Just For Foster Dads (Part 1)

Without a doubt, fathers are just as important to the nurturing and development of a child in foster care as a mother.  Yet, much research has shown that the love of a father is different than that of a mother.  Leading child psychologist Erik Erikson stated that a father's love and a mother's love are quite different, indeed, when he said that fathers "love more dangerously" because their love is more "expectant, more instrumental" than a mother's love.”  To be sure, successful foster fathers, or foster dads, recognize that they need to utilize different abilities, skills, and resources when working with children in foster care.

The placement of a child into your foster home is a life changing experience for a foster child.  Placement disruption is the term used when a child is removed from a home and placed into the custody of a child welfare agency, and thus into a foster home.  For many, it is a frightening time, as the fear of the unknown can quickly overwhelm a child.  Others are filled with anger, as they emotionally reject the idea of being separated from their family members. Feelings of guilt may also arise within the foster child, as the child may believe that he or she may have had something to do with the separation from the birth and/or foster family. Some children experience self doubt, as they feel that they simply did not deserve to stay with their family. For all, it is a traumatic experience that will forever alter the lives of foster children.  

As a foster dad, it is important to properly prepare for the child’s arrival beforehand, if possible.  While there are certainly those times when you do not get much, if any notice before a child is placed in your home, as a phone call might only give you a few moments notice.  Yet, if you do have time, try to get as much background information as you possibly can about the child in foster care that is being placed into your home, and into your family.  Perhaps the most important thing you can do to prepare for the arrival of a foster child is to educate yourself with as much background information and history as you can about the child.  Do not be concerned if you have a large number of questions for your caseworker when you are first approached about of a placement of a child in your house.  While the caseworker may not have all the answers, you will find valuable information by asking.  

After all, the more information you have, the better prepared you are to help meet the child’s needs.  Some questions to consider include:

 -How old is the child?
 -Why is the child in care?
 -How long might the child stay with you?
 -Will the child need day care supervision?
 -Does the child have any learning disabilities or special needs of any kind?
 -Does the child have any anger management or extreme emotional issues that you need to be aware of?
 -Is this the first time the child has been in foster care?
 -Is the child’s medical shots up to date?  Are there any medical concerns?
 -Is the child from the same town?  Does the child need to be enrolled in your local school system?        
 -Does the child have clothes?  Will you need to buy diapers and baby wipes?

Role Model

As a foster dad, it is important that you embrace being a role model for your foster child.  Indeed, you may very likely be the first positive role model the child has had in his life.  So many children come into foster care from broken homes and broken families, suffering from neglect, abuse, and abandonment.  For thousands of these children, their concept of a loving parent has been twisted, distorted, and perverted by the abuses and experiences they previously had before moving into your home.  For some children, you will be the first father figure in their lives, while others will compare you to the father or father figure that they were living with previously.  Whatever the situation, these children will be watching your every move and every action, and listening to your every word as they learn from you what a loving and caring father is supposed to be like.  You are this example; you need to be that loving and caring father for them.

Duties and Responsibilities

For many years, the perception of the stereotypical father figure was that of breadwinner and disciplinarian.  The father would go to work during the day, come home after a long day at work to a cooked meal by his wife, place his feet up on the couch after dinner, read the paper and watch the evening news.  Along with this, he might dole out some discipline to the unruly child in the home, all the while leaving the housework and child raising to the mother in the home.  Today’s foster fathers must be much more involved in all areas of child care, not only for the benefit of the foster child, but for the benefit of all who live in the home, as well as the marriage, itself.  After all, a marriage is a partnership, and those partnerships that share the responsibilities in a 50-50 ratio are the ones that are the healthiest and strongest.

Children begin to learn how to form healthy and positive relationships with others during infancy.  Sadly, for many children in foster care, these opportunities did not come when they were babies, and as a result, the child in care struggles greatly when trying to form a healthy relationship with another.  When a baby or infant is placed into a foster home, foster dads should help with the feeding of the baby.  The time spent with a baby while feeding it is often instrumental in good mental health, as it can be a time of laughter and joy, sharing fun moments over a bowl of baby food, or while holding a child in one arm and a bottle in the other.  Indeed, babies and infants learn about trust as they are nurtured during this time.  Dinner time and/or bottle time can be instrumental in helping a foster infant develop feelings of trust and love, and a foster father can help to lead the way in this.  Furthermore, nothing spells love to a small baby than the father, or foster father, singing to the child; telling stories; and simply acting silly with the little one.

Along with this, foster dads can take a small child on solo errands with him.  Trips to the grocery store, public library, hardware store, or mall are opportunities to bond with the child, as well as give the foster mother some much needed time off.  A good foster dad is also one who learns about child development and the stages that correspond with this.          

Learning about Love

Sadly, many children in foster care come from homes where violence reigned.  Profanity, abuse, and harsh words filled the air that surrounded a child.   Additionally, where love was to be a child’s cornerstone, there was neglect instead, as the basic needs of the child were not met, and where the emotion of love was instead substituted with just the opposite.  Along with this, there  may be those foster children who have had poor examples of fatherhood in their lives, resulting in poor examples of so called “manliness.”  There are those who may believe that a real man does not express love, does not state that he loves someone, or even grant a hug to another under the misguided belief of weakness.  For these children, the understanding of parental love, of unconditional love is an unknown one.  Unconditional love is simply being loved without restrictions or stipulations.  For a foster child who may have been abused, beaten, or neglected, this type of love is most important.  Without this type of love, a foster child will not form necessary and healthy attachment with others, resulting in a number of attachment disorders.  Foster children who suffer from these disorders will have great difficulty connecting with others, as well as managing their own emotions, not only during their childhood and time in foster care, but many times throughout the remainder of their lives.  Emotional difficulties such as a of lack of self worth, trust, and the need to be in control often result in the lack of unconditional and healthy parental love.  As anyone who has worked with foster children will tell you, most foster children face an enormous amount of emotional issues, many times stemming from the lack of healthy love.

More than anything, a foster child wishes one thing and has one desire; to be loved.  Foster dads can protect the child from harm, provide a safe and secure home, offer nutritious meals, and open up a doorway of opportunities for foster children, granting them new and exciting experiences that they may never have dreamed of.  Yet, with all of this, with all of the wonderful opportunities and safe environments, foster children really crave love the most.   They want to be loved.  After all, every child deserves to be loved.  Not only do children deserve love, they need it in order to grow in a healthy fashion.  While there are many forms of love, the strongest one, and most important for a foster child, is that of unconditional love.  Sadly, many children in foster care either do not receive this love at all, or receive it too late, after too much emotional damage has been done.  

With this in mind, it is especially important for a foster dad to communicate love to their foster children at all opportunities, and in a variety of ways.   A strong foster dad is one who is not afraid to say “I love you” to his wife, to his children, and to his foster children.  These simple words, these three words, can make a significant difference to a child who has only known violence and abuse.  Along with this, foster dads need to be nurturing to the foster children in their home, as well.  When needed, foster dads need to be comforting to a child in need, gentle in his words and actions.  After all, this may be the only positive example of a loving father that the foster child may ever have.