Becoming a Safe Place

May is also Foster Care Awareness Month. Here, a new foster mother shares her thoughts and insights into this experience of motherhood; we appreciate her candidness and passion.

The term Foster Care and/or Foster Parenting drums up varying mental pictures. If you’re like most people, it may bring to mind resentful older kids hauling around their things in trash bags or violent outbursts from angry, drug addicted parents wanting to know where their kids are. It may make you think of stacks of paper work on the desks of exhausted government workers unknowingly contributing to a “terrible system.” The media contributes to this shadowy concept by depicting foster children as psychotic murderers (the movie, Orphan) or using Foster Care stories as plotlines in shows like Law & Order or as promiscuous, unrestrained teens (The Fosters tv show). Think about it, can you name 8 positive things about Foster Care or Foster Children? says that Foster Care is, “the raising or supervision of foster children, in an institution, group home, or private home, usually arranged through a government or social-service agency that provides remuneration for expenses.” I don’t think that this gets to the heart of what Foster Care truly is, either, despite its neutrality. The simplest way to explain what being a Foster Parent is, is this: providing a safe place for hurting children to just be children.

That’s really it. Yes, there are a lot of other aspects and dimensions to it and I’d be happy to provide more context about that in another post. But if you’re wondering what you’re really signing up for if you are considering being a Foster Parent, I truly believe it’s signing up to give childhood back to children.

Children come in to the Foster Care system because they have shown signs of abuse and/or neglect. Let’s define these terms. According to Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” When it is discovered that a child has been abused or neglected they are removed from the situation and put into Foster Care.

Children come in to Foster Care because they are victims. Adults in their lives, who they should have been able to trust, have failed them. Foster Children are children who have had their childhood swept away from them. When we shy away from Foster Care we’re turning away from the victims of terrible crimes. As we do so we’re using excuses like, “I love children too much to be able to do Foster Care. It would crush me to give them back.” If we really think through it, don’t all children deserve to be loved like that? They deserve to have someone willing to make sacrifices, to advocate for them, to train them, to nurture them, to cheer for them and console them.

If you’re worried it would hurt too much, consider the consequences faced by the children who aren’t cared for by people with this type of love to give. Former Foster Youth are five times more likely than the average person to develop PTSD.  They experience seven times the typical rate for drug dependence and twice the average rate for alcohol dependence. Only 43% of Foster Children graduate from high school and 33% of Foster Children will be homeless before they turn 18. These are just some of the terribly difficult statistics about the lives of children who have been in the Foster Care system.

If we boil down the primary task of Foster Care to just providing a safe place for hurting children to be children, it doesn’t seem as impossible. Consider whether you have a safe, loving place to provide for these victims. Remember that children don’t just need moms and dads to be children, they need aunts and uncles and church family members. They need grandparents and great neighbors. They also just need friends to run around with.

There are many ways to get involved with Foster Care.  Foster Parents have an incredible turnover rate because it’s exhausting to bear the burden of caring for kids from hard places by yourself. Foster families with strong support systems are much more likely to continue to provide care.

Respite Care providers are pivotal to Foster Parents being able to take a break from caring for the kids to go on business trips, attend out of state family events and just for times to reset and refresh.  Babysitters are pivotal for Foster Families to be able to get short term rest like an afternoon free or to protect foster kids from long days spent in court when it’s not required for them to be there. (The key difference between Respite Care and babysitters is that Respite Care providers can care for the children overnight and babysitters cannot.)

Other ways to get involved would include providing regular meals for Foster Families or to provide for some financial needs. We have been receiving weekly meals from our care team and it makes a huge difference to know that dinner has been taken care of and I can concentrate on just being with the kids. We’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of friends who have pitched in to buy birthday gifts and fund a field trip on short notice. We’ve received gift cards for family date nights and this has gone a long way in making great, healthy memories for our newly blended family.

It takes a village to raise any child but the impact of coming around Foster Children in a loving, safe way is immeasurable. It is truly the work of saving lives and restoring shattered hearts.

To find out how you might be able to get involved in Foster Care, begin a conversation with your local Department of Family and Children’s Services office or do an online search for Foster Care Support in your area.

Sabrena Deal is a photographer, graphic designer and professor at the University of Georgia. She and her husband are first time Foster Parents of a sibling group of 2, ages 7 and 11..