Written by: Hallie Graves
Not a day goes by without someone asking how I decided to be a foster mom. Maybe it’s because I’m single, have a full time lawyer job, and have no biological kiddos. Maybe it’s because it seems crazy to sign up for almost guaranteed grief and a life that is all but impossible to plan. Whatever the reason for the question, it’s a good and important one.
Maybe the thought has crossed your mind, or someone in your community has brought it up. “Could I be a foster parent? Is that crazy? What does that really look like? How will it change my life? And how do I know if I’m ready?”
I can’t answer those questions for you, of course, but I’ll give you some insight into my journey to foster motherhood. It wasn’t a neat and tidy process, but looking back, there were three general areas I thought and prayed about, discussed with others, and generally answered:
- What are my motivations in becoming a foster parent?
- What do I expect from foster care?
- What does foster parenting look like in my life?
Start with why. You might have heard that being a foster parent, or serving vulnerable kids who have suffered trauma in any capacity, isn’t always a walk in the park (but sometimes it is, I promise!). Last year, I wrote about my why here. In a nutshell, I’ve been around foster care for over 15 years, and these kiddos have tugged at my heart since then. When I was in my early 20s, I thought I’d be married and a parenting pro with biological kids, and then venture into the foster world. God had other plans. I’m now 32, single, and fostering a darling 3-month-old baby who came to me from the hospital. I really believe that God has asked me to use my life in this way for this season, and it has been incredibly joyful and hard.
Knowing your motivations is key, I think. Even if foster care fits seamlessly into your life, there will be times (many of them) when you’ll wonder why it is that you signed up for this. People who declared unending support for you might ghost when you have real, middle-of-the-night needs. A placement you were told needed a forever home might leave you on two-hours notice. And every kiddo will need every bit of your patience and love and consistency and grit, and then some.
A few questions you might consider in thinking through why you want to be a foster parent:
- Under what circumstances did I start thinking about foster care?
- Is fostering children my plan B or C for starting a family?
- Am I motivated to foster children, knowing that reunification with safe biological family is always the goal? Or, am I motivated to foster to adopt only?
- When things become difficult or something unexpected happens with my foster child, how will I remind myself of my why?
There aren’t right or wrong answers to these questions. We’re all human, and I think most foster parents have a mixture of motivations. I want to help children in need, and I also want to be a parent. But having a handle on why you want to foster can help drive the rest of your process and illuminate if foster care is right for you and your family.
Next up, learn. It’s hard to know what to expect in foster care — what you’re really signing up for– without knowing about foster care, and kids in foster care. As part of my process, I learned about foster care in Texas (since much of foster care is state-specific, I’d recommend starting with resources specific to your state) and spent significant time with kids in foster care. I learned about the court process for kids in Texas foster care, how many kids are currently in need of homes, which kids are harder to place in homes in general, what resources exist to support foster parents, and what timelines can look like for foster cases. I think it helped me to set expectations; more accurately, I learned not to have too many of them.
There are countless resources on foster care and kids who’ve suffered trauma. The internet is a trove of information. A few I recommend:
- Your state’s family services / child protective services website
- Local foster agencies’ websites and information sessions
- Facebook groups of foster parents (I’m in Texas Foster & Adoptive Parents, Single Foster Moms, and a number of other groups of foster parents. This is perhaps the best resource I’ve found for first-hand stories and practical advice for foster-specific situations!)
- Books and resources on parenting kids with trauma histories (anything on Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), anything by Karen Purvis, The Connected Child)
- Blogs by foster and adoptive parents
Beyond gathering information, I spent time with kids in foster care. I highly recommend serving these kids and their families in some way before welcoming one full-time into your home. Not only did it give faces to foster care in my mind, it helped dispel some of my fears: kids in foster care are kids who want to be loved and listened to and advocated for.
You can spend time with kids in foster care in a number of helpful ways:
- Volunteer at a therapeutic group home or children’s shelter
- Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (no legal experience necessary!)
- Babysit for a foster family (This is consistently the #1 need of foster parents because kiddos can only be babysat by certified foster babysitters!)
- Volunteer at a foster parents’ night out (Many churches and other organizations host a “night out” for foster parents once a month. Bless them.)
- Mentor teens in foster care through an organization in your area. (Teenagers about to graduate – “age out” – from foster care are particularly in need of mentorship.)
- “Adopt” a foster family through a local nonprofit.
The Practical Stuff
On top of knowing why I wanted to foster and what I expected from foster care and foster kids, I asked myself whether, practically, foster care fit in my life. Let me start with a caveat – I don’t know one foster parent who didn’t have to rearrange his or her life to foster. In fact, I think most of us changed and rebuilt our day-to-day lives to accommodate foster care. I encourage you not to let the practical nuts and bolts keep you from fostering if you feel pulled to it.
Since I’ve known for a few years that I wanted to foster, I slowly re-designed my life with foster care in mind. I moved back to my hometown (what up, Austin!), left a high-paced lawyer job, moved to a two-bedroom apartment, and told everyone I could about my intention to foster. My friends threw me a foster shower, and I invited them to become certified babysitters.
The nuts and bolts of your life as a foster parent depend on a number of factors. In the next Q&A, we’ll talk about the process of becoming a licensed foster parent. One of the first steps is considering questions like these:
- Are you already a parent?
- Do you work full time?
- Are you able to take children to weekly appointments, such as visits with biological family, doctors’ visits, and therapy?
- Do you or a partner stay at home with children?
- How many children do you plan to foster at once, and what ages?
- Can you help children with higher medical needs or more intense behaviors?
- Do you hope to adopt, or are you looking to foster only?
- Do you have financial and other resources to care for additional children?
- Does your home have space for additional children?
- Who outside of your home will support you in caring for foster children? What will that look like?
I’d love to hear from you on your motivations, expectations, and practical questions around foster care! Leave a comment here or send me an email at [email protected], as I would love to connect further!