What to expect as a foster parent
According to the Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network, usually known as SWAN, there are currently approximately 15,000 children in temporary foster care in Pennsylvania. Perhaps you or someone you know is interested in providing stability and a safe home for one or more of these children. Where do you start? What can you expect?
Several Diakon Adoption & Foster Care staff members shared their helpful insights and advice for what they think you should know as you consider becoming a foster family:
The most successful foster parents are those who can go with the flow and be flexible. – Kathy
Our kids need commitment. Many of them have experienced years of chaos, so please know that it may take a long time for them to trust you. Once they do, you will be rewarded over and over with these lovely children. – Joyce
Have realistic expectations—of the children, the process, and yourself. Foster care can be very messy, unpredictable, frustrating—and rewarding. Become educated about parenting children with what we call “trauma histories.” It’s more than likely you will have a child like this in your home. It’s different from parenting “typical” kids, but there is so much information out there to help! – Christine
Some of the best outcomes happen when families think about and act kindly toward a child’s birth family. It can make the situation easier on everyone involved—including the foster parents themselves. – Stephanie
Unless the foster child is entering your home immediately after birth, he or she will have a history of some type of trauma. Please remember that trauma manifests itself in different ways and behaviors will be varied. No two children are alike. – Joyce
Foster care can be emotionally difficult as it is a long, winding, and sometimes rough road. But foster families are the most needed type of family. Many families want to do straight adoption, but the reality is that with the changing laws in Pennsylvania, most children are placed in homes on a “foster” basis while the county works toward reunification (with birth parent[s]) or placement with a kinship relative/resource. Should the county have no success with either of these goals or if parental rights have already been terminated and the county is looking for a “pre-adoptive” home, a child will still be considered a “foster child” in your home until the adoption finally occurs. The reality is that you may not feel secure in the placement until the day adoption occurs. – Heather
Becoming a foster parent requires commitment, patience, and empathy. You should have knowledge and an understanding of what these children have been through. Giving children a safe and loving home is the greatest gift that you can give—and you really can make a difference in their lives. – Helene
Perhaps some of this advice is unexpected or difficult to hear. It may take time to grasp a few of these issues if you have never been a part of a foster family. As our staff members note, it is often not an easy journey but, say many foster parents, the rewards frequently far outweigh the challenges.
Foster families choose to give more than they receive. They choose to be a safe and loving source of stability in the lives of children who need someone to care. They choose to get help and advocate for their foster kids because they want to see them succeed. They choose to take in foster children despite the risks and the possible outcomes.
Our foster families are true heroes. We cannot begin to thank them enough—not just as an organization, but also as a society, for taking on these challenges and making a difference in the lives of children and teens every day.
If you want to learn more about foster parenting in Pennsylvania, a great resource is the Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association (PSRFA) website.
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