What Exactly is Foster Care?

As DJ was transitioning to his family member’s house a few weeks ago, I got a lot of mixed messages from people. It felt to me like people were approaching it as if my biological child had died suddenly and I would never recover. And this is where I think I need to clarify a few things. Because I know that every person came from a place of love and concern, I want you to know that my correcting the incorrect mindsets is from a place of love as well.

There is no black and white in foster care. It’s alllll grey.

Because of this, there is a lot of emotional tension. I wanted DJ’s family to be whole and healed and together, but I was also committed to caring for him for as long as he needed me. Even though he called me Mom, it was not and is not wise or right for me to act as though he is my child forever.

My daily life is focused entirely on preparing a child to one day leave my home a better person, with healthy coping skills and on the path toward healing. I look at it similar to college ministry. We do what we can to set them up for success to face the world on their own one day. Come to think of it, it’s basically 18+ years of parenting shoved into a matter of months. No pressure, right?!

I knew that DJ would not be with me forever. And, if we’re being honest here, there were days when I was very glad about that (boy could drive me CRAZY). When we found out back in the spring that this move would happen, we worked toward that goal together. It didn’t catch either of us off guard. This isn’t always the case with foster care, of course. With my first placement, we had about an hour’s notice. So I get it. But in this case, there was a plan and we were all (me, DJ, social worker, family consultant, etc.) working towards it.

Here’s where I think a definition of foster care from adopt.org could come in handy:

What the foster care system is: a temporary arrangement in which adults provide for the care of a child or children whose birthparent is unable to care for them. Foster care is not where juvenile delinquents go. It is where children go when their parents cannot, for a variety of reasons, care for them.

The goal for a child in the foster care system is usually reunification with the birth family, but may be changed to adoption when this is seen as in the child’s best interest. While foster care is temporary, adoption is permanent.

You see that? We met our goal! It may not be his biological parents, but he is with family.

When a child transitions out of my home, of course it is going to hurt. It will be sad and I will mourn that loss and another piece of my heart will be scattered. But reunification is the goal. It is what we have been working so hard for. And, in cases like DJ’s, when he was going to a healthy, stable placement, it was something I rejoiced in for him!

People want things tied up neatly in a bow that they can understand.
This is not that.

Foster care is disappointment and love and sadness and celebration and annoyance and encouragement and disruption and joy and complication and purpose. It is the best and the hardest thing I have ever done. 

I am always happy to help clarify anything I can for you. If you have a question about foster care, never hesitate to ask. This is a ministry that I know many more people and families can get involved in, so I want to help however I can!

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