They say being a foster care parent is a great thing, it’s so rewarding and so needed in the community. All you have to do to get started is take a few classes, have a home study, pass a background check, and you’re ready to take in your little one. But here's what they DON'T tell you. Which honestly is impossible for them to know because every placement and every child is different. These are things I had to learn on my own within the first month as a foster parent.
Lesson 1: Trauma at ANY age is real.
Yes, even in a 2-year-old. Before going into Foster Care, there are a number of classes and courses that you take in order to prepare you for what lies ahead. There are courses based on age groups, courses on safety, discipline, medications, and yes even courses on trauma. When you know you have a 2-year-old coming, that course on trauma doesn’t really seem to have a lot of weight. I mean really, a 2-year-old isn’t going to remember anything right? Well, yes, but no.
Although the child is young and may not know exactly what happened to them or is able to express what happened they can still recognize that something did in fact happen. I believe that aside from what may have taken place in the home they were in, removal from what they have always known as home is trauma in itself.
This type of trauma can be the root of young children “acting out”. This is the only way they know how to express what they’re dealing with. I have learned that it is important to allow the child these moments of expression. This is not always the time for redirection or correction. I’ve learned and I am still learning to discern the difference between expression of what they may be feeling from the trauma and when they are just “acting out.
I strongly recommend taking courses to learn the depth of traumatic experiences and how it affects everyone, and how you can help.
Lesson 2: Everything that I desired to give to my little one, it wasn’t that he didn’t want it he just didn’t know how to receive it.
When I started the journey, I mapped out all these things we would do in my head. All of the ways I would show my little one that I love him, and I will care for him and make sure he felt comfortable with his yet “another” new home: we were his 2nd placement after removal. I imagined all the hugs we would give him, all the attention we would show him, and the many ways we would help build his confidence in knowing he was safe with us.
Come here baby, come give TDani (we were fictive kin, and this is what all our nieces, nephews, and godchildren call me) a hug. He stands there just looking. I’m extremely excited to love on him, my arms are outstretched waiting for him to run and embrace me, but nothing. I get closer to him to embrace him, yet nothing. I wrap my arms around him thinking he would wrap his arms around me, again nothing. I immediately started to wonder what’s wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? I’m already starting out in failure. I soon learned that it wasn’t me, my little one simply did not know what it meant to give a hug.
See not everyone knows what affections of love mean. In their minds this means so many different things based on their experience. Life, even at 2, has given them a different understanding of what some things mean. While affections of love is normal for some of us, it’s not for everyone. We don’t get to determine what normal is to some people, we only get an opportunity to show them a new normal. It may not always be easy, but patience and understanding is necessary for this process. We also don’t get to determine how long it takes them to receive the change, but we can’t grow weary in our demonstration. We have to keep showing it and trust that one day they’ll get it.
Fast forward a little over a year later, our baby loves hugs, but not for too long cause he has to get back to the finer things in life, like watching Blippi. :)
Lesson 3: Support looks different to everybody; you have to communicate what you need.
Month one was a pretty stressful month. He’s learning us, we’re learning him. He does not understand us, and sometimes we don’t understand him; but, we’re figuring this thing out. All of my family and friends knew that we were bringing a new life in our family. Not a brand-new life, so this would be a little different. I expected them to call often, text often, stop by to say hey and see how it was going. It didn’t quite happen that way. In fact, the calls dwindled, the texts were fast and few in between, and NOBODY came by. I mean maybe there was this rule about not being able to come without a background check, but these were my friends/family surely, they wouldn’t mind having a background check in order to be able to stop by. Well, it didn’t happen like that.
In my mind the support I expected looked different to the supporters. I had an unspoken expectation of support that they should have just known. Mental telepathy is what I expected, I guess? When the truth is, I later found out they were supporting me by giving me time to adjust to this new life without them bugging us. They thought the space was necessary in order for him to adapt to being with us without all of the extra people. They thought maybe it would be too much for our little one to have a bunch of different faces in his face. I mean, it makes sense now, but geez tell me that.
This is when I learned or re-learned the importance of communication. It is so important to communicate what you need. When others are not in your shoes and don’t experience what you experience there is NO WAY for them to know what you need. Sometimes when others have experienced it, your needs look different from what their needs are. You have to ask for what you want AND communicate what you don’t want. Support looks different, some of it may be a little overboard, don’t accept it just because. Don’t be afraid to communicate what you need and definitely communicate what you don't need, after all we really are not mind readers.
Lesson 4: Having a way to hold all parties involved accountable is necessary.
The Foster agency caseworker told me this, CPS caseworker told me that, CASA said this, and the birth parents said something totally different. Look, we all have to get on the same page, my little one is suffering here. So, are we doing visitations on Mondays or Thursdays?
This type of confusion is for the birds. Can we please find a way that all communication can be documented and viewed by everyone involved? My phone is taking up memory from all of the screen shots I have in order to show proof of a conversation. Birth parents keep missing visits because they “thought it was at 4pm not 2pm”. If I go to the Dr's office one more time and forget the placenment papers at home I am going to scream.
These are all the issues I had within the first month. I thought if I’m having this, I’m sure there are others who are having this as well. I thought to myself, there must be an app for this, so I set out to find it to help me manage everything that was going on. Much to my surprise there was not one. I mean there were apps, but not just one app to do all of it and none of them were catered specifically to Foster or Kinship Care. I had to do something about this. There are tons of people whose life would be a little easier with a simple app.
That’s when Foster Accountability the app was born! The Foster Accountability app is designed for foster parents to keep track of the day to day activities for the children in their care. It allows them to schedule appointments, document activities, eliminates the hassle of using multiple applications and helps to hold everyone accountable with direct messaging, calling, and video calling. The app does this and so much more. Offering visitation scheduling that can be shared with birth parents as reminders and can easily be marked as complete, rescheduled or missed is a simple feature that will make all of our lives easier. Quick and easy exporting to generate monthly reports with notes and conversations that are date and time-stamped all within one app.
These are just a few things I’ve learned. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned.