Recently a couple in my ward accepted a foster placement of three young brothers. This week the state took the boys back and placed them with their biological mother. My friend was upset because she knew she was a better mother than bio mom, and it seems like it had been her understanding that she would get to adopt the boys. I’m not sure what gave her that impression, but she was dead set against taking another foster placement.

My husband and I have one daughter via in vitro fertilization. It’s a long story, but unless we ran into another $20,000 we are looking to expand our family via foster care/adoption. Back in 2006 we accepted our first placement of a Hispanic teenage girl who was with us for 9 months. Our second case was a brother and sister with two half-siblings in another foster home. We had them for about 18 months before adoption proceedings fell apart when they left our home and eventually were reunited with a parent.

After the failed adoption, we decided we needed a break. In our exit interview a caseworker came to our home and mentioned that our two cases were likely the most complicated they’d had in the past few years. It’s been five years since then and we are beginning our paperwork for licensure again.

Many people are interested in foster parenting, and for that I’m grateful. It’s a lot of thankless work and we need more good foster parents everywhere. We are by no means experts, that being said I have some advice for those considering foster care:

  1. The purpose of foster care is to provide temporary care and be a part of a team that helps reunite a family. Family reunification is always goal number one. It doesn’t matter if you are a better parent than the biological parents, the state is in the business of reuniting families as soon as a biological parent is able to establish a safe environment again.
  2. Do NOT love the children as if they are your own. Love them like you are their aunt and uncle; you can still love them dearly, but hope their parents should be able to take them back soon. This should make things easier on you and them as everyone works towards reunification.
  3. Sometimes foster parents (in my experience especially Mormons) can have a “savior complex” riding in like a white knight to save these children from their awful, evil parents. You have to support the bio parents’ success and progress. My sister has been in and out of jail over the past decade and it’s helped me understand and have empathy for parents who are addicts and in need of help.
  4. I would recommend that your youngest child be old enough that they know not to ever keep secrets. As a general rule I would also recommend the foster children be younger than your own. You can’t be 100% perfect in protecting your own child. You also can’t be 100% sure of what the other children have been exposed to, just because there is no record of abuse doesn’t mean they haven’t been abused and won’t act out. This is just not for the safety of your own children, most of the children available for adoption through the foster care system in the US have requirements that they be the only or youngest child in the home.
  5. You must be flexible. One of the children we had was booked every day after school: he was either with a PSR (social) worker, counseling with a therapist, or he had two to four parental visits per week. Again, I had a difficult case and this may not be the norm – but you should be prepared to meet their specific needs just like you would your own child.
  6. In our experience we had a more difficult time working with the department than with the parents. Social workers are incredibly underpaid and overworked, they can be hard to contact and work with. We had one caseworker who left the job run into us a year later and apologize for lying to get a placement in our home. He said he was willing say anything necessary to get the child out of the group foster home.

I’ve heard too many horror stories of the damage that happens from abusive foster families. I would encourage everyone to consider being a foster parent, but do so with the right perspective. Are there any other foster parents out there with words of advice? Have you ever considered foster care or adopting through the system? Any other questions about the foster care process?

p.s. I have some other thoughts that are best saved for other posts I’ll have in the future. I can see this turning into a series.