
It helps to consider the environment that these children were removed from. They are probably coming from a family that neglected or harmed them in some way. By simply being a welcoming, stable presence, you’re already light-years ahead of their previous homes. If you have the capacity to love, encourage, support and guide, then you are fully equipped to be a foster parent.
Myth: I’ll get stuck with an out-of-control child
Reality: The misconception here is the word “stuck.” Yes, it is possible to get a placement that’s “out of control,” but you have resources to support and protect you as the foster parent. There is going to be an adjustment period with any new placement and there is a chance that a placement requires more specialized attention than you’re trained to provide. If that’s the case, or if there are situations where you or your family are in danger, the caseworker will find another, more appropriate home for the child.
Myth: Foster children are a threat to my other children
Reality: Foster children as a group are absolutely not a threat to other children. Individual children within the foster system might be. Caseworkers know which children are high-risk cases and will place them into families experienced in those situations. When caseworkers are determining the appropriate home for a placement, they will consider whether there are other children in the home. If you look through adoption photolistings, you’ll see advice from each child’s caseworker regarding the most appropriate family dynamic. Caseworkers will specify if the child should be the youngest, have siblings, or any other family dynamic that would help the child thrive.
Myth: The birth parents don’t love their kids, were irresponsible, or are just evil people
Reality: Birth families love their children, they’re just not able to uphold their responsibilities as parents for any number of reasons. The most likely reason associated with a child’s removal is neglect (as noted in 62 percent of cases). Yes, neglect is an indication of irresponsibility, but consider what it’s like for a parent from a different socioeconomic status.
As an example, imagine you’re a 23-year-old single mother of two children (3 and 5). You work two minimum-wage, part-time jobs for a combined total of 60 hours a week to cover the basics: apartment rent, utilities and food. Your elderly grandmother watches your kids while you’re working. Rent is due at the end of the week, and in your account, you have exactly the money you need to cover it. On this particular day, one of your children wakes up sick with a very high fever and is vomiting. Here are your options:
- Take your child to the doctor, missing at least four hours of work. In addition to the loss of pay, the doctor’s visit and the prescriptions will both be taken from the funds you need to pay rent. With this option, you won’t be able to pay rent at the end of the week.
- Hope that the illness doesn’t get worse today and plan to take your sick child to the doctor tomorrow during your time off. Take the children to your grandmother’s house, even though that means risking getting your grandmother sick, which would potentially remove her as a babysitting option for the next several days (if not more, especially if the illness is more damaging to senior citizens). The benefit is that you’ll be able to keep working and still be able to pay rent.
- Your sister has a daughter that’s eight years old. Ask her to stay home from school to watch your children for the day while you go to work. This would keep your grandmother from getting exposed to the illness, would allow you to work your scheduled shift, and give you the ability to take your child to the doctor the next day when you’re off work.
So what would you do? Poverty creates impossible situations, and they can lead to scenarios like this that result in neglect. Neglect does not indicate a lack of love.
The second most common reason why children are removed is due to drug abuse (36 percent). I heard it phrased once that sometimes parents love their addiction more than they love their children. It’s a sad fact, but it is reality. Despite their best intentions, some parents can’t give up their substance abuse to properly raise their children.
Going down the list, active abuse from a parent or caregiver (physical and sexual) accounts for about 16 percent of removals. It happens, but it’s far from being a majority. The rest of the cases – 84 percent of them – the parents never show any indication that they don’t love their child. They just don’t know how or aren’t able to care for their children without proper intervention. The foster care system gives birth parents the opportunity to take positive steps in their lives to correct the situation.
Myth: I’m not equipped to discipline a difficult child
Reality: All children need discipline and most parents aren’t equipped to give it without training and/or experience. Don’t expect a child that needs discipline any more or any less than a biological child. Before you get licensed, you’ll get training on disciplinary tactics, and you’ll always have resources to support you. Your caseworker, therapists, and support groups are available as guides to difficult situations you might encounter.
Myth: All foster placements are long-term commitments
Reality: The average foster placement is 20 months. If you want the foster experience without a longer-term placement, you can always use your license to be a respite care provider for other foster families.
When foster families travel out of state, sometimes they’re unable to get permission to bring their foster children along. Licensed foster parents can provide a temporary home for these kids until their families return. These respite sessions can be as short as one day up to a few weeks in some cases. Respite care can be a great way to get your toes wet in the whole fostering experience.
Myth: With medical costs, food, and clothing, raising a foster child is expensive
Reality: You’ll actually incur very few costs, if any, when you foster a child. Most states provide a daily reimbursement to cover the basic costs of food and clothing. These typically range around $10-$40 a day depending on the state and the agency. Many agencies will also occasionally provide foster parents with vouchers for food, clothing, diapers and more from local retailers. Children in the foster care system qualify for Medicaid, and therefore, get all of their medical costs covered 100%. Foster children under five years old are also eligible for federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits, which provide vouchers for specific foods to nutritionally supplement their diets.
While financial support is provided, in no way is this a money-making venture. The resources provided are intended to offset the costs of raising a child and nothing more.
Myth: I’ve never had children and you need experience to survive fostering
Reality: You don’t need to have any experience with raising children to survive fostering. Many foster parents have never had biological children. Your caseworker will understand that you have never had children and will provide a placement that is most appropriate for your level of experience.
Myth: People with full-time jobs can’t foster
Reality: As is also true for biological children, you do not need to be a stay-at-home parent to raise foster children. Many agencies provide stipends for approved daycare centers.
Myth: I have no choices as to what type of child gets placed in my home
Reality: You have total control as to what type of child gets placed in your home. This isn’t a lottery system. Every foster parent completes a checklist of characteristics they will and will not accept in a placement. From there, each caseworker chooses families that they feel will be the best fit, but foster parents can still refuse a placement on any condition, even if it’s just because of bad timing.
Myth: I can’t be a foster parent because I’ll get too attached to see them leave
Reality: You probably will get too attached to see your foster child leave (if they do), but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a foster parent. In fact, if you get too attached to see them leave, that’s probably why you’d be an awesome foster parent. These children have been through so much. They’d greatly benefit from a foster parent that forms a strong, committed bond with them.
Myth: Fostering teenagers is scary, they’ll steal and hurt my family
Reality: All children become teenagers eventually, but just because they might be difficult doesn’t mean they mean harm to you or your family. Especially in the cases where teenagers are close to aging out of the system (at age 18), they’ll be more likely to crave independence and resent parental figures. They need structure, but most of all, they need someone who will help them learn valuable life skills before they reach independence. The important thing is to guide them to graduate high school and provide guidance on post-graduation plans.
Teenagers can be difficult, and the results of your hard work may not always be evident. While they require a higher level of patience and devotion, there are some really big benefits to teenagers over young children: you won’t have to change any diapers, and you can sleep in on weekends.
Myth: Babies are easier placements because they don’t have as many problems
Reality: Babies are definitely not easier; they just require a completely different level of care. While they can’t talk back and may not be as emotionally damaged from their past, babies require more full-time attention and care. From an every-three-hour feeding schedule to care in the middle of the night to all the extra equipment you need to buy/use, raising infants can be very challenging.
Myth: Children don’t want to be with the birth parents they were removed from
Reality: Despite what you might think, most children want to return to their birth parents, regardless of the situation before their removal. I know someone who grew up in the foster system, and she explained the situation like this: “I had a very dangerous childhood. My mom was on drugs and would often invite her ‘boyfriends’ into the home who then abused me. That’s why we got removed from the home and put in foster care. Years later, I was in the courthouse watching my mom’s latest trial. She was brought in the room wearing an orange jumpsuit and had to sit there while the judge read off a list of reasons why she was a bad person. I remember feeling so offended. I was thinking, ‘That’s my momma, you can’t talk to her like that.’ Despite everything, she would always be my mom and I loved her.”
Even though she moved on to a better, safer house, her birth mom still made her miss being “home.” As foster parents, this is a reality that we have to face. Despite everything, our foster children may long to return to the home they left. We should never take it personally.
Myth: Agencies have the final say in where kids end up
Reality: Actually, judges have the final say…and that can be really frustrating. Your caseworker may formally recommend that the child remain in your care instead of returning to their birth parents, but that recommendation could be completely disregarded and reversed by the judge who makes the final decision. All foster parents need to be prepared for that possibility.
Do you have any other myths that need busting? If so, feel free to leave a comment below, find us on Facebook or Twitter, or use the Contact form on this website. And of course, feel free to reach out to any local foster/adopt agency for more information as it relates to your county and state.
Catch up on the previous entries in the “All About Fostering” series:
What’s next in the “All About Fostering” series:
- Part 4: Choosing the Right Agency
- June 18 – “Part 5: Getting Ready for a Foster Placement”
For more information on adoption, visit adoptuskids.org.
For more information on fostering, visit childwelfare.gov.
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