By: Dr. John DeGarmo
One thing I have learned over the years as a foster parent is that I must be flexible. To be sure, I never know when a child will arrive or leave my home, as there is often very little notice in either regard. In the past few months, I have seen the number of children in my home go from six to nine and then down to seven. As I write this, we currently have eleven children in our home; three biological, three adopted, and a sibling group of five children from foster care. Now, if you believe we are a group home, this is not correct. Emergencies crop up, waivers are signed by both the state’s child welfare agency and my family, and my wife and I simply have a difficult time saying no. Fortunately, the addition of several of these is for respite purposes.
As you can imagine with eleven children, it seems that all my wife and I do is clean, wash, and supervise. The cooking is nonstop, the washing of dirty clothes is around the clock, and the supervision is often done with one eye towards one group of children, while the other eye is watching out for the others. Is it pandemonium in our house? Perhaps. Is it a house that is never fully clean? Without a doubt. Is it a house full of love? Absolutely! At the moment, my wife and I seem to be burning both ends of a candle stick right now, and we are a little tired. Just a little, mind you. Yet, as exhausting and as grueling as it can be with so many children in our home, and with so many emotional issues and challenges, one thing we have to be consistent in is with supervision. It seems that the supervision of our foster children takes up most of our time, energy, and efforts. Whether it is a new born baby or a teenager, our foster children are just like other children; active and seemingly into everything!
Supervision of your foster child is a must at all times. Make no mistake about it; you will be held responsible for your foster child’s whereabouts and safety at all times. After all, he is not your child; you are simply caring for him, and watching over him. As he is placed in your home, and is in your custody, you may be held accountable if he should come to any harm. Therefore, it is not only important that you know where your foster child is at all times, it is essential. You must know the whereabouts of your foster child; you must know where he is each moment. Whether he is in your home, at school, or at another location, you need to know where he is, just as you would for your own children.
Every time a foster child is placed in your home, surprises are sure to appear in some form or fashion. Indeed, each time a child from foster care moves to your home is different and unique. Just as no two children are alike, no two placements are alike, as well. Some placements may be smooth and easy, while others may be difficult and challenging. Some children may be open to being a part of your family, while others may battle you, placing stress upon your household. As I have noted in several books and articles, foster parenting is the hardest thing I have done; at the same time, it is the most important thing I have done, as well. Each child that has come to my home has changed me into a better person, and has helped my family grow in several ways.
Yet, without the right preparation, and the right set of guidelines and expectations, the placement of a child from foster care into your home and into your family can become one that is full of stress and anxiety, even tearing your home and family apart. To be sure, there are so many distractions in our society that can create further disruption to a child in care; disruptions that can also bring additional stress to your home, as well. Social networking, media, technology, drugs; all of these pressures can not only affect the child, but your family, too. I encourage you to be strong in your expectations, consistent with your house rules, and diligent in your supervision. If not, you are setting up your child, and your foster parenting experience, for failure.
-Dr. John DeGarmo