A recent conversation reminded me of a common misunderstanding related to Foster Care. Most people are aware that Foster Care is not Adoption. However, most assume (and children adopted through foster care further reinforce this impression) that Foster Care is just a different way of adopting. It is not. It is something much more, and it is vitally important.
There are many reasons that a child may come into Foster Care. At the core, the child’s care givers are not able to care for them. Whether those care givers, were parents, grandparents, legal guardians doesn’t matter at this point. The point of Foster Care is to provide the child a safe, nurturing place to grow and thrive while their care givers inability to care for the child is addressed. There are a number of parties involved in the process. The judge(s), social workers, GAL and attorneys all have important roles, but the foster parent is in a unique role.
When Beautiful and I went to the introductory meeting for Foster Care, I was skeptical about a number of things. When I heard the speaker explain the concept of Shared Parenting in Foster Care, the lights came on for me. Shared Parenting in Foster Care is a concept that we have found to be widely misunderstood and even where it is understood, it is often undervalued. Shared Parenting is based on an exchange of information between the birth parents (or care givers) and the foster parents. It is primarily intended to help the child adapt while in Foster Care, and to enable the foster parents to have the most relevant information possible in caring for the child. It is also designed to help the birth parents gain a comfort level with “the system” as they experience more cooperative and less combative interaction (see this article for a good summary of the concept).
The other benefit, and this is the one that truly excites me about the approach, is that it is an opportunity for the foster parents to come alongside the birth parents and help them turn their lives around. Social Services will warn you about getting in over your head, and rightly so. Most foster parents are not trained to handle all of the things that might have gone sideways in the birth family’s lives. But, if you are willing to view the birth family as people and demonstrate a genuine interest in them as people, you will find that there are those that will readily receive the support, encouragement and advice that you have to offer.
I can assure you, there is nothing more humbling or heartbreaking than to have your children taken from you because you are not capable of caring for them properly. Some birth parents will react in anger to that and simply take it out on you, but there are others that will seek to change for the benefit of their children.
When I think back to that first introductory meeting, and reflect on all of the cases we have been blessed to be part of, I realize how naive I was. The stakes are far higher than I realized, and the possibility for impact is much deeper. In Foster Care you have the ability to be in a place to help someone make life changing steps in the right direction. How many times do we get an opportunity to come alongside someone that is truly motivated to change their lives?
There are many ways we can invest ourselves in this life. Very few of those will stack up in value to this.