Foster Parenting: What’s the Alternative?

Dawn Davenport


foster to adopt parenting

Could you risk having your heart broken by being a foster parent or a foster to adopt parent?

Ask any foster parent or foster to adopt parent and they will tell that they hear some variation on the following all the time: “I couldn’t do it – my heart would break every time a child leaves.”

Most of them will tell you that their heart does break, but that they do it anyway because if not them, then who?

I ran across a great blog (Daddy’s Tractor) a while ago by a foster mom Kelly- The Heartbreak of Foster Care. When asked why she risks getting her heart broken she responds simply, “Love is always worth it.”

People tell me “I couldn’t [be a foster parent].” Well, I’ve said that too, so coming from the other side, and with no malice, let me just say, yes. Yes you could. [You] choose not to.

Who are Foster Parents in the US

I wanted to know what type of family chooses to step up and foster. I started by reading blog by foster moms. (Creating a Family has a great list of foster mom blogs.) Many of these moms seemed fun, loving, middle class, passionate, kind of cool, and often doing it because of their faith and belief that this is what God wanted them to do.  But then I stumbled upon a report analyzing Census data, and it drew a very different profile of the typical foster family.

The 2008 report, Data on Children in Foster Care from the Census Bureau, found that “households with foster children are different from other households with children on almost every dimension examined.” When comparing census data for families with foster children against families without foster children, they found that households with foster children were:

  • Larger than other households with children
  • Have a larger number of children
  • Have a larger ratio of children to adults
  • Less likely to be married-couple households
  • More likely to be single-parent or cohabiting-couple households
  • More likely to have an income less than 200 percent of the poverty line
  • Have lower average household income
  • More likely to have a severe financial housing burden, that is, paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing
  • More likely to report receiving public assistance income
  • More likely to be have a householder or spouse who did not complete high school
  • Less likely to have a householder or spouse who graduated from college
  • More likely to have a householder or spouse who did not work in the previous year
  • Less likely to have a householder or spouse who worked full time in the previous year

That report paints a different picture of who steps up to foster. Maybe more of us who aren’t struggling financially need to step up and foster.

Kelly, over at Daddy’s Tractor, quoted another foster mom, who summed it up perfectly:

“We don’t do it because we aren’t afraid of heartbreak, but because we are afraid of what would happen to them without us.”

Are you a foster parent? Have you ever thought of fostering?

Image credit: Peter Dedina

13/08/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Fostering, Fostering Blog | 8 Comments

8 Responses to Foster Parenting: What’s the Alternative?

  1. Avatar Jill H says:

    We are in the process of becoming foster parents. Our end goal is yes to adopt and add to our family.

    Dawn you said that it isn’t that you couldn’t be foster parents but that you choose not too. Many people say this in regards to attachment. My philosophy on this is: my husband, current child and I are all well adjusted. We have the ability to work through the grief of losing a child we genuinely feel attached to and love for. The child in the foster system never chose the lose their first family (permenantly or temporarily) and they never ever chose to be neglected or abused. They aren’t well adjusted. They don’t know what boundaries are. If my well adjusted (relatively) family unit can step up and help even one child learn how to grieve in a healthy way, process and heal their trauma and learn those boundaries and social functioning skills, then our job as a foster parent is well worth it. Even if we never adopt it is still worth it to send those kids back into the world with useful and healthy skills.

  2. Avatar Robyn C says:

    “Yes you could. [You] choose not to.”

    Oh please! You could apply that sentiment to almost anything. “I could never be a Supreme Court Justice.” “Yes you could, you just choose not to go to law school, put in the hours, become a superb lawyer, become a politically-connected judge… ”

    OK, so I picked a pie in the sky goal, but seriously, it could apply to literally anything on the planet that was a choice: I could never be a cop, I could never be a professional singer, I could never pick up everything and live for a year in an RV…

    With regards to the statistics, the state almost always looks for relative placements, so many of these “foster parents” may be biological relatives who are in similar financial circumstances to their family members.

  3. Avatar Nikki says:

    My husband and i are foster parents. We have 3 bio children. We take in children 0-5. When we decided to become foster parents our main answer to why? Was because we could. Our home has enough space for more children, our hearts have enough space for more children. From your research i would say we are not the typical foster family. We are married, middle class. I am a stay at home mom. Another reason to foster, i had the time to give.
    Do we get attached? Oh my yes! Its actually one of our goals when we frequently receive children who have been neglected and have attachment issues. Is it hard when they leave us? Hell yes! I cry, i grieve. But i know this child will leave with something they may never have had. I don’t feel like it hurts the child. They will leave knowing how to love, feel loved and so many skils i cant list them all.
    We do this because we can. I don’t know how else to explain it. I guess not everyone can. But i bet more people could if they really thought about it.

  4. Avatar Greg says:

    I agree Dawn. They would want someone with the heart CB has. 🙂

    Regarding the statement that people are deciding not to Foster because they don’t want to not because they can’t, I disagree with that. For me I would have a hard time not getting attached and I fear that would impact the child and it wouldn’t be fair to them. It would be selfish for me or anyone for that matter to get involved in something they aren’t fit to do when it will impact others. Fostering isn’t for everyone and not every Foster Parent should Foster. I don’t think anyone who decides not to Foster is a bad person or that they don’t care about children.

    There are many different ways to help children in need. Fostering a child is one of them but it isn’t the only one. A few months back I got involved in my local Big Brother/Big Sister program. While it’s not the same as fostering it is still providing a child with something they aren’t able to have at home for whatever reason. That is just one way an adult can help children that doesn’t involve Fostering.

    • Greg, you’re definitely right that fostering is not for everyone, and I don’t think the foster mom you are quoting was implying that it was. You are also right that there are many ways to be involved and to help children other than fostering (Big Brothers is a great example). However, the point you made about knowing that you would get attached is that point she was making. She DOES get attached. All good foster parents get attached. Kids, especially foster kids, need foster parents that get attached.

      However, I completely agree that some people, especially many of those who are suffering from infertility and desperately want to become parents, are probably too vulnerable to foster. I’ve seen some who have done it well, but for many it is just too hard. I get that.

  5. Avatar cb says:

    “Ask any foster parent or foster to adopt parent and they will tell that they hear some variation on the following all the time: “I couldn’t do it—my heart would break every time a child leaves.””

    I know that that is one of those statement that irks most foster parents.

    I am considering fostering – I plan to attend a meeting re fostering. I think of it as being a port in a storm for a child in need. I don’t know if they would want someone like me(I don’t drive, I rent and don’t earn a lot of money) but a meeting would clarify what is needed.

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