Should I Foster Out of Birth Order?

Thoughts from One Family on Successfully Fostering Older Children

One of the first things that you may consider as you think about opening up your home to more children is the children already in your home. How will fostering impact them? Should you maintain birth order by only bringing children younger than your youngest into the home? How will they react to sharing their time, space, and your attention? 

Assessing and discussing your family’s dynamics, routines, and needs is critical to your long-term success as a foster family. Thinking about who you are as a family, what your daily life looks like, and how new children may fit into that will help you make the best decisions for everyone involved. A recent poll of foster parents in our #SHAREfostering community revealed that 40% of foster families do maintain birth order in fostering or adopting. They only accept placement of children that are younger than their youngest. Another 40% of families said that they do not necessarily maintain birth order although they take their children’s ages into consideration. Most of these families foster children around the same age range of their permanent children. The last 20% foster children regardless of birth order. That might mean fostering all ages or fostering only children older than their oldest. There are lots of reasons that families may make different choices in regards to age range. 

Carrie has been a foster parent for seven years and has fostered over 120 children and youth. She is the definition of foster parent #goals. Her family is committed to loving, caring, and advocating for the most vulnerable. Together with her husband and children, Carrie’s family welcomes new children into their family almost every week through permanent and temporary foster care placements. Often they are fostering therapeutic teens. 

Carrie started fostering when she had three young children (age 1, 3, and almost 5). They felt led to step into the unknown and meet a desperate need in their community. Initially their age range was set at 0-6 years old wanting to stay around the ages of their children. Their first placement was three young girls (1, 2, and 3 years old.) In one night, they went from a family of five to a family of eight with six children under the age of five. Wow! Foster care will turn your world upside down quickly. This is an example of jumping in with two feet into the deep end.

After the girls left, they accepted placement of a one year old boy. When the agency came to drop off Baby Boy, his teenage brother was with him. These brothers had to part ways right there in the middle of the living room, separated for the first time. It was a heart wrenching scene as boy boys were crying uncontrollably. This changed something for Carrie’s family. 

Carrie’s eyes were opened to the brokenness that teenagers experience as they enter foster care. Teenagers need families too. They need love, care, and comfort just as much as their younger siblings. She couldn’t stand for those brothers to be torn apart – not knowing when they would see each other again. Carrie and her family welcomed the teenager along with the Baby Boy into their family for almost a year. Still now, after reunification, he goes on trips with Carrie and her family and visits them for weekends. 

Fostering out of birth order was a relatively easy transition for this family although not without struggles. Carrie says that her kids have grown up with foster care. They have been “sharing their whole lives with children who have voids.” In many ways, her children get to be a part of helping to fill those voids in some ways. The whole family, children included, are committed to fostering, not giving up when things get hard. They’ve had to learn that some placements are tougher than others on some or all of them. But as Carrie says, “if we had stopped taking older kids when we had a tough one, we would have missed out on knowing some absolutely AMAZING kids!” 

They have many fond memories fostering teens. Their kids have benefitted from having older kids in the home. Carrie’s oldest son still maintains a close bond with a teenage boy they fostered. One teen taught the kids how to ride a bike. Another teen sat and played Go Fish with the younger kids so that Carrie could cook dinner. It’s not always easy, but there are many amazing moments!

Carries advice for those considering foster care is, “say yes to a teen! You’re doing so much more than giving them a place to sleep! You’re instilling things in them they won’t forget.”

Kaley has been a foster parent since 2017. Kaley, her husband, and their dog Rosie currently reside in a small town in Upstate SC. As Director of SC Operations for Care2Foster, Kaley focuses on recruiting and supporting families as they take their next steps learning more about foster care. She is passionate about supporting foster families with authenticity, vulnerability, and hope. She is also President of her county Foster Parent Association.

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