We did foster care for about seven years, until just recently. We were able to serve over 50 children – mostly teenagers who were pregnant or who had young babies. We also kept children of other ages occasionally. This is a great calling and I would recommend to anyone who has thought of doing foster care to research what is available in your area. You might go through the state or through a private agency. Sometimes the private agencies get the children who are more difficult to place. Some people are paranoid about working with the “state,” but we never had any difficulties at all, we had a terrific case worker, and we would work with the state again if so called.
The main caution I would give about doing foster care is to be very selective about the ages of the children you agree to take in. Most people want to take babies or toddlers, but if you already have very small children, you might consider taking teens instead. This worked well for us and since there was such a huge age gap, our little ones didn’t pick up the bad behaviors of the teens. However, if you get a toddler with horrible behavior and you already have a toddler, your child is likely to pick up bad behaviors from someone his or her own age. (For example, your two-year-old is likely to copy a tantrum that a foster toddler is throwing, but he is not likely to go out back to sneak a cigarette like your foster teen.)
The biggest piece of advice I can give is to set your rules and stick by them. We didn’t allow dating, smoking, or cell phones. We were very strict about these rules until one case worker told us we should allow a particular teen to have a cell phone. Sure enough, she was the first kid we ever had to run away – she set up a meeting with someone on her cell phone, went out for a walk and we never saw her again. There are also case workers who will tell you that teens are going to smoke anyway so just let them. This is not only AGAINST THE LAW, but if you truly care about the young person’s health, you cannot and should not let them smoke!! We searched the bags of each teen as he/she came in and frequently found things they shouldn’t have, such as cigarettes, inappropriate CDs or videos, etc. This is an important step you should take with each foster child.
I hope to begin a book on foster care soon. I am in the process of looking for a publisher. The goal of this book is to provide information not typically given to new foster parents so that they can enter the field informed, be great foster parents, and avoid burnout.
Please feel free to contact me with questions.