Understanding Foster Care From The Perspective Of The Child, The Parent, And The Foster Parent
When deciding whether or not to make a commitment to begin fostering, there are many things to consider. Potential foster parents have a desire to make a difference in the life of a child, but they also weigh safety, availability, and financial concerns. While no experience is ever the same, the shared stories of people involved in the system can assist in building deeper understanding.
Below we’ve shared three different perspectives, that of a foster child, a parent, and a foster parent. Our aim is to shed light on their incredible stories of love and heartbreak. Explore life through another’s perspective, as you learn more about the challenges of parents' journey to reunify with their children and the hard work foster parents put in to provide a safe environment for children. We hope you are better able to understand the goal of foster care — to reunify families whenever possible, and to ensure every child has a safe and loving home.
These stories are real experiences of real people — and they show the raw feelings and struggles that aren’t always told. Foster care is complex and impactful, and we hope that sharing these amazing stories will inspire you to begin your journey to become a foster parent.
Xana’s story had a rocky start
As an older sibling, Xana had always been very protective of their younger brother. When the pair entered foster care at ages 14 and 13, Xana was concerned about the odds they would be able to stay together. Xana and their brother were eventually separated when Xana was placed in their first home. Unfortunately for Xana, they struggled with feeling like they didn’t belong in their foster home and eventually had to be rehoused.
A shift occurred for Xana when meeting with a counselor at their high school. Determined to stay the four years at their current high school, Xana was doing everything possible to get a placement in the area.
During their meeting with the counselor, Xana got connected to a brand-new foster family. Little did Xana know, this would become their forever home.
Meeting with the foster family at a local coffee place, Xana remembers realizing almost immediately that their life had been changed forever.
A Christian couple in their 50s, Joan and Matt were first-time foster parents. They had three grown children who had left the house, leaving them as empty nesters.
Xana describes themselves on the first day they met their foster family: “I had colored hair, stretched ears with piercings, wore band t-shirts, and had heavy make-up. I was so worried that I was too weird, too different, and too damaged to be worthy of their love.”
Within a moment of meeting, Xana knew that this was a magical moment. With the acceptance and support of Joan and Matt, Xana has been able to achieve many amazing things.
“It’s never too late. Don’t count somebody out because they’ve relapsed six times..it could be that seventh time that it was the golden one and they’re going to move forward”
With the support of their foster family, Xana has been able to achieve many incredible things. Xana turned their C and D grades around to As, gave a speech at their high school graduation, and was able to finish their bachelor’s degree debt-free by winning scholarships.
Additionally, Xana was able to come out as transgender while finishing their university degree. “After being able to come out to myself and deconstructing my performance of being a girl to survive in the system, I’ve been doing my best to pay it forward by working with other LGBTQ+ youth in foster care.”
Xana experienced trauma and abandonment before finding their foster family. “My dad’s been in prison most of my life, so I’ve never really had a father figure.”
Additionally, Xana and their brother, who were able to remain connected, had to come to terms with their mother’s abandonment when they were teenagers.
Today, Xana is considering applying for graduate school to become a therapist. They are spending the time to work through their past trauma through therapy and prioritizing their healing journey.
Xana hopes that the stigma around foster care, especially fostering teenagers and siblings is less present in the future. They hope to be part of breaking the cycle of the trauma of foster care by supporting LGBTQ+ youths in the system.
Tiffany and Johni were struggling with their sobriety when they each became involved in the foster care system.
Tiffany and Johni are both women who have had children in the foster care system. Each woman has had a vastly different collection of experiences, but their stories show the inspiring lengths parents will go for their children.
Tiffany was born into a middle-class Christian family. She became pregnant six months after graduating high school. She quickly got married and gave birth to her first child. Within a couple of years, she and her husband divorced. Because of her religious upbringing, her divorce was a great source of guilt and shame.
During this time, she met a new guy who introduced her to parties and drugs. She also gave birth to two more children. And, as she started to use drugs more frequently, what had started as a weekend habit became a full-blown addiction.
Tiffany’s drug use quickly began to take control of her life, and she turned to the streets to get her next fix when her prescriptions ran out. She ended up losing custody of her children, and Tiffany’s parents became the legal foster parents for her children.
Tiffany’s journey to getting her children back was not an easy road. With multiple relapses and stays in treatment centers, Tiffany struggled with her sobriety and hated how distant she was growing from her own children.
“I think that, if you choose to foster, it’s really important for you not to expect them to be a certain person or to have a certain personality.”
Johni and her husband had been on-and-off heroin users for 11 years. Both had stable jobs without experiencing any run-ins with the law. However, functioning grew more difficult for the couple and, as they were the parents of two boys, CPS was called. Both boys were taken away to a foster home of parents that Johni did not know.
Johni’s first reaction was to fight for her children. “We were going to prove them wrong, but unfortunately, we ended up proving them right,” she explained about the difficulty she experienced while trying to navigate the foster care system and come to terms with her addiction.
For Tiffany, the most challenging part came from her internal struggle to feel like she was enough for her children. “I remember telling my mom that I wasn’t good enough anyway. I knew that the life that they were going to have with her was good, and I couldn’t compete with that.”
Unfortunately for Johni, she did not personally know the family her children were placed with. While she was incredibly grateful that they were keeping her boys healthy and safe, she found working with the foster family very difficult. “They assumed they knew us because we were drug users. They told our children inaccurate things about us, which was really hurtful.”
While both women experienced the foster care system in very different ways, both were able to achieve a happy ending.
Both Tiffany and Johni regained legal custody of their children in 2014 and have never looked back. And, the best part for both women is that they are now working with the system to act as peer mentors to parents going through similar experiences.
Tiffany created the Parents for Parents program that is designed to help better connect foster parents and biological parents throughout the fostering process. Johni works as a caseworker. “I provide the support that I could have used during my journey.”
There can be stigma against the parents of children in foster care. This stigma plays a role in many parents feeling inadequate to care for their children and unable to regain control of their lives. The process of regaining legal custody of a child is incredibly difficult for parents, especially for those who have no knowledge of how the foster system works.
In both of these stories, we see how important the role of foster parents is in the lives of the children and parents. Increased involvement of the parents in the foster system process is one of the best ways to reconnect families. This is an important component of the process that all potential foster parents should consider prior to starting.
Reunification of families is the ultimate goal of successful foster care. As a foster parent, being able to provide a safe environment for the children while also helping to support the connection between child and parent is an essential task. Being a safe space as the family mends and hopefully reconnects is part of the beauty of providing a foster home.
A story about following a dream.
Kristina was a busy working mother of two who always wanted to be a foster parent. She possessed an interest in social work and social programs and absolutely loved children. But, making the jump to becoming a foster parent always felt daunting, because Kristina knew she wanted to be able to focus all of her attention on working with the children. For Kristina, choosing to become a foster parent lead her to decide to quit her job in order to commit to her passion.
Ultimately, Kristina chose her dream over her higher-paying job. She quit, enabling her to be a stay-at-home mom to her children while also taking in foster children. While this was a stressful time that required lots of adjustments, she has never looked back. “I now get to work with so many kids, helping them build memories they will never forget,” she explained. Kristina gets so much joy from the small things, like taking the children camping for the first time or helping them learn to swim. “I take photos for the parents, so they have the memories too.” She has now been fostering for over four years and has fostered over 40 children ages 0-18.
When Kristina started fostering, she often had a hard time believing the parents were doing everything they could to get their kids back. Interested to learn more about the system, Kristina took training courses about foster care, and her eyes were opened.
As she continued to foster children, she started to engage more with parents. Hearing their stories, and seeing some fantastic examples of perseverance, have been some of her most memorable and life-changing moments. “Some of the parents’ journeys are so incredibly inspiring. I keep them with me.”
For Kristina, one of the best parts of fostering has been the impact the process has had on her two children. “It’s been great for my daughter,” she explained. “She has so much compassion and empathy for people, and she has learned so much about what the lives of these children have been like.”
“There are just a million rewarding and amazing children out there.”
Many foster parents struggle with feeling grief when they become attached to their foster children. While it is not always easy to part with a child that you have loved and bonded with, Kristina offers some helpful advice:
“We can show them what a different life is like. They’ll remember that, and then they can maybe make that choice for their kids when they have kids, because they know that there’s a different way to parent and a different way to living life than what they were exposed to.”
Choosing to become a foster parent is not a decision that should be taken lightly — but it is also an incredible opportunity to make a difference in many people’s lives.
Working in the foster care system and alongside parents, a foster parent can be an integral part of shaping a child’s future. Every foster parent has the ability to leave a positive mark on a child and their family — and these positive moments are memories that last a lifetime.
For those interested in learning more about the process of becoming a foster parent, we offer an incredibly helpful webinar. Full of information about how to prepare and what to expect when you first open your home to foster children, it is a valuable resource for anyone looking to start their journey as a foster parent. For more information, please fill out the form to get connected with an agency near you.Watch the webinar