Do I have a strong support network?
In the AdoptUSKids study, foster families reported high levels of stress when dealing with anger, defiance, impulsiveness, and other challenging attributes of special-needs foster kids. As with any difficulty in life, it's important to have family and friends to talk to and even fall back on if and when issues arise, says Kathy Ledesma, National Project Manager for AdoptUSKids. Also consider how accepting your social network will be of a child's ethnic background and sexual orientation. For the placement to be a success, the child must truly feel welcome.
Do I have the traits of a successful foster parent?
Being open-minded, flexible, patient, and good-humored helps ensure that the foster child's time in your home is positive (and that yours is a good experience too). The primary goal of foster parents and agencies is to maintain the child's connection with his or her biological family, because research shows that separation from parents and siblings increases trauma. "Agencies ask the almost impossible of foster parents: 'This child was physically abused, and now I have to let the biological parents have visitation?'" Ledesma notes. "No matter what heinous things the parents have done, the children probably still love them. You can't demonize."
Maintaining a sense of normalcy in a foster child's life -- his school, his Saturday tee-ball game -- also helps create stability. And patience and humor come in handy when dealing with behavior such as rule-breaking and lying, which are the most common behavioral issues, according to AdopUSKids's report. "With some things, if you don't laugh, you can't make it through," says Lana Freeman, president of the Foster Care Association of Oklahoma and foster parent to 200 to 300 kids over the past 29 years. Freeman, 58, has seen her share of public outbursts from children who don't know how to control their emotions. "Sometimes I have to go in my bedroom and scream in my pillow, but you pick yourself up and try again."
How will fostering affect my immediate family?
Since a stable and loving environment is so crucial for foster care, it's important to talk to all members of your household. "Make sure everyone is on board and in agreement about why you're doing it," Meruvia says. To integrate a foster child into your home, make sure he has his own space and privacy, and plan time together, like family dinners or basketball in the driveway. Even if you're not adopting, foster kids become part of your family (the average time spent in foster care is two years, according to U.S. Health and Human Services). "We always had family meetings where we let our kids make some of the decisions so they knew they had a part in them," Freeman says. AdoptUSKids offers a roundup of state services to help foster and adoptive families, as well as uplifting stories from parents and kids. The Dave Thomas Foundation also provides a running list of success stories.
The biggest benefit of being a foster parent? "Sharing in something bigger than you are," Freeman says, adding that her biological kids, now in their 30s, say they appreciate the experience too. "Seeing the result of giving hope and love and joy to a child -- they come in with no expression, no pride, so that first giggle or smile, no matter hard things are, it does something to you."
Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.