Becoming a foster parent can be equal parts challenging and joyful. It also rarely goes as expected. No matter how prepared you think you are, and no matter how much research you do, the fact remains that every child has different needs and every family has different circumstances.
To get a sense of what fostering is really like for a first-timer, we recently talked with Teena Williams, an attorney and foster parent going on five years. While Williams currently doesn’t have a placement, what she has to say about her past fostering is illuminating.
An Eye-Opening Experience
When Williams first explored becoming a foster parent, she had a certain idea in her mind about how it would be. “I thought it would be a lot more formulaic,” she explains. “This happens here, this happens there … a set routine that all the social workers would follow.”
This, as it turns out, was decidedly not the case. “I had no idea it was extremely subjective,” Williams says. “Rather than the experience being dictated by law or policy, it turned out to be very nebulous.”
She worked closely with her agency to try to get the information she needed. It was during this process that she realized she wanted to help others become better informed foster parents. Because of this, Williams joined the board of Fostering Change Washington. She explains that, “this has helped give me and others a voice.”
The Good And The Bad Of Reunification
During her time to date as a foster parent, Williams has experienced both ends of the reunification process. For a pair of twins who had joined her as newborns, the process was relatively smooth and, ultimately, wildly successful.
“The twins’ mother and I ended up doing a two-month long transition,” she says. “There were supervised visits, monitored visits, community visits — these went on for several weeks.”
Eventually, those visits turned into Friday overnights, then weekend visits. After three to four weekends, the family was reunified. By that time, Williams had forged a friendship with the mother — a friendship that remains four and a half years later.
On the other end of the reunification spectrum was a child Williams had been fostering for nearly a year when, one day, she was told the child would be living with a relative. “It all happened in just three days,” she says, “and I had to fight for those three days.”
This goes to show that setting realistic expectations, mentally preparing yourself, and knowing that things could change at a moment’s notice is critical to becoming a successful foster parent. Overcoming the unexpected is one of the many things that makes becoming a foster parent is so rewarding.
Despite the challenges and occasional heartbreak, Williams says she’s ready to foster again in a heartbeat. Only this time, her eyes are open to the reality of the situation.
“The realistic expectation for every foster parent should be to expect the unexpected,” she says. “You have to be ready and willing to go with the flow because there are so many different moving parts to manage.”
When asked how she would change the current fostering system, Williams believes:
- Every new foster parent should be taught that there is a huge support network of other foster parents.
- Foster parents must be treated with more dignity and respect in order to improve retention.
- There should be permanency for every child within a year.
- The children, not the parents, should always be at the center of the fostering process.
Our thanks to Teena Williams for sharing her story. For more information on becoming a foster parent, download our free resource, The Essential Guide To Becoming A Foster Parent In Washington State.