Foster Care: Expectations vs. Reality

So, we’re over 5 months in to our first foster care placement and there have been a few things that surprised me. I thought I would spend some time exploring those and sharing it publicly in case any of my circle are thinking of doing foster care! (I added in some pictures from our recent beach trip, because I got a little ranty…oops!!)

Expectation #1 – There will be difficult behaviors to deal with.

Reality – This is just one that was hard to really grasp until you’re right up in it. You learn in training about difficult behaviors and various methods of discipline and behavior management to help deal with the difficulties. But then, you’re sitting there with a screaming, hitting, kicking 2 year old who can climb over any obstacle you put in his path, and who seems to gather hulk-like strength during a tantrum and all the training goes out the window. I thought that we would encounter difficult behavior, but I expected that understanding that these children have gone through a trauma and will behave accordingly would give me a different measure of compassion towards them in the moment. It turns out – not so much!  Screaming kids still make my blood boil even when I know there are lots of things going on inside that little brain that the little body is absolutely unable to contain. Maintaining my sanity and ability to remain calm in the middle of child meltdown has never been my strong suit, and it isn’t much better with the foster children. I’ve had to take just as many mommy time-outs as the toddler and have had to apologize multiple times for lashing back out at my three daughters because I’ve lost control of my own emotions in the wake of the meltdown.  The compassion is there after the fact, and we’re working hard to figure out triggers and strategies to prevent acting out, but I wish I were better at managing my own emotions during meltdowns.

well - he's not having a meltdown here!
well – he’s not having a meltdown here!

Expectation #2 – Feeling like part of the team

Reality – Again, in training, they talk a ton about the “team” that surrounds children in the foster care system. There are social workers, CASA workers, lawyers, therapists, bio family members, foster families, etc. It was presented that we were all working together to create a safe environment for the children while their permanency plan gets figured out.  The reality is that all those other people are going about their business doing what they have to do for all their cases and we are generally the last ones to know about anything going on with the case.  We can ask anything we want anytime and (theoretically) should get an answer, but what questions do we ask? To whom? Many of the hierarchies and areas of responsibilities are hard to decipher and getting the help you need isn’t always as easy as picking out a name on a contact sheet.  Gathering information and keeping things straight is a  huge pain.

Expectation #3 – Logistics are a minor thing to worry about.

Reality – Logistics are a MAJOR pain in the butt! Perhaps this is especially true since we have three biological children in our home plus a husband who travels occasionally for work, I’m not sure. But I have been quite shocked at just the time it takes to do everything.  The first few weeks are insane. Phone calls are flying, emails all over the place, the kids themselves are extremely needy.  Within the first week we had the kids, I had to take them to the doctor, the ER, and then to court. Plus I had to coordinate with a social worker a time for her to come get the kids for their first visit.  This also was the week that both my older daughters had significant school events.  One afternoon, I was literally on the phone from about 3:30 until almost 6, talking with social workers, getting briefed on what was next, filling them in on how the kids were doing. My husband was baffled at how long I had been on the phone. Thank goodness for my Bible study group bringing us meals for the first month. Feeding all these people living in the house was just not something I could manage.  Another layer to the logistics madness was added because one of the children had some significant developmental delays that it turns out I would be responsible for getting evaluated.  These appointments were long, hard to schedule, and just generally inconvenient. It took a long time to get services set up, a daycare picked out and approved, and for the bio family visit schedule to get nailed down.  Oh, yeah, the visits!! Here’s the regularly scheduled things that must happen:

  • twice per week visit with bio family
  • once per month kids’ social worker home visit
  • once per month our resource worker home visit
  • twice per month kids CASA worker home visit

We’re responsible for transportation to the visits, which is 30-45 minutes away from our house depending on traffic.  When we can’t do it (because the foster family’s schedule is not considered when scheduling bio family visits…), the county can request transportation from their transportation vendor.  These guys have been reliable maybe 60% of the time, and that’s generous. They’ve been late, never showed up, showed up with inappropriate car seats, showed up with NO car seats, etc. It’s so frustrating.

One of the highlights
One of the highlights

Expectation #4 – We would have to let our hearts open up for these children and then allow it to break for them when it’s time for them to go. Related – while we’re opening up, it’s possible some close to us won’t understand what we’re doing and may close off some relationships.

Reality – Our hearts are already broken, even before they’ve gone. There’s so much hurt that we can’t solve and that we can’t comprehend because of communication difficulties. I also didn’t expect just how big your heart can get. I feel like I’m watching my kids’ hearts grow just like in that scene in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” when the Grinch’s heart grows 3 sizes bigger. There have been days when it feels like I should be able to literally see their hearts just jump out of their chests, they’re showing so much love towards these children (and towards me and my husband).  The love I feel for my family when I watch them interact with these foster children just about overwhelms me. I also didn’t really know what to expect with my extended family, but I have been blown away by their full on acceptance of these new (probably temporary) grandchildren, niece, nephew, and cousin. They’ve held out open hands and hearts to these children and just jumped right in with us. I don’t know what it will be like really when we have to say good bye to them, but knowing that I’m surrounded by an extended family this amazing is extremely encouraging. I have also been amazed at the friends who have stepped up and opened their hearts and hands to us. People have been SO good! Bringing us meals, taking my girls to do fun things, helping us move, writing us encouraging notes, praying for us – the amount of support we have from our community is wonderful.

just look at that big sister :)
just look at that big sister 🙂

Expectation #5 – There will be good days and bad days

Reality – this one is true for sure! There are some moments that are just ridiculously sweet and amazing and I’m filled with gratitude for being put on this mission.  Then there are moments where I feel like my life is falling to pieces and I feel completely inadequate to the task in front of me. It feels hard sometimes to find perspective, but God truly has been faithful. He’s provided just what I need just when I need it. I have been consistently reminded that He is good, even when nothing else really is. For now, that is enough.

See that rainbow?? God is always showing up in cool ways :)
See that rainbow?? God is always showing up in cool ways 🙂
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