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By Jennifer Tessier-Williford

What no one tells you about being a foster parent

It doesn't matter why you became a foster parent. The process is mostly the same, you take a training course that is about 10 weeks long, do a home study and then await a placement. During your training they review all the possible things you could expect, even role playing with the other potential parents. Once the training is done, you are assigned a family case worker who will complete your home study and put you on the list for the child, or children you have agreed to accept. None of this is a secret. It happens in nearly every state, but even with all the information that they do give you, sometimes things aren't explained clearly, or at all.

First, even though you have expressed a specific age, or gender, that may not be the call you get. Older children need homes, and are more likely to be legally freed for adoption if you are looking for a foster-to-adopt situation. Infants and toddlers are the most requested, and sibling groups in three or more are the hardest to find a space to stay together. When you share your request the family resource worker puts your name on a board and as a child becomes available they reach out to you. Sometimes they go just outside the parameters you set, because they believe it may be a good fit.

What you may not know is how your heart will react if you said you want up to age 5 and they call with a just turned 6-year-old. Can you say no? Do you want to? No one explains to you that answers need to happen in minutes from the call as they want to place children as quickly as possible, and that you may not have time to call your spouse, or have a family meeting to discuss it.

Next, they always seem to bring children at 4 p.m. on Friday. This was the case in four out of our five placements over a two-year time span. Yes, there are on-call workers for emergency situations, but you need to have a plan for those late afternoon or in some emergency cases a late-evening call. With this comes the idea that you need a few items for children in every size of your accepting range. This might not sound difficult until you think about the difference in keeping toddler outfits and the needs of an infant. Take the child to the store with you to buy them toothbrush, their own towel and any personal care items. Giving them ownership over those small decisions means a lot to a child who doesn't have many choices in the foster care process.

They tell you to already have a few things, but most will come with a bag of their own belongings. That is not always the case, nor are the belongings always what you expect. One child arrived with a giant bag of clothes, but when we opened it, most were the wrong size or the wrong season. The toys he brought with him were actually broken bits , crayon wrappers and items I would define as trash. Don't ever throw out a child's items without their permission. The wrapper you are trying to get rid of may be from the last visit with a biological family member.

Lastly, you will fall in love with all of them. Some placements are short term, and some are longer, but they never tell you how quickly you will love these kids whom you open your home to. Yes, some will have trauma-related behaviors that might make you wonder if you are capable of being their parent, or a sane human being. Yes, some will suffer withdrawals from being born addicted to what their biological mother was using. Some will cry and some will not even speak. You will love them all, even when you don't like their behaviors. You will wonder if the case will go from foster to pre-adoptive. This makes it heartbreaking when they are placed back into a biological family home, or off to a new placement, but knowing they love you too makes you jump back into care for the next one.

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