I recently came across a post in a foster parent support group where a foster mom was saying that it irritates her to see people asking the difference between an OPR and fostering through the state/province.
Her rational behind it was that if you’re not willing to take a difficult child into your home, you shouldn’t be a foster parent. Because even if you foster through CAS/CPS you don’t know what you’re getting. Lots of kids develop attachment issues and behaviours even though they came into care as babies.
This post struck a nerve with me. And I want to discuss it a bit in this blog. I've got lots of ideas for this blog. And I never intended my first post to be one of this nature. But it's what's on my heart to share first.
First of all, we never, ever know anyone’s entire situation and it’s absolutely critical that we don’t judge other foster parents. As a foster mom, I already feel so much judgement from others who don’t understand why we do what we do. I don’t need it from people who are supposed to get it. Foster parents rarely ask for help already, because of a fear of judgement or of being told, well you choose this life.
Secondly, I fully agree that even younger kids can have struggles. All kids who come into care do so with a tremendous loss. They lose their families, their homes, their feeling of “normalcy”. As a foster parent, we absolutely have to be prepared to parent in a totally different way. And understand that adopted and foster kids will need different skills from us as parents as they grow.
However, her post fails to acknowledge a few things that I'd like to discuss.
First of all, CAS/CPS don’t always give us the full picture when kids come into care. Sadly, many times workers are so desperate to find a placement for a child, they don’t share all the information with the foster parents. This has been true in literally all of the placements we have received. The sad truth is that the information they withheld from us, in most cases, would have empowered us to make better decisions and parent the child in a more successful way. Hindsight is always 20/20 but I truly believe that we’ve had placements burn out because of worker error. Workers evading the truth, not knowing the full case file themselves because they are so overworked and trying to parent a child with complex needs without even half of the necessary information is the sad reality for a lot of foster parents. Also sometimes workers don't know everything about a child. It can be a new transfer to their files, or a child can be coming into care with little or no known information.
Our system is so broken and often foster parents are doing the absolute best they can with the information they have.
Don’t make their jobs harder by judging them. You haven't walked in their shoes. You haven't parented their kids.
And finally we owe ourselves and our kids a safe place to grow up. To live in. No one should be afraid in our own home. Let’s take our last placement as an example. Maybe this is why this particular post struck a nerve with me.
We had a child who began to throw epic rages. Rages that included absolute destruction of our home. Of our things. Of our special things. I cannot begin to tell you the feeling of leaving your home with your other children for safety. Leaving the raging child with your husband. Texting your husband every ten minutes to make sure they are still alive. And then returning to see your home just destroyed. Your child’s special things thrown out the window. Special things like your baby’s first hand print ripped to shreds. Family pictures smashed on the floor. Your house in utter chaos. Spending hours cleaning it up. For it to happen again later that day.
For your kids to hide in your room. Praying. Desperate. To have your eleven year old torn between coming out to check on you and protecting their sixteen month old sister.
As foster parents, did we know that this was a possibility? Absolutely.
Did we do everything we could to try to hold onto that placement? You betcha.
Did we have to eventually ask for the placement to be moved? Unfortunately yes.
Were we absolutely crushed when that child had to leave? Yes. I still cry when I think of him.
But he had to move.
Because our other kids told us that they no longer felt safe in their own home.
Because I no longer felt safe in my own home.
And I believe that every child deserves to be safe and to feel safe.
And I know the impacts of recurring trauma on children. Children aren’t resilient. We have to stop saying that bull crap quote. Trauma impacts them. It shapes who they are. It changes their brain development.
How can we say violence is wrong, remove them from their home of violence and then say it’s okay for them to be witness to violence every day?
Do you honestly think their brains are able to distinguish the difference between violence perpetrated from an adult vs. a child?
Why am I sharing this all? Why am I writing this?
Because sometimes love isn’t enough. Sometimes you are at the end of what you can give a child. Sometimes you don’t realize just how stressed you are living day to day until you’re not living it anymore. Sometimes you just need to know that someone else has made those tough decisions. Decision to keep fighting for your child. Or a decision to speak up for the safety and mental health of the others in your home.
Don’t let somebody’s off comment make you feel guilty. Make you feel like you didn’t do enough.
I’m not suggesting just giving up on a child. I’m not suggesting that kids can’t change. But I am saying, not everyone has walked in your shoes. Not everyone understands.
Ask better questions of workers. Speak up for yourself. Ask for help. Reach out to someone.
But if you can’t hang onto the child, if the risks and damage being done is too much, you’re not a failure.