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The need for foster parents in both Canada and the United States has hit an all-time high. With close to 80,000 children in foster care in Canada, and 400,000 children in the United States, it is evident the situation is dire. In Canada in particular, we are facing many aging foster parents nearing retirement, and less younger applicants signing up. On top of low recruitment numbers and an increase in retirees, retention is also suffering. As many as 50% of foster parent quit within their first 5 years of fostering. A recent poll by Home for Every Child also found that more than 75% of foster parent have considered quitting.
Get Too Attached
Unfortunately, the main reason recruitment is so low is due to the number one phrase foster parents hear when talking to others: “I could never foster, I would get too attached”
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The fear of loving a child too much, is the reason so many parents never move forward with fostering . Many believe you have to be “special” in order to foster. I am going to let you in on a little secret though, getting too attached is EXACTLY what makes excellent foster parents. The reality is, that those of us that do foster, get very attached. We love on those kids just as if they were our own, exactly as we should. Children need to feel loved, accepted, included, and like they truly belong somewhere. That only comes when we risk everything and form an attachment. So how do we handle it?
Truth is, we often don’t.
Attaching to a child, then losing them (either through reunification, adoption, family placement, or to another foster home) is one of the greatest pains I have ever felt. Fellow foster parents report feeling the same way; an emptiness, and a deep form a grief that unfortunately contains no closure. Many develop mental health related challenges from their time fostering, and many have a hard time coping through the journey of grief and loss. So why am I telling you to sign up for this seemingly painful and traumatizing experience?
BECAUSE IF NOT YOU, IT IS THE CHILDREN THAT WILL SUFFER!
The fact is, the less stable, loving, and qualified foster homes we have, the more children get bounced around from foster home to foster home. The more children that enter group homes, and the more children who develop their own mental health challenges or trauma related behaviors. Kids who will then turn to addiction, acting out, prostitution, and even suicide, because kids can’t cope the same way we adults can with the brokenness of that system. Because the bottom line is, the system is broken. Children being removed from their parents, whether for valid reasons or not, is traumatizing. Everyone involved is going to feel the pain of that system, but we as adults need to step-up and take the brunt of it. We need to shelter these kids from the horrific storm they are venturing through, and bear that pain for them. As someone who has walked through my fair share of storms, experienced a number of devastating losses, loved fiercely and lost pieces of my heart, I can confidently say IT. IS. WORTH. IT.
And I would do it again.
Lack of Supports
Once we are able to finally recruit foster parents, we often end up losing them quickly thereafter. The main complaint I hear surrounding retention, is the lack of supports. Unfortunately, government systems are broken, and due to lack of government funding there are not enough social workers to carry the caseloads. Coupled with inadequate training they receive on working with foster parents, the support from agencies is dismal at best. Surprisingly financial support is easier to come by for foster parents, than emotional and tangible support. Yet the kind of support that foster parents need to keep going is small and attainable if others would step-forward. Supports such as babysitting, meals, coffee dates, cleaning, driving support, and a listening ear would all breath life into weary foster parents. There is no way to mitigate the trauma that comes with fostering, but we can support those venturing through it. With the huge focus on foster parent recruitment, we have forgotten a very crucial area that needs attention as well, and that is foster parent supports.
With so many considering fostering, yet not moving forward, support is a great way to still get involved without the commitment. Foster parents often feel isolated, misunderstood, and focus their attention on many of the foster related tasks, such as visits, appointments, and therapy. More often than not a foster parent is also managing children with special needs and all that it encompasses. Supporting a foster parent in some of their every-day areas of life would be life-giving for so many and help increase retention rates across the board. Healthier and stronger foster parents ultimately lead to less disruptions, and kids remaining in loving, stable placements until they can return home or find alternative permanency plans.
Another bigger ask, but impactful way to support foster recruitment and retention is handyman help. The fact is, once someone signs up to foster, they become trained and equipped to manage vulnerable children and everything the system requires. The need for homes is huge, so often, foster parents end up taking multiple children at a time. This is also done to keep siblings together. This results is foster parents needing more space. Usually the need is more bedrooms, and sometimes more living spaces. Many foster parents have a 3 bedroom home that fits their biological family nicely, but don’t have the required separate bedrooms to foster children. Many who have an extra bedroom, end up needing more space to take additional children. Since recruitment is so challenging, once someone has a heart to foster, as many resources as possible should be provided to them to make it possible. This requires both skilled labor and financial support. While not everyone can help out in these ways, there are many business owners and skilled tradesman that can lend a helping hand to make it possible. Adding an addition to a house or building a wall to create more bedrooms are all helpful steps in supporting a willing family to take the leap into foster care.
How Can You Get Involved?
If you have felt stirred to get involved in foster care, there are so many ways to begin. If you are 100% there and ready to open your home, I encourage you to contact your local agency and begin the process to become an approved foster home. If you are still unsure, I would encourage you to message me, or find a local foster parent and ask questions. Find out the day-to-day, and see if fostering is the right fit for you.
If opening your own home is not something you are able to do, but you still want to get involved, then I encourage you to offer support to those foster parents in your area. Often local churches have fostering ministries you can join, or start your own at your church! Contact your local agency and find out what supports you can offer, or help facilitate a recruitment session to bring awareness to others around you. You can also find many local foster care organizations that may already be set up to offer supports, but need volunteers like you! Finally, reach out to the foster parents you do know. Offer your help, and sometimes the greatest need we have is to simply hear someone ask us “how are you?”
To find out how we began our fostering journey, click here.
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