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So You Want to Be a Foster Parent?

Becoming a foster parent will change your life-style. Maybe not at first, but as months and years pass you will be affected. Foster care will affect you and your family in many areas (extended family, community involvement, your personal activities, and those of your children.) The changes, like life around us, range from very good to very negative.

You will find that your relatives fit into two categories when you inform them that you are going to take in a foster child. Either they proclaim you the saints of the family or just plain nuts. Whichever side of the discussion they voice their opinion on, your choice to take in foster children puts them in various dilemmas. Grandparents suffer through a multitude of questions. Besides the normal dilemma of whether to include the foster child on their Christmas list, I had a grandparent question whether they should be included in their will. If you only take one or two foster children into your home in your lifetime those questions may need an honest answer, but after ten or more foster children the questions become moot.

Foster parents are trained to respect the privacy of the foster child and their families. Relatives don't always understand why you can't tell them about their new niece or nephew. Their bewilderment only gets worse when the child acts out in an inappropriate manner and you can't justify the behavior because the past history falls into the data privacy area. For some families this leads to selective invitations, where only certain individuals, or only adults, are invited over. What do you do in those special circumstances? Cousins will get married, families will want a family portrait, what is the best way to handle special circumstances? No matter how many or what types of children you care for, the one thing that relatives will come to realize is that you are a very busy person. As the years pass, and you have to react to foster care emergency after emergency, you may find that the visits and the invitations become few and far between.

The community, your neighbors, are not much different. There may be a few who would like to blame you for every wrong that happens in the neighborhood because you brought those kids into your home. Most, though, think it's wonderful that you can do what you do, just keep them in your yard.

Our police officers know us by name and most of the teachers at the school refer to us as "that house." The ones we work with on a regular basis are supportive and complimentary, the rest just raise their eyebrows when we pass them on the street. Church members work hard to include the children in activities, but never invite the whole family over for dinner (If someone did once, it never happened twice). Foster families tend to be larger than the norm, and size alone can cause discomfort, without adding the abnormal behavior factor. Foster families are very visible to the community and can add additional pressures, whether real or imaginary. As the adult of the foster family, you will constantly find yourself surrounded by people, and yet feel very much alone.

Being a foster parent will develop your skills as an independent social director, therapist. and taxi service, to mention just a few. Activities that you took for granted as a member of the adult world will be infringed upon by the children you invited into your home. If you are physically active and participating in athletic pursuits, your activities may change when the teenager you accept into your home is too paranoid to ride a bike, skate, or go in a boat. The activities of the whole family will be tailored to fit the least adaptable member. Need for attention or preconceived fears will stimulate pseudo injuries or refusals to participate. Your social outings will be disrupted by unruly children or true emergencies (you will have more than you could imagine). The foster children you choose to bring into your home will have all the normal problems, but accelerated to an abnormal pace.

You will be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The safety and welfare of the foster children will be a constant priority. Your birth children will grow up with "the street in their home." They will, at a young age, be aware of the cruelties that the children of this world face. They will endure pressures at home where they were intending to find refuge. Your choice to take in foster children will either send them on the streets in rebellion or give them skills to become outstanding young adults. It is not uncommon to find your birth children very active outside the home. They will participate in the community, not only because they choose to, but because it is a release from the constant pressure foster care places on them. Your choice to accept a foster child into your home will change your birth child for life. When you are old, no one will remember what you did. Except for:

A child, now an adult, who has a life with a little more purpose and a lot more love.
A child who would never have experienced an alternate "safe family" except that you chose to be a foster parent.
A child who has a job and pays the bills because you taught them how to work.
A child who completed school because you ensured that the homework was done.
A child who treats their family with respect because you modeled dignity.

Thank you, from all of them!
Greg Olson, Minnesota Foster Parent