Yesterday I was a speaker on the PRIDE panel. PRIDE is the course you take in Ontario, Canada if you want to become a foster, kin or adoptive parent. I spoke as an adoptive and foster mom and also as the President of our Foster Parent Association.
It’s always fun to watch the eyes open wide as these fresh new “prospectives” listen to the stories from the seasoned foster parents on the panel. They are always a little shell shocked to hear us talk. I think back to when I was in their shoes and I’m pretty sure I was just as overwhelmed. I was sure that I would never be that crazy. Now, we seem to be just that crazy.
We got a few good questions from the room. We get asked the same questions a lot, so I figured I would write about them in hopes that it will help others as well. I’m going to try to keep the answers to a minimum as I may expand on each of these in their own post later.
#1. What are some tips for the first 24 hours of a new placement? We try to get down to their level when they first arrive. My husband is quite tall and can be intimidating for small people who are already terrified. Our kids are often involved in the welcome and touring the house. Kids can break a lot of tension. We usually cancel all plans for the next 24 hours to give the child time to orient themselves. Even babies can be overstimulated quickly at a larger family function. Give the child time to get to know you first before they are expected to go out into the world and know that you are the people they can trust to meet their needs. Try to let them have the familiar smells. Even if that means letting them have their blankie that stinks. To them it’s familiar and comforting.
#2. Can we love them enough? Can you really love them all? I heard it put the best when you compare our hearts to an elastic band. They keep stretching. When I had my first child I was sure I could never love another child as much as I loved him. Then our daughter was born and I realized I was wrong! I loved her just as much. Then our next son and our next daughter. By the time I had four in the house and loved them all I knew our hearts could expand to love more. What I have found over the years is my love continues to grow. I love so many people. Teaching the kids that it’s okay for them to love us and still be able to love their birth family is important too.
#3. What is the hardest thing about fostering? This answer varies the most for each family. For us I would say it is dealing with the emotions of so many hearts. The behaviours can be exhausting. Learn as much as you can about trauma, behaviours, ADHD, attachment, and FASD. Take any training you can get to or find online. If you are prepared with the ideas and skills BEFORE a problem happens then you will find yourself more able to deal with the situations.
#4. How do you know when to say no? We have only said no to a few placements. (maybe 10) They were usually way out of our age range or we didn’t have the room to accommodate a particular gender with the children already in our home. We said no to a child who had known animal harming behaviours and we had three pets at the time so we knew that wasn’t a good idea. You can save yourself lots of grief if you can look at the situation realistically. I believe that God puts the right kids into our home. He always gives me a gut reaction as to whether or not a no is in order. Only one time I had no idea what God was saying either way so I asked my husband and he said “I’m sure it’s a yes”. I do always ask him first and tell him about a placement but he trusts me to know what will work. All the ones I said no to I made the call right away and I didn’t even bother running them past my hubby as I knew his answer would be the same as mine.
#5. What is the most important thing for new foster parents to remember? Make use of your mentor. Hopefully your agency provides you with a more experienced foster parent to guide you along the way. If not, find your own. On Facebook you can add yourself to groups such as Foster Parents of Ontario, Canada Ontario Foster Parents, Adopt4Life, Brant FPA Group, Canadian Foster Parents and probably many more. The advice and experience of some of the members is precious. You can ask any questions and get great answers.
#6. Do they need to have their own room? No. Our children have all moved around to different rooms in our home depending on what works. All of the kids have shared and all of them have had their own room at times. The basic requirements are a bed, a room with a window and a door that does not lock and a dresser.
#7. Any advice for working with birth families? Lots! I could talk all day on this one. I love the birth families we work with. They are part of our kiddos. Our kids all grow up knowing that it’s okay to have a whole other family and it’s okay to talk about them. It’s okay to wonder, miss, or be angry at them. We try our best to keep our kids connected to any siblings as well as other extended family. We send out photos to many people after each special event in a child life. We have visits scheduled for a few times a year with a variety of relations. Some of our kids have chosen to cut of ties with certain family and that’s okay too. My best advice is to treat the birth family with love and respect. Whether they end up loving you or hating you we treat them the same. The good that comes from that is we are still connected to many of the birth families long after kids have returned home. Our kids get the message that the people that gave them their DNA are not bad and neither are they.
I hope that answers a few of the burning questions you may have had about fostering/adoption. If you have any more, feel free to message me or comment below and I’ll answer those too.
I hope you enjoy your beautiful Sunday!