May is National Foster Care month, When I first became certified as a foster parent, I felt there was a negative stigma associated with foster parents and foster kids. There was regular press coverage about foster kids living in horrific situations with foster parents who loaded their houses up with kids so they could get more money. In some states, Social Workers didn’t visit homes for years because they could only respond to emergencies they knew about. I remember feeling so discouraged when another negative article would come out, because I felt that no one was telling the stories about the thousands of good, loving foster parents.
Back in the 1990s, I dealt with a lot of negativity toward my foster children and me--from schools, doctors, psychiatrists and others. I had to really advocate for my kids to be treated equally and fairly. The schools seemed anxious to expel foster kids for behavior that they seemed to tolerate from non-foster kids. I remember bringing a member of the ACLU to a school meeting because the principal wanted to put my kid in Independent Study because of a school essay he wrote. We convinced the principal that the boy had done nothing more than write a piece of fiction (which won an award, by the way) and he had the right to stay in school. A psychiatrist once told our 15 year old foster daughter that if she ever went off psychotropic meds she would be incapable of going to college or ever holding a job or having a relationship. Again, I had to step in and advocate for the rights of my child.
Fast forward to 2017 and the perceptions about foster parenting and foster children have changed dramatically. Some of this change has come about because of laws that were passed to protect the rights of foster children, but a lot of it has to do with the stories of great foster parents and the success of the kids in their care. The voices of foster children have been heard from state capitals to Washington, DC. Schools now welcome our kids and provide extra support if they need it. Doctors are listening more to the kids as they describe symptoms and side effects, and they are responding by making adjustments to medications, and even helping them reduce their usage to eventually get off medication altogether.
Another big change I have seen over the years is a shift towards supporting families so kids can stay home. There is a strong focus and commitment to keeping children in their homes of origin or with extended family members or close family friends. This is why foster parents have become Resource Parents, because we are not only a resource for the kids, but also for the families. Our job more than ever is to be part of this shift--to know that kids want to be with their family, to support reunification efforts and, when reunification is not possible, support the kids with compassion, understanding that most kids would rather be with their Mom or Dad, regardless of their circumstances.
For most people, if you have kids, you nurture them, support them, live through the dreaded twos and then the dreaded teens, and then you help them out of the nest into the world of adulthood. For Resource Parents, just as we help prepare one kid to leave the nest, another one is waiting for our home to be a soft place for them to land. Our nest is never empty, and the culture in our homes change as often as a new kid arrives. Being a Resource Parent is joyful, inspiring, tiring, heart wrenching and hard work. We pour in our love without hesitation, and sometimes that love flows right on through like water out a sieve. We accept this reality, but it doesn’t keep us from giving freely. Sometimes, the kids and their families see us as “the bad guys,” yet we keep giving. Sometimes decisions are made about the kids in our care that we don’t fully agree with, yet we put on a brave face and keep giving. Sometimes the kids go home and live happily ever. And sometimes it doesn’t work out and they end up back in foster care. Sometimes, those kids come back to us years later, and we keep giving like it was only yesterday that they were with us. I have seen many kids come and go. Some to their families of origin, some to grandparents or other family members, some to fost-adopt homes, some to independent living and some to group homes or even jail. My commitment is to be the one who sees the best in them, remembers their good qualities, has hope for their future, and is ready with a warm hug, no matter what brings them back into my life- whether for another stay or for just a cup of coffee or even a “Like” on Facebook.
I absolutely feel appreciated for being a Resource Parent, and I am grateful that the misconceptions about foster care that was prevalent in the 1990s have given way to the more positive perceptions of Resource Parents as being kind, loving, highly-trained team players who help kids and families come together and heal.