I decided a post like this was long overdue. If you’re feeling inclined + have a Kindle, pick up my e-book on foster care to get an even more intimate picture of foster care and helpful/harmful things you can do in a foster youth’s life. As a disclaimer: this is my OPINION. I’m sure many of you have taken parenting/adoptive classes which say the opposite advice. Don’t do anything stupid. And if you don’t like these opinions, that’s fine too. I speak on behalf of those who have been in my shoes, not for foster parents or caseworkers.
To those of you not fosters–pass this info on if you know anyone who is interested, or even a current foster parent. The voices of alumni are usually quiet, and softspoken. But as you all know I’m neither of those things, SO.
1. Don’t try to fix them. Just don’t. Let me repeat this. YOU CANNOT FIX THEM. You never will. No matter what anyone’s past is, it is up to that person and that person alone to wade through the bullshit they’ve been dealt and make something prosperous out of it. I don’t care about your parental instinct. You won’t fix them. Be there for them. BE. THERE. FOR. THEM. Be their mentor, their advocate, be their friend. The only way people take charge of their lives after trauma is if they know they have supportive, loving people around them to help. Do not try to fix them.
2. Encourage therapy. Get the stigma of mental health problems out of the entire household. Teach them that therapy is a positive tool and everyone should utilize it, but ESPECIALLY those who have been wronged by their caretakers. If they whine and protest, fine. Tell them to talk to their therapist about it. I’ve found great success personally with cognitive behavioral therapy, but see what works. Again, it’s all about being their advocate. Do it for them.
3. DON’T. TALK. SHIT. ABOUT. BIOPARENTS. I don’t care if a kid’s parents tried to murder them with a hammer. I don’t care. Don’t even think about running your mouth and DEFINITELY don’t do it with or in front of the kids. If a youth says something like “My parents suck.” Say, “Yeah…they kinda do. I’m sorry.” If a youth says, “My parents hate me.” Say, “They’re foolish not to see the wonderful parts of you.” If a youth says, “I miss my parents. I love my parents.” You say, “Of course you do. They’re your parents.” Don’t give them false hope for reconciliation. Don’t tell them their parents will ruin their lives. Keep your thoughts to yourself or your monthly parental support meeting. Youths do not need to hear the bullshit. AGAIN, YOU ARE SUPPORTING THE YOUTH. YOU ARE NOT STARTING THE PITCHFORK MOB AGAINST THEIR PARENTS.
4. Let them have breathing room. A foster youth is not a fucking criminal. Let them have extracurricular activities, as much as you can or are allowed. Caseworker says no to joining the track team? Push that shit. Advocate. Painting, learning foreign languages, and playing softball never destroyed anyone’s life. Nurture the child’s creativity. Let them know how important hobbies are.
5. Set very clear rules and expectations. By clear rules I mean literally, a set of rules posted on the wall that they can see every day. Communicate your likes, dislikes, expectations, and all of that. Foster parents for some reason are the worst at doing this and that doesn’t make sense to me. I was always getting in trouble for breaking rules that I didn’t know existed. I was overstepping boundaries that to me, weren’t even enforced until it was too late. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a set of rules on the wall. A lot of kids will even be relieved to see something so thoughtful and so clear. Assuming of course your rules are not stupid.
6. Get comfortable with the idea of talking about shit. These youth have little if any proper adult figures in their life. I remember explicitly having to walk through how to insert a tampon with my foster sisters and foster mom and though I was red in the face and stuttering, I was relieved that I’d finally learned something no one ever taught me. Once they realized I didn’t know how to do it, they jumped to help me, and explain it to me. It’s a memory that sticks out not only because it’s embarrassing, but because it’s both sad that I’d never been shown something so basic about women’s health, and because it’s heartwarming that they came together to teach me. It is not only important it is IMPERATIVE that you talk about sex, about sexual health, about safe sex, about acne, about infections and UTIs and hygiene and farts and ALL THAT STUFF because 1) foster children often don’t come from homes where health is a priority and 2) they NEED guidance….pregnancy/sex/rape/stds/bodily functions are something we ALL need to know about. Promote an open forum in your house. Let it be a learning place.
7. Realize that you’re not God’s gift to children. This mentality among foster/adoptive parents makes me kind of want to push the ‘reset’ button on humanity. And though other people–church members, your pastor, your coworkers, etc, might commend you on doing the work of the Lord, guess who will never appreciate it? The foster youth. If they ever do realize you helped them, I guarantee it will be years into the future after they’ve found themselves and see your positive influence. So many foster parents get insulted when they’re not liked by foster youth. Get over it. During foster care, we see every adult as a potential enemy. Especially if they’re giving us rules and all that stuff you’ll be doing. The minute you get over yourself and your “duty to the world” and just start being an advocate, you become a little more genuine. And most fosters are intuitive. We can see from a mile away people who actually want to help versus those who are in it for the money/gratitude/pats on the back. And don’t even start with “there’s no money…..” Maybe it’s not a lot, but we know you get a paycheck for us. To a kid, that kind of hurts. I don’t care how you use it. You try being “sold” to someone who gets money for you. It’s yet another reason you cannot expect foster kids to be eternally grateful for your charitable heart.
And there you have it!! I wish someone would have told my foster parents a few of these things. Maybe I would have had fewer placements. I hope this advice helps someone out there.