When you pick up the phone and you hear a story about a child whose mother has died and needs a home, would you say ‘yes’? Many would without thought. When you hear about a child who is homeless, many parents who are not even foster parents would take that child in. There are some for which the answer will always be ‘no’ but for foster parents the answer is more often ‘yes’. But what about the child who will need an unusual amount of care? Those children who are medically fragile, severely traumatized, or so badly shaken that they will need extensive therapy just to survive. Some of these children will need complex care and that will mean a huge sacrifice of time in order to get them thriving. Our hearts, as foster parents, want to say ‘yes’. Many foster parents say ‘yes’ without thinking logically through the consequences to their own family. Even after thinking about the hard work many will still say ’yes’. Foster parents are notorious for being “YES people”.
I am one of those people who is always challenging those around me to step out of their comfort zones and say ‘yes’ more. Generally speaking, I think people do not say ‘yes’ enough. Strangely enough, this note is a challenge to thoughtfully consider the word ‘no’. As a foster parent we want to help every child. There was recently a baby girl placed into care who has many medical problems. She needs full time care, lots of medications throughout the day, tube feed, at-home therapy, weekly medical appointments with teams of specialists on top of visits with family. This is not the type of child that everyone should say ‘yes’ to. She needs a family that is small that has the time to dedicate to her needs. A family that is not afraid of the medical system or learning new medical training. A family that is strongly knit and won’t be torn apart by the stress. A family that has the funds to pay for her needs and then be reimbursed; sometimes months later. This is not everyone. There were many families that were asked to take this little girl. Many families said ‘no’. At first I wondered who could say ‘no’ to such a sad case, such a sweet girl, who needed help so badly. Now I realize that those families had to be strong and very honest. Their hearts probably broke when they heard about her and every instinct as a caregiver was to say ‘yes’. These families had to look at the costs to their own children, marriages and supports and make the difficult choice to say ‘no’. Foster parents need to be aware of the current condition of their own home. They need to honestly assess how the placement will impact the children already in the home; their own as well as other foster children. Is there enough support from extended family to support the children in the home if Mom ends up staying in hospital many times throughout the year with the medically frail child? Are the children in the home capable of self-care or will there be a lot more strain on the father in the home if mom is away at appointments? Are any of the other children in the home in need of one on one support with behaviours, homework or appointments? Is your home peaceful now or is it controlled chaos? Will this child be the hair that breaks the camel’s back? Is everything going well and all children capable of helping out a bit more at home while mom is busy with the addition of a complex care child? And one of the most important questions to ask…..”Is the agency willing to support the family to help them manage a difficult child?” Housekeeper, driver, PSW support, alternate care providers, relief, workers visiting the hospital are all supports that the agency can provide but we need to ask.
If you can’t be subjective enough to take an honest look at how well your family would be able to handle a child with complex issues, then have some good friends and family who know you well enough that you can ask to give you some warning. You could also speak to the Doctors or other foster parents who have dealt with a child in similar condition. The number one thing to be sure you do before saying ‘yes’ is to seek the counsel of your own children and family members living in the home. Talk to your children and help them to understand the situation, ask them if they have fears, concerns, questions or suggestions. Listen to their input. If they are requesting a girl because they have had multiple boys placed, then try to accommodate their wishes. If they are telling you they feel the need for a break and would like to wait a time before accepting a new child into the home, then respect that. When we disregard their ideas, we send the message that they are not part of our team. Keeping your own family unit in tact is the most important responsibility. We cannot help others if we are broken. I challenge you to take an honest look at your home and have open, honest discussions with your family before deciding to take on a challenging child. Remember that saying ‘no’ is the most honest and humble word that you can say. No one will fault you for it. You should be applauded for having the integrity to say “our family cannot do this child justice”. Kudos to every foster parent who has ever felt the guilt over saying ‘no’. May you have a new perspective from here on out.