The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

On Fostering Part IV: The Nature of Fostering

This past Shabbos marked The Toddler's second birthday. I have been writing a few posts about fostering to mark that occasion.

Ohel is always looking for additional foster families. This may seem strange because the population of kids "in the system" is, today, relatively small. But it's not strange. It's not about the numbers, it's about the fit. Most kids in the system need just the right situation to thrive and Ohel needs to be able to choose from among as many families with diverse strengths and situations as possible in order to be able to make the right placement.

So, the question is, what is the nature of fostering? Could it be for you?

It depends. Perhaps our experience will be instructive.

We became certified about 8 years ago. In the years since, we have cared for three children on a long-term basis and have provided respites for a handful of others. Each of the three long-term children has been completely different (even though two were brothers). Our first fostering gig lasted a bit more than a year. For 8 months we cared for two brothers, ages 4 and 5. Then the younger boy went to another home (a pre-adoptive home that did not work out) and we cared for the older brother, "Judah", for another few months until he re-joined his brother. After a sad journey through numerous other homes, Judah came back to us for another extended period of time, but that, too, did not work out. He has been in group residences for the past three years (but he is ready to be placed in a pre-adoptive home). For the past 22 months we have been caring for The Toddler, who celebrated her second birthday last Shabbos.

(It is worth pointing out that contrary to most people's perceptions, in almost every way our first fostering gig was much more dificult than our current situation. While changing diapers at our ages is not necessarily what we had in mind (other than grandchildrens'), raising a baby, even at our age, is much easier than dealing with kids who have endless baggage. (Of course, now is a good time to point out that whatever I do is absolutely nothing compared to MHW; she is the one who bears most of the responsibility).

We started fostering because we thought we could be pretty good at it. We had a pretty structured (albeit flexible) home life and we had senses of humor. But mainly, we thought that it would be good for our kids. We were right. Much more than we could ever have imagined. And we had no idea how important and rewarding it would be for us.

To me, the key elements for being a good foster parent are structure, humor. love and patience. Did I mention patience? The overwhelming majority of kids who come into foster care come from disfunctional family situations or worse. They crave structure. (All kids do). They need to be able to depend on a routine. They crave attention. And you need a sense of humor. And did I mention patience?

Fostering can also be very time consuming. With the boys, for example, MHW spent a lot of time simply scheduling the various therapies that they received (and then driving them back and forth). They also demanded a huge amount of attention. And this brings me to the next, very important point.

Your kids need to be with the program. Because they will sacrifice. They will sacrifice in terms of your time and attention. You will be pulled in many more directions. The foster kids may also drive them crazy. Your kids will need patience and a sense of humor.

(You also need to exercise good judgment in accepting kids. You must determine whether a child suggested by Ohel works for your particular circumstances. You need to be able to say no where it isn't appropriate or if you think it won't work. You can't allow yourself a guilt trip. Some kids make sense. Others would be disasterous.)

Looking back, despite the extremely difficult circumstances we often experienced with the two boys, we are happy that we did it. We feel we helped the boys and we know we grew tremendously from the experience. We often think back on those days and laugh at the craziness.

(There is nothing to talk about when it comes to The Toddler. We have been blessed. We have been privileged to care for the sweetest, cutest baby one could hope for.)

So, is it for you? That depends entirely on your circumstances. But if you think it is, you will be rewarded by the experience. Ohel awaits your call.



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