8 Myths About Foster Parenting: What You Have Wrong About Foster Parents
There are a great many myths, misconceptions, and false beliefs about the foster care system. For many people, these myths and misconceptions prevent them from becoming foster parents. Indeed, I had these very misconceptions before I became a foster parent. Let’s look at the truth behind 8 of these myths and misconceptions.
1. It’s The Child’s Fault
Perhaps the biggest misconception about children in foster care is that the children are somehow at fault. When I was much younger, I had this same false belief, that children in foster care were bad kids, and that they did something wrong.
Yet, this is so far from the truth. These are children who are the victims. These are children who are suffering. Children suffering from abuse. Neglect. Malnutrition. Even drug-related problems passed on from a mother’s addiction. Children rejected by those who were to love them most, their parents. When placed into a foster home, many of these children carry with them the physical and emotional scars that prevent them from accepting the love of another.
2. You Have to be a Saint.
I often hear, on a weekly basis, that my wife and I are saints for caring for children in need, and opening up our homes and hearts to kids in foster care. In no way, and in no fashion am I a saint, and I believe that foster parents from all over would echo that sentiment. We are not saints. We become tired, worn down, and exhausted. We have our own frustrations and disappointments. There are times when we succeed, and there are times when we experience failures. We are not the perfect parents. We are simply trying our best to provide a home and family for a child who needs one, and help a child in need.
3. You Have to be Married.
As I travel the nation, working with foster parents, I have met some wonderful single foster parents. Some are widowed, some are divorced, some never married. In fact, one of my dear friends is a single dad to several children from foster care, and he has been a wonderful example for these children, and a great foster dad.
4. Your Own Biological Children will Suffer.
There have been some who have told me they were concerned that being a foster parent might in some way influence their own children in a negative fashion. They voiced concern that the children from foster care bring a negative influence to their own children. Instead, I think it is the opposite. My own children have been influenced in such positive ways from those they have lived with, have played alongside, have learned from, and have come to love. Our children have been introduced to a diversity of cultural beliefs and ways of thinking, and have come to embrace some of these differences, as well. Additionally, my children have learned the joys that are found in adoption, from the three that we have adopted from foster care, and have learned that family comes in different shapes, colors, and sizes. My own family, as a foster family, has included children from so many different ethnic identities and cultures. As a result, my own children have so much more insight into how others live and think that most their age. In short, when you care for children in foster care in your home and your family, you will be given the opportunity to show your children how to be giving, how to be considerate of others, how to share belongings and time, and how to be sensitive and understanding to the pain that others might be suffering from, and you can do so in a very real, very hands on, very relevant fashion.
5. It Hurts Too Much to Say Goodbye.
It seems that the comment that is made to me the most by those who are not foster parents is this; “I could not do what you do. It would hurt too much to give the children from foster care back.” As one who has cared for over 50 children in my own home the past 15 years, as well as traveling the country speaking about the foster care system, the question is one that I hear several times a week.
My response is this; “That’s a good thing. It is supposed to hurt. Your heart is supposed to break!”
To be sure, children in foster care need stability and they need security. Yet, what they need the most is to be loved. As foster parents, we might the first adults who have ever loved the child in a healthy and unconditional fashion. Sadly, for some children, we may be the only adults who will ever love the child in this fashion, in an unconditional manner. So, when the child leaves our home and our family, our hearts should break. We should experience feelings of grief and loss. After all, we have given all of our hearts and love to a child in need.
6. You Can’t Make a Difference for Over 450,000 Children in Foster Care.
No, we cannot.
I understand that. I have been told this by friends and family, alike, as they question why I continue to bring children into my home, and into my family.
Yet, it is like the familiar Starfish story.
A father and son were walking along a beach at sunrise after a huge storm. When they stepped onto the beach, they were met with thousands of starfish, littering the beach, hundreds in each direction. The boy bent down and picked up a starfish, throwing it far into the ocean. Again and again, he repeated the action. After watching his son for some time, the father asked, “Son, what are you doing?”
“I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean,” the young boy answered.
“I see. But why are you doing this?” the father asked.
“When the sun comes out, and starts warming up the beach, the starfish will all die. I have to throw them back into the water.”
“But son, you can’t save all of these starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The boy stopped for a moment to take in his father’s words, then bent down, and picked up another starfish in his hand, before throwing it as far as he could back into the ocean. Turning to his father with a large grin spreading across his face, he simply said, “It made a huge difference for that one!”
And it can make a huge difference for each child from foster care we bring into our home.
7. Working with the Family.
Our foster child wants nothing more than to return home to his family. In fact, reunification is often the end goal for most foster children. As a foster parent, part of our mission is to support reunification with our foster child and his biological parents. What is important to consider, as well, is that many biological parents of foster children were abused themselves, and know of no other way when raising children. Also disturbing is that some birth parents were foster children, as well, and are just repeating the cycle they went through as a child. Certainly, there are reasons why their children are in care that we may never understand. Part of being a foster parent is helping the parents of the children living with us; helping our fellow human beings.
8. Foster Parenting Is Too Hard.
Being a foster parent is often the hardest thing we do. After all, each time a new foster child comes into our families, there are new challenges, as each placement is unique, just as the child is, as well. Every placement will be different from each other, and it will not become routine, some placements may even be unsettling. We do not have a “normal” life style, to be sure, and we make many sacrifices as we bring children in need, and in trauma into our family.
Yet, we are changing lives, while our own lives are being changed. There is a good chance that in the future, the foster child we cared for may not remember our names. There is a good chance that in the future, the foster child we care for may not remember our faces. But for so many children in foster care, each foster child who comes through our homes will remember one thing; that for a period in his life, he was loved, and some day down the road, he will blossom into something better because of it.
And we will be better because of the child, as well.
Dr. John DeGarmo is an international expert on foster care and TEDx Speaker. He has been a foster parent for 17 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 60 children come through their home. He is a consultant to foster care agencies, child welfare organizations, and legal firms, as well as a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system. He is the author of several foster care books, including The Little Book of Foster Care Wisdom: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement for Foster Care Families, and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN HLN, Good Morning America, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, and elsewhere, He and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.