Here is the long-awaited His & Hers post we’ve been talking about! We’re attacking some of our frequently asked questions, and other topics you’ve wanted to see Zach answer. We answered the questions separately, and then copied and pasted into this post, so any similarities or differences are authentic! We’ll continue to do posts like this as new questions come up.
What type of placement did you envision having when you thought of being a foster parent?
Zach: We always planned on starting out with younger kids, mainly babies, as it seemed like a logical place to start… from the beginning. Although this was our plan, I could envision and was pretty much on board with kids of any age. When we first started the training, I thought that we would want a “normal kid”, with basically no medical needs or emotional trauma. But as we went through the training together we got a chance to hear from a foster mom who had fostered a medically fragile baby who was in the hospital for the first several months of life. The story this foster mom told was so inspiring, it really made me see and believe that there is no normal, and that all kids deserve a safe place with a family that will love them. And this was the point where I became able to say that we were open to pretty much any placements with medical, developmental and emotional needs, provided that we could get the training to properly care for these kids.
Holly: I think I assumed that we’d have a little one first solely because of our ages, and the fact that we don’t have any biological children. I didn’t at all expect newborns, but thought we’d probably have older babies or toddlers. I was adamant that I thought our first placement would be a toddler girl! It’s so funny to see how we get things in our head about what we think will happen. It’s often so different than how things really work out. I also only pictured long term care. Receiving care, or emergency care, homes are important, but the idea of only having a kiddo for a day or two didn’t resonate with me as well as being the constant presence over a longer period of time. Having experienced various case lengths now, I think I still feel the same about long term care, but I’m much less rigid with my limits. Our week with Little Rascal was as real and as valuable as our months with Sweet One. It’s all just different angles of the same issue.
Is he a drug baby?
Z: People ask this question all the time and the truth is, does it really matter? Obviously there may be health issues that come with exposure to drugs before birth, but babies that have been affected by this are still just babies and don’t need the word “drug” attached to the beginning of their names. I find that it is impossible to say “drug baby” without having an undertone of either negativity or judgement towards the parents and sometimes even the child. And one of our big jobs as foster parents is to not judge. We need to look at our foster children’s parents the same way that we would look at ourselves. As human beings, imperfect, and prone to making mistakes but still worthy of love and respect. Being affected by drugs in no way defines who these children are or even who their parents are.
H: We’ve gotten this question numerous times, with each baby placed with us. I have so many feelings about this question. It’s understandable to be curious, especially with the way the media (both fiction and nonfiction) portrays foster care, but it’s one of my least favorite questions. First of all, and what I wish everyone knew, I can’t discuss the specifics of any child placed with us. Their history, whether it be prenatal or postnatal drug exposure, neglect or abuse, it is the child’s story, not for us to be sharing with everyone. You’re probably familiar with HIPAA laws that prohibit your health information from being shared- this is similar. It’s to protect both their identity and also out of respect for their privacy. If you had recently left an abusive relationship, would you appreciate me telling half of the people I know exactly how mistreated you were? Or, how would you feel if you confided in someone about a cancer diagnosis, and they told your community before you did? It’s only fair to extend the same courtesy to these children and their parents.
Also, I think there’s this attitude and perception that bio parents are just a bunch of druggies who can’t get their stuff together. And that’s not kind or fair, to the children or their parents. Yes, a lot of parents who have kids removed from their care struggle with substance abuse. But that doesn’t define them, and it certainly doesn’t define their children. We are lucky in that our boys have been too young to understand these types of questions so far, but I cringe to think about how they would feel listening to a complete stranger speak about their situation so flippantly.
What advice would you give other foster parents, or people who hope to become foster parents?
Z: Be prepared to love them with all of your heart and know that they will likely be going home. It is impossible to not become incredibly attached to these kids and even though it can be hard at times, dedicate yourself to living in the moment and enjoying all of the time you have with each kid. Fight the urge to hyper-focus on the impending fact that they will be leaving and going home. Don’t let that steal any of the joy from getting to experience life with this child and getting to see them grow and learn. Be sure to have fun with them, hug them, and make them laugh!
H: Two things come to mind with this question. First, whatever your definition of “flexible” or “patient” are, trust that foster care will redefine them for you. You will be stretched in many ways, and most likely in ways you weren’t preparing yourself for. Our first baby was going to be in our care “long-term”, estimated between 3 and 6 months. He went home after 6 weeks. And I found out by text message that he was reunifying. There will be moments like this that really challenge your expectations. The uncertainty of it all can really be daunting, but I just think about how daunting the unknown is for the kids, and suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a big task to take on anymore.
Which brings me to my second piece of advice. Someone once told me that it was the best advice they’d ever received, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s not about you. Sure, it seems harsh. But I’ve found that it’s so true and applicable to so many different situations. It’s easy to be egocentric without even knowing it. I wouldn’t say I’m self-centered, but I also find myself fighting to keep a neutral stance as opposed to wallowing in the emotions or reactions I have. Our second baby reunified only to have his mom strip him down, in front of me, and tell me she was checking for bruises or marks. I was so insulted! How could she?! I loved him and kept him safe and prayed for him… and I was still a complete stranger. She was worried about the safety of her child, and once I was able to separate my emotions from her reaction (which took more than a couple seconds, letmetellyou) I remembered her reaction wasn’t about me. If I’m struggling because I want to go off on a parent or caseworker, I only have to ask myself if it’s what’s best for the child in my care, or if I’m making it about me. If I have to hesitate, I need to remind myself, It’s not about you. Most judges, caseworkers, and bio parents are not out to get me or make my life more inconvenient. There are bigger things at work here, and it’s about what’s best, or seems best, for the child.
Are you trying to adopt him?
Z: The truth is, foster care and adoption are 2 completely different things. The goal of foster care is usually not adoption. It is to give kids a safe place to be for the present time and ultimately to reunite them with their birth family and support the family to create a safe and healthy home environment. We love all of the kids that we foster and if for any reason the primary plan for them switched from fostering to adoption we would be happy to adopt them, but that is not our goal. Our goal is to support and love them and their families.
H: No. We are trying to love and nurture him until it is safe and appropriate for him to return home. If we ever have a case in which reunification is not safe or appropriate, and parental rights are terminated, we would love to adopt. But we are not trying to adopt.
The difference, to me, is about the mindset we are entering into foster care with. We would love to adopt, and have dear friends who have adopted from the foster care system. I want to be clear there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, I think it can become too easy to forget about the child’s bio parents when the only goal is adoption. If we are fostering a child, and reunification seems unlikely, it’s natural that we hope and dream to have the child be a permanent part of our family. But when the parent rallies, and reunification is able to occur, we don’t want the focus to be “a failed adoption” as much as we want to remember that it’s a “successful reunification”. A foster care blogger did a video once, in which she spoke about bio parents, and she said that even if she hopes to adopt a child, she wants to make sure that she is standing in the courtroom on adoption day knowing that she did nothing to interfere with that child’s reunification. That really resonated with me, and still does. The termination of parental rights is a traumatic thing, for parents and for children. It’s not something to be taken lightly, and I make a conscious choice to keep reunification in the front of my mind. I was not raised by my parents, and while I’ve always known them and kept contact with them, there is a lot of loss and grief to navigate even at a young age. If a bio parent can get the services and support they need to safely raise their child, I want to support that. Unfortunately, if we foster long enough there will be parents who cannot meet their child’s needs and there will be children that need forever homes. And when that day comes, we’ll be both heartbroken for the family that was lost, and overjoyed for the family that was created.
What was the biggest take-away from the required caregiver training?
Z: The biggest take away for me was that all kids need love, family and a safe home. It doesn’t matter what their medical needs are, or what their mental capacities are, they all deserve people to be there for them. During the training, there was a foster parent panel that did a Q & A session. During this, one of the foster moms shared a story about one of her placements: a premature NICU baby with a long list of medical needs and ailments. The prognosis was that the baby would never leave the hospital. Despite this, the foster mom took the placement and ended up loving this baby with her whole heart. This really stuck with me and made me believe that all children deserve to have people at their side that will love them, and no child deserves to die without having a family that loves them.
H: Whatever you have planned for yourself, God has a different idea! Haha. In all seriousness, many people we spoke to had very rigid views of how they were going to interact with the foster care system when they first set out, but by being open-minded and open-hearted, they ended up in a completely different space than they originally planned on. You might set out to only do short term care of teens (yes, people do that!) and be adopting a baby a few years later. Similarly, you might only want to snuggle babies, and end up agreeing to a sibling set of older kids. You never really know who will need you, or who you might need to meet. I think seeing other families open up about going through the unexpected really helped me be willing to face unknowns with open arms instead of being so afraid of them.
That’s it for this time! What other topics or questions are on your mind? Leave them in the comments, or message me and we’ll get it answered for you.