Today’s interview with New England based, Margaret*. Margaret is a teacher and is married to a painter. She has been doing foster care for seven years now, including long term, short term, respite and emergency care placements and is also involved with foster care training and a foster care ministry with her local church. Margaret and her husband have also adopted a child through the foster care system.
Hello, Margaret. Thanks for taking time out of your busy life to answer some of our questions. What made you initially decide to be a foster carer?
‘As a teenager, I observed a family in our church who were foster parents and would often think, “someday I would like to do that.” However, the idea sat on the back burner of my mind for many years. I went on to marry and have four children of my own. When my youngest was 13 my husband and I decided to take the classes to become licensed foster parents. We had a few friends who were fostering and we wanted to be a support to them, the idea being we would do short term and respite care. However, once licensed our eyes were opened to the enormity of the need for foster homes and our involvement became much more in depth than originally planned. We have now cared for over 20 children in our home.’
What is the largest issue to think about before a family begins to foster?
‘There are a lot of issues to think through, but sometimes we can think too much and talk ourselves out of meeting a need and responding to God’s call to care for the orphan. I think the question is better posed, “How can I help?” instead of “Can I help?”
That’s a great way of putting it, and leads to more open ended consideration about foster care. Each family is different and what they can offer is different.
‘Yes, families should consider the biological children in their home when deciding what type of foster care they are able to do. They also should consider availability — i.e. if both parents are working they may need to foster school age children as opposed to infants. Or perhaps short term and respite care is what a family is able to do. This is a huge need for those who do foster to be able to get a much needed break. The classes you attend in the process of licensing also help you to work through some of those issues and come to an understanding of what will work for your family. I do recognize that not everyone can take a child into their home, but everyone can help in some way.’
What would you consider to be the most challenging aspect of being a foster carer?
‘I find one of the most challenging aspects is the way the laws are written. Decisions are often not made “in the best interest of the child.” Wanting to do what is in the best interest is simply not enough. It is also challenging when it is time to let them go, especially when you have concerns about the place they are going to next. When a child comes into my home I invest my all into caring for them as if they were my own, yet as a foster parent I have no input into decisions made on their behalf.
I often have people say to me, “I could never do [short term] foster care. I could never let them go.” That is precisely the reason they should consider it. Don’t be afraid of attachment — it is exactly what these kids need. I grieve with every child that leaves my home, but in the end, it’s not about me and it helps to me remember that no matter how much it hurts to say goodbye, it was love well spent.’
And that’s part of the reward of foster care, isn’t it?
‘Yes, knowing I can play a small role in making a difference in the life of a child whose life has been turned upside down.’
What type of support do you most wish you had received as a foster carer?
‘Further training. The classes prior to taking in a child are very informative, but then your first child comes and you realize you still have so much to learn about trauma and how it impacts the child. Also, respite care. We are only allowed to leave a foster child with someone who has been through the classes and had their home approved.’
And finally, what is the one piece of advice you’d give to people considering applying to do foster care for the first time?
‘Don’t let fear stand in your way. We have kids in crisis, and they need us now, not when it is “convenient.” That being said, surround yourself with support of other foster parents. The road is not easy, and it can be hard to handle the stories of abuse and neglect that will inevitably come your way.’
Thank you so much Margaret. There’s a lot of wisdom and experience in what you’ve shared with us. We appreciate it.
* Not her real name.