Sometimes due to unforeseen circumstances, children may find themselves in a major upheaval, being taken out of their homes and placed with caring strangers for stability and support.
To many people, foster parents are considered real-life superheroes, serving and loving children for as long as they’re needed, despite the inevitable farewell.
Though it can be intense and painful, all of the foster parents we’ve spoken to agree it’s worth it — and professionals say there is a huge need for more people to step up.
Misty Formani says she knew at an early age that she wanted be a foster mom.
For the past four years, she and her husband have cared for 23 kids in addition to their three biological children. Whether new placements or offering respite breaks, the couple says that every situation is different.
“In the beginning you think, ‘We’re going to fix them,’” she says. “‘They’re going to fit right in with our family. We’re going to go on vacation’…Then reality sets in and you understand that these children are afraid and it’s up to you to give them something they may have never had.”
According to foster parents, when children arrive, it can be rough because they often are internalizing what’s happening. Reassuring children that their families are working to get them back may help with anxiety of the unknown.
Tammy Prentiss, who began fostering three years ago, says, “You’ve got to take it one day at a time. It’s our job to help them understand that you don’t have to be their family to love them.”
“Being a foster parent means being completely selfless,” says Ashley Berdine, foster care supervisor at Caring for Kids. “It’s about pouring yourself into the kids and holding onto a sense of a job well done. Some don’t consider fostering because they only want to adopt, meanwhile there are kids without homes because people aren’t willing accept the burden of reunification.”
AGES AND PHASES
Children of all ages become emotional when their lives are disrupted. It’s not uncommon for younger children to have temper tantrums or for teens to be moody. Being sensitive to what’s comforting can make a big difference.
“As a foster mother of teens, you see that they want you to parent them, love them and try to help them,” Formani says. “You can’t change what they’ve been through. One of my girls was like a sponge. She let me talk to her and craved guidance. There are a lot of children who are in need of a loving, safe home while their parents are going through a tough time.”
SPLITTING KIDS UP
The only thing scarier for children having to leave their parents is being separated from their siblings. Professionals working to find foster homes say that it can be difficult to keep them together.
“We need more families who are willing to take sibling groups,” Berdine says. “I’ve seen sibling groups as large as nine or 11 and it’s rare that they will stay together. It’s really a challenge to find families willing to care for three or more kids from one family.”
Prentiss says she misses waiting for the school bus and hearing the children play. Since it was more than one child, the absence is felt even more.
“We took in three siblings, little girls who we fostered for 22 months,” she says. “I would suggest to anyone considering becoming a foster parent to do it. There are good and bad days, just like with your own kids.”
Like biological children, foster kids won’t stay home with parents forever, but the difference is there’s no minimum 18-year milestone and reunification could happen on short notice.
“You can’t have a child in your home for a year without falling, in some way, in love with them,” explains Holly Spencer-Trueman, foster parent recruiter of OhioGuidestone. “They become part of the fabric of your heart. We want foster parents to be loving and nurturing and help kids feel safe, but not to the point where they don’t want to leave. We tell parents to prepare to take the hit. It will be a turn of the seasons before parents are given enough time to regain custody. First and foremost, the goal is to reunite kids with their families.”
“It’s important for foster parents to take on the hurt of losing a child they love,” Berdine says. “When they are committed, they provide stability and help prevent kids from bouncing around from house to house.”
Parents like Sarah Viar went into fostering expecting to say goodbye because to her family, making a positive impact trumps hurt feelings.
“Letting go is really hard, but our mission was to get to know the families of the children we cared for,” Viar says. “Our goal was to strengthen bonds and be a support system to families. Our family didn’t just grow by children, it grew by families. It’s my personal belief that if a child leaves your home and you don’t hurt, you didn’t fully open your heart and give them the full family experience. Many of the children still come over to visit. We’re like an aunt and uncle who babysit from time to time.”