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Jun 30, 2017

by Cami Haussler, Foster Home Supervisor, Bethany Christian Services of Colorado

If you’re considering foster care and have adopted or biological children in your home—especially those old enough to understand that other children will be moving into your home—it’s essential to include them in your decision. Talk honestly with your children about what foster care is, what it will look like, and how it will affect them.

Consider birth order and development

When I was a foster parent, we only fostered children that were younger than our youngest child. We felt it would work best for our family not to change the children’s birth order. Yet there are families that would do well having an older child in their home. If an older child would be a good fit, prepare your kids for developmental behaviors they might not understand. While a child in foster care might be chronologically older than your kids, their past experiences might cause them to act younger. If you have a child that is 10, for example, they might wonder why a 12-year-old wants to sleep with a light on at night.

Communicate expectations

Let your kids know that rules and consequences for the child in foster care might be different. Clearly communicate your expectations so everyone knows what to expect. In my situation, my oldest child would complain that the kids in foster care got away with so much more. “If I’d have done that,” he’d say, “I would have been grounded.” I explained that this behavior is all that child has known, and we were teaching different behavior. We were not going to punish them for something that had been acceptable in their home, but we would model what behavior was acceptable in our home.

Talk about loss

One of hardest things about being a foster family is falling in love with children who will leave. It’s hard, and it hurts. Understand that it’s a loss for your kids too, and young children are not at a developmental level to process that. Set that expectation with your kids that this will most likely be temporary. Share that this other child is with you because they need a family for a while, so we’re going to help meet that need; but it’s going to be hard when they leave.

Develop empathy

It’s hard to gauge how your kids will respond. My children were 5, 4, and 3 when we fostered, and foster care became normal to them. Once when a young child was placed with us in the middle of the night, my son walked through the room the next morning and casually observed, “We got another one?” on his way to the fridge to get a snack. It concerned me that new children showing up to our house had become that routine. Meanwhile, a frightened young child sat on my lap, scared to be in a new place with new people. I didn’t want my son to lose a sense of empathy for children in our home who needed help and a place where they could feel safe.

Embrace learning opportunities

We had kids in our home from hard places. There were some who left, and we all cried. And there were some who left and, honestly, life was easier. As a family, you work hard to be the best family you can be to every child in your home. As you have added opportunities to teach acceptance, forgiveness, and grace, your kids will learn these qualities faster and more deeply than others who didn’t have this experience.  

Take a break

One of biggest things I wish I would have done better as a foster parent is take care of my immediate family. Take a break between placements to rebuild, and be sure everybody’s on board to continue. Sometimes children need a break and need to have just their family together for a while.

See foster care through their eyes

Take good care of your kids. They share their house, their parents, and their toys, and a foster child is often part of their life at school as well. You might think of foster care as a big commitment you make as parents, and it is, but it’s also significant for your children.

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