Five Myths About Foster Care

In May 2012, I received two amazing phone calls.

The first came from my publisher. I’d sold my first full-length romance novel, Weighting for Mr. Right. (Yes, thank you, thank you. Kiss, kiss. Hug, hug.)

The second came less than 24 hours later. We’d been matched to not one, but two children to foster and potentially adopt.

By the end of that day, I’d gone from being a mother of two to a mother of four, and life rapidly changed.

Adoption had been in my life plans since I was a kid. I had a cousin who was adopted, and I’d met plenty of other people who’d also found their forever families through adoption. It seemed like a great thing to do, but the road to adoption isn’t that simple; it’s life-changing for you, for your family, and the children you bring into your home. Adoption, no matter your path, is not for the faint of heart.

Despite the barrage of tools I’d been given through foster care classes and numerous articles I’d read, I soon realized that parenting, no matter if they are genetically yours or not, is always challenging.

No matter if you choose private, international, or foster/adoption, it’s a rough journey. Even the smoothest of transitions throws you on an overwhelming emotional roller coaster, one you have to stay on.

Knowing what I know now, I believe many people discount foster/adoption as potential choices due to myths that have been floating out there as facts for far too long. Here are a few of them:

False: Children in foster care are “damaged” and beyond saving.

I won’t lie—kids in foster care have been through a lot. They’ve been neglected, abandoned, lied to, abused, and flat-out forgotten. But children can be resilient if those adults around them follow through and keep their promises, no matter their age, race, education level, culture, or religion.

Patience, persistence, consistency, and love are the keys to helping these young ones realize how great they can be. Those tools will be needed day in and day out when that same child is navigating a new life and finding new social boundaries. But understand, you are helping change and potentially save that child’s life.

No child is beyond saving, although some may not be the best match for certain parents or parenting styles. This is where your foster/adoption agency should be your sounding board and help you make those decisions. However, every child, in the right circumstances and with the right tools, can thrive and succeed.

False: The families of foster children often come looking for their kids.

This was one of my biggest concerns. Fostering implies that a child has been removed from a local family (within the city or county). What if you run into their mom, grandma, aunt, father, brother, etc? What are you supposed to do?

I asked this of our social worker before we fostered, and she said in the decade she’d worked with Child Protective Services, there had been one incident that had been immediately dealt with and easily resolved.

Many times, the parents are trying to get their lives back together, and they know if they see the child outside the parameters given, it will jeopardize their chances of getting their child back. In other situations, parents weren’t involved before the children’s removal and won’t be after it. Sad, but true.

Know that the possibility of running into any bio family member is close to zero. If this happens, the best thing to do is to leave, call your social worker, and let him/her know of the situation and what you did to handle it.

False: You have to be rich/young/married/straight/white to be a foster parent.

When my husband and I went to foster care classes there were 42 other parents in there of all races, ages, marital statuses, sexual orientation, and socio-economic classes. There were single working parents, empty-nesters, same-sex couples, couples who hoped to expand their families, and parents who had been foster kids themselves.

There are many reasons why people want to foster/adopt, but above all, you must be capable of a selfless kind of love that can handle many bumps in the road. Again, pull your patience and love to the forefront. Know that this will be one of the toughest and more rewarding things you’ll ever do.

It’s a selfless kind of love to put our hearts out there for a child who may or may not stay in our lives forever, but know that for the time that child is there, he/she is safe and cared for. You will change that child’s life, even if you never know how.

False: Kids in foster care have bad genes.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard “Are you sure you want to adopt from foster care? I mean, you don’t know what you’re getting.” As if private or international adoption would be any different. Heck, even your own genetics are a crap shoot. The idea that you would have any more control over “what you’re getting” if you birth a child versus adopt a child, is absurd.

I get what people are saying, but you only have so much control when you have children. Nurture plays a HUGE role in all children’s lives, especially foster children. These children are desperate to be loved by those who truly have their best interests at heart and their education in mind. They will thrive in loving, structured environments.

Will it be easy? No, because parenting is downright complicated. But is it possible to be a good parent to a child who’s had a rough start? Certainly.

I remember when our son arrived. He had about a 100-word vocabulary, knew what city buses and taxis were, could point out every fast food restaurant and tell me what they served, and said police cars were bad. But we could see it in his eyes. This kid was hungry to learn. Yes, he’d gotten the short end of the stick for education and early development, but he became a sponge when it came to new information. He couldn’t learn enough, fast enough. Even now he’s constantly asking questions. I dread to think what his life would have been like had he stayed where he was. It breaks my heart to know there are other children like him.

False: Kids in foster care want to “age out” of the system because they’ll get a bunch of free stuff.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If a child ages out of the system (at 18 years old) and he/she isn’t in college or the military and doesn’t have a home base like a foster home or foster family he/she can come back to, there is a 100% chance that he/she will be either homeless, pregnant, incarcerated, or dead within a year of aging out.

One-hundred percent.

I recently talked to a man who’s in the Navy, a former foster child himself. He said he remembered when the kids in some of the foster homes turned 18. The parents would have their bags packed and on the front steps on their birthdays, tell them they’d aged out and weren’t their (parents’) problem anymore. Beyond tragic.

There are programs and help for kids who age out to get training in trade schools or enroll in universities and colleges, but the kids have to know where to go and with whom to speak about it. Foster parents themselves may not know what to do or what programs are out there. This is why it’s essential that communication with CPS happens long before the child ages out, but again, not all kids will be given that option.

Let me say this about fostering: At the beginning, when we were deciding how we were going to expand our family, fostering/adoption wasn’t my first choice. I told myself I couldn’t bear it if we fostered a child and he/she had to leave.

After we discussed all options—private, international adoption, and foster/ adoption—we chose fostering in hopes that we would care for a child who wouldn’t have to leave and whom instead we would be approved to adopt.

Our social workers and foster care instructors were incredible, giving us all the tools we would need, including those necessary to survive having a child who eventually went back to his family.

Was it heartbreaking? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I don’t regret a moment spent with that little guy.

However, our story does have a happy ending. Six weeks after our sweet boy returned to his family, we were matched with a pair of siblings. Six months later, we officially became their forever parents.

For more information on fostering/adoption in Texas, start with the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange. Don’t be intimidated by the option to foster or adopt. They are options worth considering if you have love in your heart to give.

Patricia W. Fischer is romance author, journalist, and retired pediatric/adult critical care nurse who’s made her homes in Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Missouri. After having a fantastic time at The University of Texas (hook ’em!), she decided actually attending class would help her reach her long-term goals faster. She buckled down and in eight years earned a Licensed Vocational Nurse certification, then an Associate’s in Nursing, and finally, a Bachelor’s of Science in Journalism. During that time, Patricia worked in multiple fields of nursing, including medical/surgical, recovery room, orthopedics, telemetry (ICU step down), and critical care before she settled into the unpredictability of the emergency room. For five years, she worked in a general ER before she ended up at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, a Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center. She retired from nursing in 2002 and started writing full-time. She has written for many publications, including iVillage, Hot Mom’s Club, Modern Mom, Dallas Child, American Journal of Nursing, The Writer’s Edge, Nursing Spectrum, and Chicken Soup for the Soul Series. For the past two years, she’s had a monthly book picks segment on San Antonio Living, a local morning show on WOAI. She’s a member of the San Antonio Romance Authors (SARA).