Vol. 20, No. 2 • May 2016

A reader asks . . .
What Should I Say When Someone Tells Me They "Could Never Foster"?

When I tell people I'm a foster parent, they often respond by saying they could never foster because it would be too hard. I want to encourage people to foster, but I also want to be honest with them about its challenges. What are some good responses?

It is true that foster parenting is not for the faint of heart. It's a challenging job, requiring great amounts of patience and resilience. Many people don't think they have what it takes to be foster parents.

While foster parents are special, they are also regular people who have decided to positively impact the lives of children. Foster parents are proof that any committed and compassionate person can make a huge difference in the life of a child. As the popular ad campaign puts it, "you don't have to be perfect to be the perfect parent."

Current and former foster parents are in a unique position to talk with people in their communities about their experience fostering. Talking to friends, neighbors, and coworkers is a great way to draw attention to the needs of children in foster care. After all, hearing about the experiences of a trusted friend is much more meaningful than reading a pamphlet!

While it can be difficult to respond when people say that they could "never foster," here are some suggestions to help you have a productive conversation.

Tell your story. How did you come to the decision to foster? It probably wasn't a decision you made overnight! Were there times in the past where you thought you could "never foster?" Sharing your unique story and perspective can make the choice to foster seem a little less daunting.

Ask open-ended questions. Earnestly asking a person to explain their point of view is the best way for you to understand them. When someone says fostering would be too hard, you could ask, "Why do you say that?" Their answer to this question will help you understand their perspective; it may also help them understand their own thought processes.

Challenge assumptions. Many people's ideas about children in foster care are based on myths and false assumptions. While all children in care have experienced some trauma, each child is unique and reacts differently to what they've experienced. Foster parents know this better than anyone. When you hear someone say that all kids in care are a certain way, respectfully challenge that assumption. You could say something as simple as, "Really? That's not been my experience at all."

Be honest. While encouraging others to foster, it's also important to be honest and realistic. Fostering is hard, and those who pursue it with unrealistic expectations are set up to fail. If someone asks you, "Is fostering difficult?" most people would agree that the best answer is an unequivocal "Yes!"

While you talk about the challenges of fostering, you can simultaneously discuss the unique joys and rewards that come with being a foster parent. You make a difference on a daily basis for these children, and even the smallest successes have huge impacts. Pat yourself on the back and share these special moments! Note: It's important to remember not to divulge any private information you've learned about children in your care, such as their diagnoses or their trauma histories.

It may also be helpful to emphasize that agencies provide training to help people decide whether to foster, as well as ongoing training to help them be successful at fostering after they are licensed.

Encourage involvement in any form. Fostering isn't right for everyone, but there are other ways concerned citizens can help children in foster care. You might encourage them to become a volunteer guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent a child's voice in court. Maybe they could choose to become a respite provider, or organize a backpack drive for children in care.

Dedicated foster parents are the most valuable resources we have, and there will always be a substantial need for more of these wonderful people. When you talk about your experiences, you make it seem a little less impossible for others to follow in your footsteps. In this way, you expand your influence and make a difference for even more children.

Response by the NC Division of Social Services. If you have a question about foster care or adoption in North Carolina you'd like answered in "A Reader Asks," send it to us using the contact information found here.

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~