Foster Care- An Outsider’s Perspective

Foster Care. Have you ever thought about how many families are in your local foster care system? Have you ever thought about how many people have been affected by foster care? I want to talk about my point of view of foster care, as an outsider and how it has drastically changed my life.

I have known about foster care for many years. There was a home on my street growing up that took in foster kids, mostly school aged. My opinion of those kids as an adolescent was that THEY did something wrong. I clearly didn’t know what “foster care” meant. As I grew up and knew what it entailed, I would hear stories from social workers and other outsiders and I just had a sense that our system was completely screwed up. I didn’t understand why a child would have to spend years in foster care, sometimes in many different homes. I always thought that those kids grew up to be a menace to society.
I know, how naive.

Over 2 years ago, my cousin and her husband had a strong urge on their heart to pursue foster care. I think her husband was a bit more hesitant at first. I get it. After fertility issues, multiple lost pregnancies, and some health issues, being a foster parent was weighing more and more on their minds. Finally, they took the necessary steps to become licensed to foster and adopt, if the opportunity arose.

After they were licensed, it wasn’t long at all before they got a phone call that would change their lives, forever. In fact, I believe the call came before they were even told that their license was valid!

I still remember the phone call from my cousin. It was in December, not long before Christmas. “OMG! We got a call from the agency. There’s a little boy, only a few days old. We are going to get him from the hospital when ___ gets home!” I was SO EXCITED for them! A brand new baby? I had already had all 4 of my kids by this time and I remember thinking ‘I can’t imagine having only a few hours to prepare for a new baby!’ Looking back on it, my cousin had been preparing her entire life. We have always been very close. Our favorite thing to play growing up was ‘house’ and I remember fighting over which baby dolls we wanted to play with! A family; something we both always wanted. She was ready. I knew it.

The next few months for me were a blur. I remember wanting to ask a bunch of questions about the birth parents, but I didn’t want to pry. I remember being scared for them to get so attached because I didn’t know what was going to happen. There were so many ups and downs, as there usually are in foster care. We would talk about things and sometimes I was sure they would be able to adopt him. But still, I was so naive.

The legal system where I’m from, whether it be “right or wrong” is all about reunification. I won’t give details on the birth parents. I just knew how much my cousins loved this baby, isn’t that all that matters? In my opinion, if that were the case, they would get to keep him. Because, when I say they love him, I mean they love him as much as I love my own. He is theirs.

But he also has another set of parents. And they matter too.

I had the privilege of giving him his first haircut. Both my cousins and birth mom were there to watch. Of course, I had my opinions at first. But after watching, I realized there was a sort of respect that I don’t think I will ever fully understand. You knew that my cousins wanted what was best for her, especially if she would be caring for their son on her own someday. And you could tell that she appreciated them for the care they have given, and she knows how much they love him. I can’t say it wasn’t hard to watch them all interact. It was. But it was so hard and so beautiful all at once.

The baby- now toddler is almost 2. He is in the reunification process as we speak. From my point of view, it’s absolutely heart breaking; but only because I’m sad for my cousin. But it was my cousin that showed me the true beauty of the situation. The fact that those parents fought so hard for their baby; to keep their family together.

I have learned so much over these past 2 years and I feel like a better human having learned it all.

  1. My cousin (and her husband) is more amazing than I ever thought she could be (and that’s saying A LOT!) She doesn’t like that. She and other foster parents that I’ve met, have always said they aren’t any more special than anyone else. Anyone can be a foster parent, you just have to be willing and able. If you don’t get hurt at some point in the process, than you aren’t doing it for the right reasons. But to me, that’s not why she’s amazing. I don’t look at her as a “foster mom” I look at her as a mom. That’s it. And she’s an even greater mom than I always knew she’d be.
  2. The Foster Care System affects so many more people than I ever would have thought. I would never have thought about how it would affect the families of the foster parent’s when/if they had to say goodbye to a child, or how devastating it may be to the families of the birth parents. I never really thought of how intense it has to be for the case workers. They may feel that one thing is better for the child, but they don’t have the last say. And I truly never cared about how painful this could be for the birth parents. They may have messed up in the past. They may not be the ‘better’ home for the baby to end up at, because of living conditions or whatever the situation. But 9 times out of 10, the birth parents love the baby just as much. How hard that must be for them to have the uncertainty of not getting your child back!
  3. Each child in the system, will come from brokenness. Whether they are adopted or given back to their birth parents, they will have gone through more than most adults in their life. It’s easy for us outsiders to say what is best or worse for that child, but nobody actually knows. These situations are not black and white. The best thing we can do is be a listening ear and try to be as understanding as we possibly can be. And if it’s in your nature, pray.
  4. Foster parents are in such high demand and our system [as a whole in America] is way too overloaded with kids. Especially with the drug epidemic in this country, the amount of kids being left without adequate parenting is sickening.

With that last statement, I’ve realized that not only do these kids need foster or adoptive parents, but they need other adults in their life that can help them grow and thrive! Becoming a mentor for a child; offering free services to children in the system such as photography, spa, tutoring services; fundraising; Becoming a respite care provider; donating; volunteering; These are all things, plus hundreds more that we as individuals can do to help, without becoming a foster parent.

If you have been thinking about becoming a foster parent and need more information, I encourage you to look into it. Maybe it’s for you, maybe it’s not. But you will never know if you don’t investigate. And PLEASE see if there are ways that you can help out in your community with kids or parents in the foster care system. Everyone needs help at some point in life. Use the skills you have to help these families. And educate yourself as much as possible and forget all judgement you ever had. I’m telling you, whatever you think might be happening, is probably not. And in a case where the parents are not adequate, there’s still no reason to judge. Most likely there are underlying issues as to why this stuff is happening. We all have our problems.

As for my cousins and their baby, they won’t be parenting him much longer. They will always care for him, but this chapter of parenting will be done soon. They have nurtured him and taught him in ways that will stick with him for life. They have shown him more love in his first 2 years than you could ever imagine. And he has shown them that love is, and always will be unconditional. Whether they see him every day or once a month, he will hold the most special place in their hearts. He will hold a special place in my heart. He will have given more people hope than he will ever fully realize, just by being himself. I hope someday I am able to adequately thank him, and my cousins, for the impact they’ve had on my life.