Looking at it, I realize that I’m not really the most-useful person to know about. I expect very few people will do what I did, and I’m still unfamiliar enough with privacy issues to feel comfortable telling the *really interesting* bits of my experience. (I’m sure the kids would recognize themselves, no matter what names I used).
But it’s a story anyway, and I’m a storyteller. So I just pray it will be useful to somebody.
~ ~ ~
For the record, we stopped fostering just before Christmas 2003. I had an 11-month-old, and was 3-months pregnant with my second daughter. Jay and I decided that, considering the type of children we were working with, we should wait until our girls were older than the fosters we would take in.
We considered it a safety issue. We also felt that we had a responsibility to begin again when it would no longer be a risk to our own children.
Naturally, part 2 begins where part 1 left off.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When my parents entered the new program, they had to take additional classes (beyond the introductory course required of all foster parents). The new system also required more annual hours of continuing education than general foster care.
As another adult living in the household– I was 18 or 19, and attending college by now– I can’t remember if I also was required to attend a certain number of classes, or just invited.
I remember the information from those classes feeling a little like science fiction– theoretically possible, given the context, but utterly outside my sphere of experience.
Not having the current numbers in front of me, I won’t dare quote the annual hours of continuing education required to be a foster parent, but the new requirements were at least double the normal amount.
The organizers of the program were reasonably good at arranging for the busy families to meet the increased requirements. There were monthly potlucks (usually with childcare provided) where speakers covered special topics like separation issues, different kinds of abuse, and instruction on paperwork.
There was paperwork *daily.*
We were now a Therapeutic Foster Home, and we had to document what interventions had been applied each day, within the context of certain goals our child had been assigned.
Later as a respite provider (a fully licensed home that kept kids over the weekend, to give the full-time home a break), I saw many different goals, and they could give me clues what to expect from the children.
Things like, “Will learn to express emotions verbally,” or “Will learn to shift focus from one task to another when cued,” could warn you that a child might “acts out” or one fixated on something and wasn’t good at moving on when it was time.
Until I began doing my own “notes” I never really understood how much my mom had to do.
Sometimes she would come to my room at the end of the day and say, “Did you talk to ‘Bobby’ about anything today?” or “What did you guys do together?” I would tell her anything I had.
She would take that and everybody else’s additions and have to figure out how to make it apply to his goals and put it into the language Medicare wanted to see.
This system, I believe, is what kept us focused on making the most of every moment. It was very hard to take the time and consciously document it all, but knowing it had to be done at the end of every day trained us to insert goal-specific elements into our conversations and activities.
Each child had around three goals, and we were supposed to address each goal daily, but anything that helped guide the children to healthy processing and right-behavior also counted as therapy.
Living in this context I learned things that I still use with my own children.
I don’t think fostering takes any “special” kind of parent, exactly. And I don’t think that children in the foster system need different parenting than our own kids. What it takes is always being *on*, and getting it “right” most of the time.
Boy, that makes it sound scary. I don’t mean it to.
There is something about being on-stage, knowing this is for real, that brings out the best in some people. Heightens all our senses and attunes us to every cue. That’s what fostering did for my parenting.
Kids are flexible. Adaptable. They figure out how to fit themselves into the places they find. I think that all healthy kids are already shedding a lot things we parents “get wrong” because of this flexibility.
And we as parents learn what short-cuts we can take to get the most out of that flexibility (T.V. and videos are a perfect example of this).
With the damaged fosters we were around, you might say they had already “used up” all their flexibility. They were stiff and brittle. Picture a dried-out rubber band that you keep tying knots in, to repair. (And even as you tie the knots you wonder if the action will cause another break.)
This is why routine and consistency are so important to many of these children. They don’t have as much flexibility left to help you learn how to parent.
They need the parent to be all parent: providing stability, making the most of every moment; creating moments to teach.
Of course this isn’t any different than we should be with our “own” kids, too, but I think we get sloppy. I know I do.
But with our fosters I could always *see* the broken, and the need, and many times that brought things out of me I never knew were there.
I am convinced there were times when God did things through me just to show he was God–to prove to a child he was protected, loved and understood. And being there when it happened, watching and knowing it was God *providing* once again, it built my faith to trust Him for every crazy situation we found.
Being always-on meant we approached literally everything as a learning experience.
I learned to create allegory for an 8-year-old.
Words are my strong point. I washed my fosters with words. Never in sit-down lectures, but always in the context of the moment.
I feel almost incredulous at this moment, writing this and realizing how far I’ve moved from that model. It’s convicting, really, and maybe that’s why God wanted me to write it just now…
But all that was begun to say, I still say “Use your words,” all the time with my own kids. It was probably my most-used phrase as a fosterer.
I wonder now whether that fluency would have happened if expecting words hadn’t become a part of my thought patterns as a young mom.
Watching my parents foster, and then doing it myself, made me the type of parent I am.
I don’t think I have a whole lot more skills than most parents my age (or with kids my kids’ age) but I would guess I have had more experiences. I’ve heard and seen things that have prepared me for other situations I’ve ended up in. And they’ve given me a lot of perspective too.
Some things just aren’t going to be a big deal once you’ve seen more intense.
~ ~ ~
Long enough for now. ;) I’ll try and finish the story in the next installment.