Foster Parents Need Support Systems

There are so many aspects of becoming a parent for the first time that are difficult to prepare for – and even when you think you’re prepared foster care tends to throw you surprises. When you’re expecting a baby, you can usually start preparing your home with a nursery and needed supplies -- even if you opt not to know the gender of the child. But when you’re a foster parent, you don’t know when your child or children will arrive. You don’t know what age, what gender or even how long the child or children will be in your care.

One young Central Jersey couple, who became foster parents in 2014, were called at a moment’s notice to receive three-month-old twins! Fortunately, they had started their journey through their church, which provided a built-in support system. There first text was to their ministry leader who rapidly mobilized a small team to provide a meal, some diapers, some baby clothes and a crib.

“We were so blessed to have a support group right from the start,” the foster parents said. “Through the ministry, we have made deeper friendships with families doing foster care. We cannot put into words how important and crucial this has been in our lives. Fostering is HARD! There are so many emotions and frustrations that go with all of this. It has been so amazing to just talk to someone who knows exactly what you're going through and you don't have to explain why you feel like that.”

Whether it’s finding new doctors, babysitters or schools, there are hundreds of new tasks involved with parenting for the first time and it can be quite overwhelming. For this young couple, suddenly they were in a world of constant diaper changes and sleep deprivation. On top of the regular joys and pressures inherent in raising children, foster children bring with them a host of emotional, psychological and legal issues -- including visitation with biological families.

According to federal data, in 2015, the top reasons that children were removed from their homes and placed foster care systems were: neglect; drug abuse; caretaker’s inability to cope; physical abuse; child behavioral issues; inadequate housing; parent incarceration; alcohol abuse; abandonment; sexual abuse; and relinquishment.

One South Jersey couple, whose first placement in 2016 was three of four young siblings, didn’t realize that the children’s biological mother lived only a short distance away. They found out when the foster mom and the kids were heading home from shopping and took a turn that landed them in the children’s home neighborhood.

“This was early after they arrived, before any visitation had been established,” the mom said. “When they told me their mom lived nearby, it put me in an immediate state of panic. What if they saw her walking down the street? I wasn’t prepared to handle the situation.”

Fortunately, they made it home without any encounters. But seeing their old neighborhood made them long for their infant brother, whom the foster family did not have the resources to take in. Naturally, the children begged their foster parents to bring home their baby brother and it was heart-wrenching.

Expecting the unexpected can become routine for more experienced foster parents but it doesn’t make the emotional twists and turns any easier. Having support groups and systems that can help these parents, without judgment, while they give their all to help children in need is critical.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway website has a section that provides information on agencies and support networks, state by state. It’s called the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory Search (or NFCAD Search). There’s also an NFCAD app available for IOS and Android devices.

The Support for Foster Families section of the website lists more resources and acknowledges that: “Although being a foster parent is rewarding, it can also be difficult. It is important for foster parents to find support among others who understand the ups and downs of caring for children who are not your own. The following resources provide information that support foster parents during what can be a challenging process.”

In-person support when foster parents need it the most often helps keep these loving families doing what they’re doing. As the Central Jersey couple said, “Having this ministry in our church has really given us the ability to keep going. Our last placement was with us for almost two years and when he left we were heart broken. Jesus used the people in this ministry to form a hedge of protection through prayer. Most of them could relate to our pain and provided the support we needed along the way.”