The key to a child being successful in foster care is stability.
I know this because I was in foster care for much of my childhood. For children like me, our home lives have been problematic before we were removed from our families. The last thing we need is more change on top of what we are already experiencing. While case managers try to keep us in the same school, the majority of the time this is not possible. Changing homes, schools, trying to keep up with grades, and making new friends is a lot to handle. Believe me, I know. That is where the importance of you, the foster parents, comes in to play. By working with foster youth, you are creating lasting change in children’s lives, usually long after your time with them is over.
In my seven years of foster care I was in nine foster homes, two group homes, three middle schools, and three high schools across the state of South Carolina.
That is a lot of change. Even now at age 27, I have friends from different parts of the state and some of the foster parents I had are the people I hold dearest now. My Guardian Ad Litem is a woman I consider to be my mother, one set of my foster parents were with me to celebrate my graduation from graduate school, and another one will be my pastor when I get married.
Even 15 years after I left their home, they are important to me.
Parenting is hard. Nothing can prepare you for it – no matter how many books you read, classes you take, or advice your friends and loved ones give you. Once you become a parent it is one of the hardest, yet most rewarding things you will ever do in your life. Foster care is no different. You can read foster care blogs, go to training, and rely on your case manager and/or social worker, but we cannot prepare you for what you will experience as a foster parent because each child is uniquely different.
What I can tell you is the long nights, the failures, the stress – everything – is all worth it when you break through with that child and they get it, they feel a part of your family, they succeed.
Statistics show that half of the foster youth in America will not graduate high school, but you get the chance to be the difference that helps them overcome that statistic. And it all begins with stability.
There will be phases to a child living with you. I went through them all.
There is the “honeymoon” phase, in which you and the child will get along perfectly, with no issues. The length of this phase is different for each child.
After the honeymoon phase comes the real challenge – you learn about the child’s issues and what they are trying to overcome. The new has worn off and the child will test you to see two things: one, how far they can test you with certain things and two, how far can they push you before you give up on them because that is all they have known. It is this phase that is hardest but once you break through it, this is where the lasting change and the reward of changing a child’s life come in.
If you need help, I encourage you to reach out to those of us who work in foster care and we will provide you with every resource we possibly have to help you with your foster child – you are not in this alone.