When Foster Care Traumatizes Your Family!

3 critical moves you must make before taking in a placement

In previous posts on foster care we’ve talked about the trauma children who enter our care can experience due to the difficult situations they’ve come from. This is a real battle. For everyone involved. Nearly every foster parent has dealt with this, or will deal with this. But there’s another form of trauma that often occurs, and often goes unnoticed. It’s the trauma your biological children, or children who are permanently a part of your family, may go through as the result of a placement.

480716315

We were having a conversation with a real estate agent when the reality of this hit us. He found out that we were adoptive and former foster parents, so he took the time to share his personal story. Growing up, his parents took in several children through foster care, mostly during his teen years. “That was the problem,” he said. “It was traumatic for me. I was dealing with the ups and downs of being a teenager and then I watched my parents deal with exhaustion and stress over some of the placements they received. It took a toll on our family.”

Later on, we reflected on our conversation with him. Truth is, our family went through this over the 9 years we were foster parents. The majority of the children who came into our care were not an issue, but there were a few who severely disrupted our home. Four years into being foster parents, we cared for a little girl with special needs that demanded every ounce of our time. Her diagnoses was failure to thrive which meant special feeding requirements. The time her care consumed put a halt on many family activities or time spent with our other children.

A few months after she left, we took in an unruly teenager who completely disregarded any of our boundaries. She argued everything, blew off the curfew we had set, and blatantly disregarded our household rules in front of our other children. The disruption these situations, and a few others not mentioned, caused our family to go through created trauma for our children that we weren’t clued into.

Why? Well, in short, we as a society tend to compartmentalize the term ‘trauma’ into either the result of a severe accident (like a car accident or work-related accident), or the result of severe abuse (sexual, physical or emotional). But trauma comes in many different forms, not just through accidents or pro-longed abuse. A human-being can experience trauma when they’ve gone through a major change, like moving to a new city, starting a new job or going to a new school. Trauma can also happen as the result of a big life disruption, like a difficult child coming to live with you through foster care, or watching a parent go through the emotional ups and downs from the behavior of another child.

So, what am I saying? If foster care can cause trauma to the rest of your family, does this mean you shouldn’t do it?

No. In fact, I’ve previously written about the reasons why the foster care system needs good people like you. If you feel called to do it, then do it. What it means is that you should take some critical steps before you enter the system to ensure that your family is ready (and you are ready) for the potential heavy challenge that foster parenting brings.

  1. Understand what you are getting into. As any seasoned foster parent can attest to, foster care is like getting on a roller-coaster and continuing to ride it with no stops. No situation is like the other, and nothing is guaranteed. The only guarantee is that there are no guarantees. The system is incredibly unorganized and, at times, very inefficient. There is a high turnover rate among case managers, and you will always have children in your care longer than you are told. The best thing you can do is prepare yourself for this reality. Talk it through with your spouse and your biological children or children permanently a part of your family. As much as possible, I recommend creating times of open dialogue so that everyone can share their viewpoints, fears and questions. Getting things out in the open ahead of time helps you navigate the possible rough waters of foster care. You will be frustrated, you will be tired, and you will be overwhelmed! Be ready for this. Enter with your eyes wide open.
  2. Protect time with the children who are a permanent part of your family. After the children who have come to you through foster care leave your care, the rest of your family remains. Remember this. Keep this thought at the forefront of your mind as you begin. It’s easy, because you have a good heart, to care so much about a foster child’s situation, that you pour all of your time and energy into caring for them and end up forgetting about your other children. Don’t do this! The truth is, this is the quickest way to cause resentment in your children. We know because we’ve made this mistake. Our rule of thumb is this: protect, protect, protect! You must be intentional about protecting time with the rest of your family, and you must intentionally spend time with the children who are a permanent part of your home.
  3. Set up non-negotiable boundaries that safeguard your family. Stick to them as if they are the Bible! The first day that a child is in your home, and in your care, you should have a family meeting to go over the boundaries. Make sure there is an understanding that these boundaries are not changing, and they are not up for negotiation. Other rules can be negotiated but these are untouchable. If we could go back in time, we would do more of this. We did okay at setting some and sticking to them (we are both first children, so we were a force to be reckoned with :-)), but we should have set up more.

I’m writing this post to you from an honest heart, and as one who has been there. We’ve learned the hard way and our hope is that our experience can help others achieve greater success. By all means, if you become a foster parent, love the children in your care with no strings attached. But, take it from us- be prepared for the unforeseen and unknown issues that often come with the territory of foster care!

Question: Current (or former) foster parents- weigh in! What are some other things you would add to this post? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Get our latest eBook for FREE!

Weary_parent_guide_ck_form_image

Let’s be honest: parenting is exhausting. You feel worn out, foggy & can’t remember the last time you got a full night’s sleep. That’s why we’ve put together a FREE guide with easy-to-apply, rest multiplying hacks for busy parents. You’re just 9 days away from feeling rested, refreshed & reenergized!


We will never share your info with anyone! Powered by ConvertKit

Please note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jill

    I have been a foster parent for nearly 12 years now. In the last 3 years I have done less and less because of the trauma it has caused to our own kids. some of which could have been avoided if I’d done more of the things you mentioned in this post. But, I do not regret our decision to foster and neither do our kids. Our children are much better people for the experience of fostering and loving on others . Those values are in them for a life time even though there has been some pain in the journey at times.
    One simple thing I would recommend and it’s small, and it may not seem like it matters but it may. When taking family pictures be sure to include the foster kids in your home in those photos (and you all are saying “duh, no brainer”), but what may surprise you is that I advise that you take some family pictures without them in it. Be sure not to do it in a hurtful way, but find a way to make sure that some pictures are of just your FOR SURE forever people. Maybe after doing a whole group one, then do an only foster kid one with each foster separately for their take away memory box, and then with your forever kids… kids understand turn taking. It takes longer and seems tedious, but even when you think kids will stay forever, they don’t always. After 12 years I look back on our family photos and we didn’t do this. I don’t have any without fosters. Sometimes there is a kids in there who’s name I can’t even remember (no, that is not mean.. we’ve had MANY kids and some very briefly). Other times I’ve had to take down family photos because there was the one you wanted that didn’t stay and every time you look at that photo it hurts you. Other times it’s of the one who ended up in jail despite all the love and care you gave them. And, that is just my perspective, my kids sometimes don’t remember the other kids in the photo and when friends ask “who is that?” they say I don’t know”. I wish someone had told me this years ago. Another one of my long term foster friends recently posted about her wish to have known this years ago too. So, Love them, Love them, LOVE them… but make sure you go the extra mile to make your kids know they are not forgotten in the process. Be intentional with your photos and in others ways with your forever kiddos.

    • Jill, I was just about to shut down the blog for the night and call it a day, but I’m glad I didn’t. Great advice here. I so appreciate your perspective. And I agree- love them love them love them! Thanks for sharing.

  • KAF

    Hello! These are GREAT tips for foster families! We are currently waiting to find out if we have been chosen as the adoptive family for a large sibling group, ages 6-10. We are NOT a foster family, but hope to adopt from foster care, if that makes sense. We already have one biological daughter, age 8, who has recently changed her tune about adoption and has actually verbalized to us that she does NOT want to adopt any longer. We both feel that this is just in response to fear of the unknown as adoption becomes increasingly real to her, as well as how it will affect our tight-knit family of three. So my question is: what were the boundaries you set with your foster children and what boundaries do you WISH you had set with them? Also, what tips do you have for families like ours, that hope to make as smooth a transition into permanency as possible with welcoming the new kids into the family without making our current daughter feel put out? We do trust that the benefits of having siblings in the long run will far outweigh any growing pains she may experience in the short term, but we would like to minimize any unnecessary suffering if at all possible! :/ We welcome any and all advice!!! 🙂

  • LeShawnda Fitzgerald

    Awesome article. It is rare that any attention is given to the strain and trauma to your permanent family due to caring for children in foster care. There is also not an outpouring of support as outsiders feel like this is something you chose so deal with it. They do not see the ins and outs mostly only the child as a victim lucky to be rescued by you while your permanent children are selfish or you (the parent) as selfish for guarding your family. Thank you for writing this.