Challenges of Foster Parenting

Many couples decide to become foster parents after years of infertility treatments, adoption proceedings and trying unsuccessfully to become a parent. Other foster parents may already have children, whether adopted or natural, and simply want to add to their family while helping children in need.

Differences Between Adoption and Foster Parenting

There are some fairly significant differences between becoming a foster parent and adopting a child. Adoption brings full legal, financial, and decision-making responsibilities to the parents for the child, just as having a biological child does. While a child is in foster care the agency is legally responsible, and while families are financially responsible for a foster child to some extent, they do receive a subsidy for the child. Decision making is shared between the agency and the birth parent when the child is in foster care, with the foster parents having little say-so. Probably the biggest difference between adoption and foster care lies in the fact that in foster care the foster parent's goal is to work with the agency to help the child reunite with his or her birth parents, while adoption means incorporating a child into the family as a permanent member.

History of Foster Parenting

Prior to 1975, foster parents were not encouraged to adopt children for a variety of reasons; they felt if foster parents adopted the children in their care, they would no longer be available to take in more foster children and they also felt that the other children in the foster home who were not being adopted would suffer negative consequences. There were also fears concerning the fact that in foster care the birth parents typically have contact with the foster parents, and there was uncertainty as to how this would affect a subsequent adoption. Many agencies also felt that older children were simply unadoptable. Since that time foster care agencies have seen the positive side to foster parents adopting a child in their care when it becomes clear the child may never be able to be safely returned to his or her birth parents. As of 2002, the completed adoptions by foster parents accounted for more than fifty percent of the children adopted from foster care.

What to Consider Before Becoming a Foster Parent

Before becoming foster parents most families will spend from one to three years thinking about it. Although each state has its own guidelines, most have some restrictions on who can become a foster parent, although the primary skill foster parents need is a boatload of patience and the ability to say good-bye. If there are other children in the family they need to be on board with the decision to foster a child, and, of course, both parents must have communicated thoroughly and come to a mutual agreement. Foster parenting has been known to have significant impact on marriages, however many couples are able to get through the difficult times with humor and patience.

Communication Skills are Key

It is imperative that you be a good communicator as you will be dealing with a large number of people regarding your foster child. You will communicate with the child's birth family, teachers and school administrators, therapists, social workers, judges, CASA workers, other foster parents and the child himself-not to mention your family and friends who may or may not be supportive of your decision to become a foster family.

Know What You're in For

Children in foster care are there because they have likely endured all levels of abuse and neglect. Children have few ways to communicate their feelings other than by their behavior, and that behavior may be challenging to say the least. Because of possible past abuse, the foster care system does not allow corporal punishment, or any type of punishment which causes physical discomfort, even going without a meal. The job of a foster parent is to build an attachment with the child, and although foster children routinely push the boundaries, it's important to maintain your calm demeanor and patience.

Despite the many challenges, most foster parents consider it a rewarding experience despite the extensive training you will undergo and the inevitable sadness you may feel when a child is returned to their family. If being an important part of a child's life when they are most in need is appealing to you, then foster parenting may be a journey you should take.

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