Deciding to foster a child, while clearly admirable, is the furthest thing from a no-brainer. So much consideration must go into the decision to provide safety and security to a child who hasn't always had it.
Nobody has ever left a thriving, trauma-free family dynamic and found themselves suddenly plopped into the foster care system.
A child arrives there because the adults in their lives have struggled to give them what they need, be that love, nutrition, physical safety, or stable emotional environments.
So a foster parent enters a child's narrative a little after the fact. That can make the whole experience a real challenge.
Curious to learn the specifics of those challenges, Redditor RaeRai293 asked:
"People who are or have been in the foster system: What would you say to someone who is considering becoming a foster parent?"
Many people unpacked the nuanced dynamics of a well-known element of foster care: children arrive with a history of trauma.
"I had a friend growing in up whose biological parents were foster parents. I remember that when I went round I wasn't allowed alone with certain children there. We are still friends now and said that alot of children are from abusive families, physically, mentally."
"So you need to be prepared to receive children that have experienced horrific things in their life and the baggage that brings."
You Will Not Be Perfect
"Take care of yourself. You are not a superhero. If you don't remember self care (mental, emotional & physical), you will struggle."
"You cannot give from an empty cup and foster kids will drain you. They are suffering from trauma and you will feel that. Don't ignore your needs or they will suffer more."
Prepare for Some Sorrow
"It can be extremely heartbreaking. My aunt and uncle fostered a few kids. The 2 youngest girls were i believe 6 and 4 when they took them in. Their birth mother was an addict and sex worker."
"I remember once we had planned a camping trip."
"When we told them we were going camping they started hysterically crying. I later found out to them 'camping' was sleeping out in the streets."
Coming on the back of those upsetting realities, the foster parent's conduct and parenting style needs to be very deliberate.
"Regardless of how long the kid stays with you, they will remember how you treat them. Be patient, many may not understand what is happening at first. Most will be angry but even if they upset you don't let it show."
It's Not About Your Opinion
"Have lots of empathy for everyone involved. Put aside your judgments and listen. Figure out how you can best serve the kids. There is no magic pill that will help them. It takes time, therapy, patience and a lot of empathy."
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Not For No Reason
"go easy on them. We dont act out because we just feel like it or hate you, we act out because we're not used to being treated nicely and in the back of our head we always know that we could be sent away any day so we might not wanna get attached too fast."
"my sister and I went into foster care when we were really young and we came from a very abusive family so we just expected every family to be like that? I'd flinch every time someone tried to touch or hug me and I still don't like it. you just gotta be very patient because you never really know what they went through"
Last, others reminded folks that the point of foster care is to provide temporary safety until the child can, ideally, return home.
For obvious reasons, that's so important for people to get straight.
Know the Goal
"The system is designed to reunify families as its first goal. If you are in it to adopt you will have conflicting priorities. If you're not, you should keep in mind that in order for a successful reunification to happen, you really need to forge a relationship with the bio parent(s) and in a sense, foster them as well."
"Almost all parents who are part of the system probably should have been foster kids based on what they grew up with. Treat the kid (s) as part of your family but recognize the pain of a parent having their child taken away. Regardless of what they did, they are probably hurting"
A Different Thing Entirely
"The goal of foster care is reunification, not adoption. I wish more foster parents understood that. You're not entitled to someone else's child, and foster care is not some free version of adoption."
"It can be a result, but the goal 99% of the time is reunification with bio parents. Also, no matter the situation, there WILL be trauma. It's not easy."
Remind Children Too
"First of all; As a foster you are part of a system trying to reunite families."
"First time children are going to be confused and frightened, reassure them that everyone, including you, is working on getting them back to their family."
"Children that have been in the system before will still be frightened, but might not show it, they may also be scared of going back to their parents."
"Each will be different and you need to adjust to their needs. Emotional and physical."
"Treat them as you treat your own child. This means feeding them the same,(and healthy foods) getting the clothes they need, making sure they get to the dentist and doctor, giving them treats/toys/fun things as well."
"Give them their own safe space."
"Allow them to make choices (which shirt/shoes do you want? Do you like this food? What meal do you want tonight, choice 1 or chose 2?) They have no control in their own lives, this helps give them some control."
"Get them a suitcase, that's theirs, that they can take with them when they move on. Most don't have one."
"Give them an allowance from the money you get for housing them and spend the rest of the money on things they need. It's for them, to help you care from them and it's not yours to vacation on or by your (bio) kid a new iPad."
"THEY WILL REMEMBER YOU FOR THEIR WHOLE LIVES. Someday you may be a horror story about their past, or you may be the one who gets remembered fondly and with love. You dammed better be the one they remember with love."
Perhaps fostering a child has crossed your mind in the past. Here's hoping this list helped you iron out your motives, concerns, and confidence level.
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As a long-standing icon for children's home education and entertainment, Sesame Street has made important strides for inclusion and destigmatizing difficult topics.
From wheelchair-bound to autistic, Sesame Street's writers have carefully crafted a series of characters that celebrate diversity, and their latest addition to the family is no exception.
Meet Karli, who lives in a foster care home with her "for-now parents," Clem and Dalia.
In an episode showing Elmo and Karli playing together and coloring, they discuss the difficult subject of Karli living in foster care.
Karli explains to Elmo that she is separated from her parents, who still love her but can't can't take care of her.
When Elmo expresses concern, she explains how she is living with her "for-now parents," who are teaching her how her heart can grow as more loved ones come into her life.
A Heart Can Grow www.youtube.com
In this truly touching video, Karli walks us through the wide array of things and people that can help the heart to grow.
The distinction offered in this short video is so beautiful and layered. There are multiple messages parents could use to start a conversation with their children, to teach them about foster and adoptive families, or to support foster or adoptive children of their own.
In the first heart, Karli explains, is a picture of her with her mom. Her mother is at her heart's core, and we are lead to think that she at one time filled Karli's entire heart, before she knew she could make room for more.
In the second heart, which is larger and surrounds the first, Karli depicts herself sharing a hug with her foster "for-now" parents, who embraced her, took her into their home, and began to teach her about accepting love from other places.
Then, in the next several hearts, we see Karli's confidence and excitement grow as she talks about making new friends, doing new activities with them and having pizza nights, and creating new, irreplaceable memories.
We can see her figuring out how each of the new people in her life, and each of her new likes, from the playground to pizza, are helping her heart to grow, and helping her grow into the person her future self will be.
This is such an important episode, because whether we're talking about foster care, or grieving the loss of a family member, or moving to a new place, there will always be new people, activities, and joys that will fill those empty spaces and help the heart to grow.
Much of what Karli points out relates to personal preference, self-fulfillment, and security, which are often just as important in creating happy, healthy selves as the people who are there to witness it.
Already viewers are taking notice and embracing Sesame Street's newest member of the family, and what this could mean for understanding foster care.
@CNN I really like that they are introducing this concept, as a child advocate it makes me super happy. 🤗— Jaspreet Singh (@Jaspreet Singh)1558385262.0
@CNN Such a scary and often times heartbreaking time for children. I am glad to see them incorporate this into the… https://t.co/xWw6aiRV4v— Justin Miles (@Justin Miles)1558384950.0
@CNN This is great. Kids navigating the foster system often feel lost or unwanted and it’s nice to see Sesame Stree… https://t.co/E9aQi5Z1io— CEO of the Gays (@CEO of the Gays)1558385062.0
@CNN It's sad that this is a thing that some child might need, but it's a good thing that Sesame Street is trying to help all children— Kajet Seifert (@Kajet Seifert)1558403831.0
@sesamestreet @SesameCommunity I wish our orphanages & all foster parents would get to know Karli & this initiative… https://t.co/eAScl6Fewd— Jeremiah Liles (@Jeremiah Liles)1558387734.0
@sesamestreet @SesameCommunity Im not crying you’re crying! 😭❤️— Aurea (@Aurea)1558381607.0
No matter the family's situation, it's always important to introduce these various models of family units to every child, whether they are of a biological home or otherwise.
These conversations will grow children who are empathetic and socially aware.
It's great to see Sesame Street embracing another character on the diversity spectrum, and we can't wait to see who they invite to the family next.