How To Survive The First Few Years Of Foster Parenting.

7 Keys To Ultimate Success On The Journey

Foster parenting is a roller coaster ride of emotions. You love the children you’re caring for, you’re in it because of passion, but you often face a system that can be drawn out, strenuous, and sometimes inefficient. How do you survive the first few years of this journey, which are often the hardest?

Competitive Swimming

We learned just 3 months after beginning our foster parenting journey that it would be difficult. Apart from navigating the system and the revolving door of case managers, many children in our care came from traumatic places, including those who we later adopted. It took a great toll on us.

In fact, just 4 years after beginning the journey, we were close to quitting. We had a little girl in our care who’d been diagnosed “failure to thrive.” She needed a therapeutic home, one where no other children lived and she could be the complete focus. We were far from that. To say the 5 months she was in our care were trying, would be a big understatement. They were exhausting to the point of collapse. She was an amazing little girl, but the care she required was out of our scope and ability.

We had to fight for survival in order to make it to the next day. Thankfully we did. And it’s a good thing too.

As we crawled through a desperate trench, several years ago, we learned first hand what it takes to succeed on this journey when you’re down for the count, out-manned, out-gunned, and sometimes hanging on by a thread. If that’s you, we get it. We were there not that long ago. To not only survive, but also succeed, we discovered some valuable things we needed to do…

  1. Big Picture Thinker. Probably the most important survival trait is the ability to see the big picture of what you are doing. It’s easy to see the violent storm in front of you- The trauma that the toddler in your care is suffering from, the outbursts from the pre-teen who was drug and alcohol exposed at birth, the exhausting vigilance you have to keep for the teenager in your care, but forget that storms never last forever. You have to think bigger than the situation you’re presently in. The other night, after a big storm in our area, I said to my wife, as I stood on our front porch looking at the sky, “Big storms produce the best sunsets.” It’s true. The storm was rough but the beauty that followed was amazing. Thankfully we saw a bigger picture and didn’t concede to quitting several years ago. If we had done that we would’ve never known our 3 youngest sons.
  2. Positive. This is not to be confused with denial. Often times a positive thinker is accused of being in denial or out of touch with reality. Not the case. To survive you must think positively. You must believe in a better tomorrow. For the children you are caring for, for your home, and even for you!
  3. Proactive. We’ve seen it time after time. An overwhelmed foster parent who is more reactive than pro-active, who walks into their child’s school or pediatrician’s office, guns blazing, flying off the handle instead of calmly listening and then honestly sharing the reality of their situation. When you’re reactive instead of proactive you can bet that you’ll reach a point of defeat quickly.
  4. Resilient. I don’t have to tell you that you’re going to deal with many trials as a foster parent. If you currently have children in your care, you know this. The weight of the world often rests on your shoulders. The only way to survive this is to be resilient. You must develop tough skin. You’re going to hear criticisms from outsiders, other families in your neighborhood, your school’s guidance counselor, the doctors who care for your child, and even your own extended family. Resilience is the only way to survive these attacks.
  5. In Community. You must surround yourself with a strong support community? This is one of the biggest reasons we survived for as long as we did. Are there people in your life who won’t judge, who get you, and are there for you regardless of the situation? A big survival trait is being in community with other people. It’s easy to want to isolate yourself and hide away from the world, especially if the child in your care is out of control or often melts down in public. But, it’s exhausting. You will run out of gas quickly. You may have already. This is where community is key. Find people who get you, and understand the life you’re living, and lean on them.
  6. Educated. Know the system, know the laws, and know your rights as a foster parent. In your licensing courses, when you were first beginning, you may or may not have learned the laws of your state in-depth. It just depends on where you’re from and how good your trainers were. I’ve got good news. It’s 2016 and we have this amazing thing called the internet. Heck, we can get that internet in the palm of our hand on our smartphones. Take an afternoon and Google foster parenting laws in your state. Educate yourself!
  7. Vocal. Use those vocal cords the Good Lord blessed you with. Share your concerns, your fears, your struggles. Be proactive about contacting your case manager when you have questions or received broken information. Speak up in IEP meetings or court appearances. Fill inboxes with emails and always be ready to ask a question.

We truly believe that if you can harness these key steps you will find success in your first few years of the journey. I say that with confidence, because we did. We made it through those difficult first years, to the finish line, 9 years later (the end point that we had determined was best for our family). These survival steps won’t create a perfect journey, because nothing in life, or parenting, is perfect or easy. But, they’ll help you find success!

Question: Are you on the foster parenting journey? How are you doing? Share with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Donna

    We are exhausted. We are not informed of vital information (that is known) when called with referrals. 4 of our 6 teenagers that have been placed here have ended up in Residential Treatment centers, where they should’ve been placed to begin with. We’ve had damage done to our home, had to put locks on all doors to keep belongings safe, charges made on our tv service when we thought it was blocked. We feel used, trampled on and taken advantage of. We have 1 teen girl now that needs constant watching. I feel like I’m a 24/7 therapist. Respite is not available unless I drive her 90 miles away (one way). There needs to be more rights for foster parents. At this point I discourage anyone from doing it.

    • Donna, I am so sorry to hear that you’re feeling this way. Unfortunately, that is the experience of more people on this journey. Hang in there.

    • Jim Buchanan

      I know the feeling, but it gets better. We’ve been doing this for years, and have run into all those situations except the charges on the TV. And more. But the sucess stories make it all worthwhile. We’ve adopted 4 of our kids and plan on more in the future.

      Respite is a big problem for us too. They always tell us that no respite is available, sometimes stopping there, sometimes adding that “your kids are too high needs, no one would take them.” It’s frustrating.

  • Jim Buchanan

    As far as community goes, we’ve always assumed that a foster parent support group would be wonderful here in Howard county, IN. But we’ve just been told to start our own. We already ran several other support groups and were more interested in getting support than facilitating it. Now we’ve discovered that there are only 5 foster families in Howard County. What? With Kokomo, a city of 60,000 people, only 5 foster homes? No wonder there is no community of foster parents. Sad on several levels…

    • Jim, that’s a surprise to hear, in a community of Kokomo’s size. I know that must feel isolating on so many levels. Hang in there. (Btw- we’re just south of you in Westfield)

      • Jim Buchanan

        I used to live in Westfield! I moved up here to Kokomo in 1991 for a job. Thanks for the reply,ad the blog!

  • CircusMommy

    We have been through hell brought on by our caseworker. Waited 2 months for sign off on a highly qualified 30 yr trauma therapist with a phd because she is outside their “system” and includes the parents in therapy. Had to wait until yhe crisis of suicide watch to get sign off. We have had to go to court twice in the last 6 months and listen to flat out lies which thankfully the judge did not put much stock in. We have listened to supervisors and caseworkers say our (refugee)foster sons “trauma is not that bad, he has been here a whole 5 months, why is he regressing?” Trying to parent a child while the system ties our hands. Run EVERY decision, even the most common childhood experiences, by the “team”. The team that we are not members of. It has been blood, sweat and tears and sleepless nights. I am glad we did not know what the system would put us through or we may not have done it. All this while living and breathing trauma in our household. Watching our older bio boys weep with pain, spending time locked in the basement at night during violent meltdowns texting us if everything is ok. But also watching them pour out unconditional grace and love over and over. Is this child worth it? A thousand times yes. He will heal, we will heal and will continue to advocate for his best interests even against a system stacked against him and our family. A system where our voice is nearly inconsequential. Where we are guilty until proven innocent. I will continue to replay the words of my fellow foster/adoptive mom- “you will get through it, you will get through it.”

    • Man oh man, have we had to repeat very similar words to ourself over the years too. Hang in there. You are not alone!