The AFGARS (Adoption & Foster Care Analysis Reporting System) Report for the 2013 fiscal year reported that there were 402, 378 children from birth through age 20 living in foster care in the USA. Of that number, 54% were 8 years old or younger. Only 4% of the total number of children were in pre-adoptive homes while the rest were in foster placements varying from homes of relatives, to homes of non-relatives, to group homes or other institutions.
Being a foster parent to a child comes with a unique set of challenges, even though prospective foster parents are screened and do receive some degree of training through foster care agencies. Training and preparedness of foster families to take on the responsibility of fostering varies greatly from state to state. Most child development experts would agree that placing a child with a foster family instead of in a group home or institutional setting is far more beneficial in terms of the development of the child and is also more cost effective. Children in foster care spend an average of up to 5 months in care, though some children are in foster care much longer. Foster parenting is defined as a planned period of substitute family care for a child when the biological family cannot care for him or her due to death, illness, imprisonment, abandonment, neglect or war.
Foster parenting presents a unique set of challenges that often foster families may not be prepared to handle without support. These include behavioral challenges related to neglect, physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse, abandonment and attachment disorders. Behaviors can manifest themselves in a variety of ways including tantrums, fear, withdrawal, excessive crying, aggression, lying, stealing, masturbation, bed wetting, eating disorders and sexual promiscuity.
As a foster parent you also have the added stressors of communicating effectively with case workers, birth families, teachers, therapists and the court system. Foster parenting can be rewarding for both the foster family and certainly beneficial for the foster child, if foster parents come into it with well-rounded knowledge and the ability to work as a team player with the aforementioned people and agencies.
How to Make Foster Parenting More Successful
- Keep your interactions with the child’s birth family POSITIVE.
- Refrain from making your own judgements about the child’s birth family and keep your own opinions to yourself.
- Learn all you can by taking classes or reading about the various behavioral challenges mentioned above.
- Speak to teachers and therapists who work closely with your foster child to learn techniques you can use to help him or her at home.
- Remember that every child you foster is different and has a unique way of dealing with his or her trauma, even if you are fostering siblings from the same biological family.
- Always clear decisions related to your foster child with the case aid or social worker.
- Be a team player with all biological family & agencies or institutions involved with your foster child.
- Get to know your foster child WELL, by taking notes and being accurate regarding behaviors, emotional status, educational progress, etc.
- Come prepared to all meetings and court hearings.
- Be patient.
- Find ways to alleviate your own stress.
- Be prepared that foster parenting can create new stressors with your own biological children or your spouse.
- Get specific training on childhood trauma related to grief, loss, separation, or death.
- Find a local foster parent support group.
- Learn how to say goodbye.
For More Information On Foster Parenting
Deciding if Foster Parenting is for You: http://adoption.about.com/cs/fostercare/a/Should_I_Foster.htm
How to be a Foster Parent Blog: http://www.howtobeafosterparent.com/
The Challenges of Being a Foster Parent: http://adoption.about.com/od/fostering/a/fostcarechallen.htm
National Foster Parent Association: http://nfpaonline.org/
Understanding Difficult Behavior: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/therapy-adoption-child-behavior