At the start of our foster care journey I had no idea how I could sympathize with birth families as a whole let alone individually.

Why?

There were many reasons from the number of negative stories we had heard about birth families to the horrible situations children had been removed from. Then there was the simple truth that I could not sympathize with what I did not yet know.

After our first foster children the question became “how could I not?”

No I was not naïve enough to think that all situations would be like this one case or that all birth parents would work hard to get their kids back. However, I was no longer innocent to the possible circumstances we could see. Yes I was still a newcomer and had much to learn but I could not pretend that a spectrum didn’t exist in between the black and white cases we had been told about.

It is hard to see all birth parents as villains when some are just as scared as the children you are caring for. Not to mention how some birth parents are mourning the loss of the child who you will mourn the daily presence of soon enough.

When you stop seeing the birth family as a group of villains but rather people fallen on hard times, those who have lost their way, young adults lost on their path… well you start to better understand the children in your care and their needs. You can see how these kids miss the people painted as villains. And you might even better understand these “villians” in ways you never thought possible.

That is how I began to sympathize with birth parents. As I further get to know each of them then I can better understand them as individuals including the hardships they have faced. This includes how isolated and alone they have felt at the onset of both their DCS case and the point where they lost their way.

Sadly some birth parents are hard to humanize and sympathize with. They can be incredibly selfish, do horrible things, and won’t let anyone get near them including their own children. And those are the cases we had heard so much about. The good news is that DCS doesn’t require you to sympathize with the birth parents. Thankfully those are not the type of birth parents we have dealt with, yet.

For more insight on how we have been able to build working relationships with birth families check out another of our posts titled: Fostering Relationships.

Are first impressions getting in the way of being able to sympathize?

Remember my post about Misconceptions?

Well we all have them and sometimes those get in the way.

When we can push that aside we can see that maybe this isn’t the best parent, perhaps they didn’t have any guidance or help like us, but they are parents. Just like any parent they are  worried about who this stranger is that is taking care of their child, where their child is sleeping and what they are eating. When we can remind ourselves of that fact it is hard to see them as villains.

Just because we can understand them better doesn’t mean we have to be best friends. The important thing is to build a working relationship do the kids in our care have the best team possible to help them succeed.

Fostering My Village

village

In the early days of talking about fostering, Rent-a-Dad and I knew two things about our fostering path. We wanted fostering to be more than just a way to grow our family. It was always about opening our home to children in a way in which they would always feel it was a safe haven. In the process of creating a safe haven we have also built a village.

Birth parents describe the first moments of seeing their babies as “love at first sight”. It really was no different for us with each placement. Everyone has hopes that they will feel that way about birth and adoptive children. Not many people say that about foster children but honestly, for us, how could we not feel that way?

Our first placements were a sibling group. We went to the hospital to pick them up after a check-up. Rent-a-Dad gravitated to the 13-month old blond haired blue eyed bundle of energy that could have passed as his son. My own arms were naturally reaching for the cooing 3-week old baby that easily could have been my baby. For both us there was an immediate bond with these children.

Even with this natural connection we were not jaded into thinking they belonged to us or that we would instantly be better parents. The truth is we always knew the plan was for the boys to return home. If that was not possible there were plenty of biological family members who would have taken the boys if plans changed.

Another truth was that we didn’t really know what to expect with our first placement. We didn’t know what would happen with the case, how the family would act and ultimately what kind of foster parents we would be. What we did know was that we wanted the family to know the boys were being taken care of and that we wanted to show them respect. It is easier to reciprocate respect when it is first given. Respect is always a good foundation on which to build any relationship.

Respect, so far, is the foundation we have used to build relationships with each birth family. Respect, honesty, and patience are other good foundation stones. Thanks to those building blocks we have been able to do more than develop relationships. We have been able to grow a relationship that has gone past reunification.

At the beginning of each placement we have had no idea what would be the end of each story. Because we did not assume the end story would be adoption but rather reunification, we were able to have meaningful interactions with the birth families. These interactions have gone beyond what DCS, or us really, would have expected.

By the time our first placements went home friends and family were asking “what is the plan”. That question meant something different for each person who asked us. For some it meant “do you think you will stay in touch with the family”. Others who asked really just wanted to know if the pain and loss would prove to be too much for us and end our journey. Some gently urged us to re-consider outright adoption. No one quite expected what actually happened, not even us.

Our hope has always been to have some form of continued relationship with each placement and their family. The shocker has been how close of a relationship we have been able to have. While all of our placements have been successfully re-united with family, we have yet to go more than one week without some form of contact with each child.

The children are still a part of the village we are building. Not only are they a part of our village but they each are part of their own village as they all have growing friendships with each other.

Our village is more than a family. It goes beyond blood ties. Our village is about never giving up on the children who come into our care.

Our village is about providing reciprocal advice, support, and love. Because we have been there for these children and been supportive of the families, we are often asked for our input on care for the children. This would not happen without trust of the family. Often the questions we receive are on topics the birth parents are worried about asking their family for advice on. This knowledge is humbling.

When our friends and family first found out how involved we still are in these children’s lives we recieved a lot of concerned questions. The biggest two being “If DCS wanted these families reunited so badly, why are you still involved? Why aren’t you letting the parents learn how to swim on their own?”

The truth is often more complicated than we want it to be. Both Rent-a-dad and I know first hand how it can take a village to raise a child. If we all walk away from these children, pull this support network out from under these families, then we, as foster parents, are failing them just to be spiteful. That is not who we are.

It takes a village to raise a child. We may not be the permanent caregivers, parents, or blood relations of any kind, but what we are is bigger. We are the people who help create this village for this child.

Our home will always be open, just as our hearts will be.

This is how we want to help break the chain for the next generation. There are statistics that show a portion of children currently in care came from parents who were also in care. We don’t want any child in our care to be in a place where they will continue that cycle.

Too many times the reason a child came into care goes beyond neglect or drug use. It goes beyond one bad decision. The circumstance is complicated and situation did not happen overnight. One big reason children come into care is because of a lack of resources and knowledge of available resources. Birth families feel isolated in their situations. Isolation leads people to bad decision making and reacting instead of planning. We hope that as birth families get to know us that they feel comfortable turning to us for advice knowing we care about the future of their children.

There is always room to expand one’s village.

While we do not expect that everyone will understand how we are growing our village or how the village is meant to function, we hope that there will be respect for what we are attempting to accomplish.