I’ll never forget the phone call I received on November 17, 2014. “Mrs. Oates, we have a nine-week-old Caucasian baby girl available for placement. If you’re willing to take her, we need to bring her to your house in thirty minutes. Are you interested?”
My husband, Brandon, and I became licensed foster parents just one month prior and had received many calls for kids of different races and genders in the zero-to-five-year age rage. We had said, “Yes” to many, but they went to other families for various reasons. Not wanting to miss out on another placement, I immediately answered, “Yes, we’ll take her.”
“Do you want to call your husband before committing?” asked the caseworker.
“No, he’ll be on board,” I said. One hour later, with my husband sitting next to me in our dining room, a caseworker appeared on our doorstep holding a nine-pound, nine-week-old baby girl. And our lives changed forever.
If you are thinking of becoming a foster parent, here are three questions to ask yourself:
1. What is my motivation?
Why do you want to become a foster parent? If you’re motivated by the desire to help a child, to provide a safe, secure, loving home and family, then you’re on the right track. Some people, however, enter into foster care with the hero, or savior, mentality. They want to rescue a child from his past, his family, or “the system.”
As foster parents, we must accept that we are entering into the child’s story . . . they are not entering into ours. They don’t want to be saved; they simply want to feel safe—and often they reject the very people offering them that safety. They want to be treated with dignity and respect and they want their parents treated the same way.
When you ask yourself, “What is my motivation?” consider these possibilities:
- To help a child in need
- To help my community
- To fulfill a Biblical command (James 1:27)
- To prove something to myself or someone else
- To achieve something
- To fulfill an inner need
- To rescue a child (hero complex)
- Because adoption and foster care is “trendy”
- Because someone once helped me and I want to pay it forward
2. Are my spouse and I on the same page? (if married)
At a foster care training meeting, a woman said to our group, “Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page, because when things get tough—and they will get difficult—you want to make sure you can say, ‘We agreed on this.’” That was the best advice we ever received about foster care.
Foster care itself brings enough stress: doctor appointments, family visits, caseworker visits, home inspections, therapy (physical, behavioral, emotional), state drop-ins, court dates, paperwork, uncertainty, isolation, limited childcare options, continuing education requirements, and much more. Not to mention a child’s unique emotional, mental, behavioral, physical, and academic needs. If you or your spouse oppose a placement and that child flies into a tantrum, refuses to take his medication, or even runs away, resentment can build and create division in the marriage. But if you agree from the beginning, you will approach the situation—and the child—with a team mentality.
3. What is my capacity?
How much can you juggle? How must stress can you handle in any given day? What committees, activities, and organizations are you currently involved in? And are you willing to let go of some things to make room in your life for a foster child?
I am the gas and Brandon is the breaks, so it makes sense that I like chaos and activity while he prefers rest and peace. It’s a minor miracle that we have five children at all. But you must know your capacity so you know what you can handle and what to request in foster care. For instance:
- Sibling group – Do you want an individual child or will you take a sibling group?
- Age range – Do you want a baby? Toddler? Elementary age? Middle school? High school? Each child comes with different sets of needs and challenges. Consider what works well for you, your job, your marriage, and your current family dynamic.
- Needs – What can you handle in terms of a foster child’s medical, developmental, and behavioral needs?
Aside from what was mentioned above, the most important things to remember when considering foster care are:
- You don’t need to be perfect.
- You don’t need to have all the answers.
- You do need to have a willing and compassionate heart.
The journey is not easy, but it is worth it. Foster care is the best thing we have ever done in our marriage and for our family. It has broadened our family’s worldview and radically changed our adoptive child’s family tree. And after all the ups and downs of foster care and adoption, Brandon is still glad I said “Yes” to that nine-week-old baby girl.