On October 5th and 6th, Dr. DeGarmo, a leading national expert on fostering and foster care issues, will be the featured speaker at Mountain Circle’s “Strengthening the Relationship Between Social Workers and Resource Parents” workshop in Reno. As a primer for the free event, Dr. DeGarmo graciously agreed to participate in this Q&A. We’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions by our current and prospective foster parents for an honest conversation on what it takes to be a great foster (Resource) parent!
Are there certain qualities every foster (Resource) parent should have?
You don’t need to own a big house, have lots of money or even be married. You just need a heart for children and a passion for helping children in need.
You have three biological children. Has it been hard for them when you bring new children into your home? If so, how did you ease the transition?
We have been fostering for 16 years, and my oldest child is 21, so fostering is a lifestyle for us. Of course, that won’t be the case for everyone. As I wrote in The Foster Care Survival Guide, when you decide to become a foster family, you need to prepare yourself and your children. After all, their lives are going to change, too. Your children will not only be sharing their home, but they will be sharing you, their parents. This can be difficult for them to understand, and they will need your support more than ever. One way my wife and I show our support is by including our children in deciding whether to bring a new child into our home.
We have several new foster (Resource) families- what advice do you have for them in helping their new foster child feel comfortable and safe?
The first impression you create with foster children is often vitally important to how the next few days and weeks will transpire. Without a doubt, kids will be full of questions, as emotions swirl within them. No matter how much these children has been abused, whether it is physically or emotionally, your foster children will want their mother and father back. After all, these people have been the most important family in their lives. Along with this, they have lost their familiar pattern of living, their home, their friends, and all that made up their own personal world.
Although it is impossible to predict how foster kids will react when they first meet you, it is crucial that you approach this time with caution and care. Each child’s placement is different. What is important is that you do not judge your foster child based on his/her arrival and appearance. However they arrive, they will need your love and care.
As foster children adjust to their new home and environment, they will require time and patience from you. To them, everything is new: A new home, new food, new “parents,” new “brothers and sisters”, and new rules and expectations. As a result, they may act out in a variety of ways. It is vital that you do not take their behavior personally, as they attempt to understand their feelings and cope the best way they can.
The best gift you can give your foster child is the gift of time. It is often said that “time heals all wounds.” While this may not be true, the passage of time will help your child in foster care. It is important that you give her this time. She will need time to grieve the loss of her family. After all, moving from her home to yours is a huge shock. Additionally, she will need time to fully understand why she is in your home, as well as time to learn your rules and expectations. She will simply need time to adjust to a new home, new family and new school.
Your foster child also will need time from you–time for someone to listen to him, to guide him and to teach him. It will be extremely important for his mental well-being if you give him the time to laugh, play, and most importantly, time to be cared for and loved.
Human trafficking is a terrifying problem for Reno (and beyond)- how are children and teens in foster care affected by this threat?
Foster children can be particularly vulnerable to sexual predators. Foster children often experience higher levels of anxiety than other children, and this can manifest itself in a number of ways. Perhaps the one that foster children face the most is separation anxiety, an excessive concern that children struggle with concerning the separation from their home, family, and to those they are attached to the most. Indeed, the more a child is moved, from home to home, from foster placement to another foster placement, or multiple displacements, the bigger the concern becomes. Those children who undergo many multiple displacements often times create walls to separate themselves in an attempt to not let others into their lives. (DeGarmo, 2014-Keeping Foster Children Safe Online, JKP). Still, others feel starved for a sense of family and of belonging. To be sure, this type of anxiety and insecurity can make them vulnerable to sexual predators, as children in foster care search for love. For those foster children who have been abused in some way in the past, they may be more likely to show inappropriate sexual behavior, or seek out love in appropriate places. Consequently, they may seek out such sexual content and relationships through online means.
How has fostering affected your marriage, and what can couples do to protect the strength of these relationships?
Sadly, many marriages suffer during the foster process. When you are putting much of your energies and time into your foster child, you may be so drained and exhausted that you soon neglect your spouse. Further complication this, some foster children are skilled at pitting one parent against the other, bringing some heated and very unproductive arguments to your home. Make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page with your parenting, and ensure that the two of you are consistent when it comes to all decision making with your foster child. Finally, do not neglect the needs and concerns of your spouse. Instead, make your marriage the cornerstone of your home, and work to make it a productive and happy one.
Although it may be difficult to schedule, foster parents need to try and have a Date Night with their spouse on a regular basis. I understand that this can be quite difficult, and I struggle to do this, as well. Yet, whether this is once every two weeks once a month, or a similar example, spouses need to have time alone to re-charge their foster batteries, have time to talk without the constant interruption of children, and simply to re-connect with each other and listen to the wishes and frustrations each has. Anniversaries, birthdays, and other important dates should not be forgotten by the foster father, as this usually leads to some heavy apologizing afterwards. Indeed, foster parents should make a commitment to their marriage and make time for it each day in some way. Express appreciation for all the work your partner does. Maintain a positive sense of humor. Learn the fine art of compromise; practice forgiveness and learn to fight fair. These are all practices a healthy foster father should employ. Remember, there should be no shame in seeing a marriage counselor with your spouse. Sometimes, a listening ear and a helpful word can aid in creating a healthier marriage.
When decisions are made outside of your control- i.e. a child is returned to their birth parents when perhaps you feel the child doesn’t want to return– how do you prepare yourself for these moments? And how do you best support the child in their next steps?
Feelings of loss and grief are normal for foster parents, and should in no way be dismissed or ignored. Rest assured, many foster parents do feel grief during the removal of their foster child, because the child has come to be an important and loved member of their family
For foster parents grieving the loss of a foster child from their home, perhaps the most important step they can take to aid in this time of loss is to surround themselves with a support group; foster parent associations, churches and religious groups, families, and friends. Within these groups, foster parents will have the opportunity to express their grief without feelings of embarrassment or judgment. Indeed, as one of the stages of grief is that of anger, grieving foster parents can release their anger to members of these support groups.
Many foster parents choose to put their feelings of loss and grief to paper and pen, writing down their emotions in a journal or diary. To be sure, if feelings of loss and grief are not given the opportunity to be released, they will become suppressed, which may lead to complications later in with unhealthy results such as depression, anxiety, and other health-related problems.
For some, grief and loss may lead to physical health issues, such as stress, fatigue, and tension. Regular exercise and healthy eating habits are essential in combating these issues. During this time of loss, it is also important that foster parents ensure that they are getting enough sleep, as lack of proper rest will also result in stress and fatigue. Specific calendar dates may also trigger overwhelming feelings of grief and loss. Birthdays, holidays, and certain milestones for the foster child and family may revive memories and feelings.
If you can, and it is healthy for all involved, consider contacting the child. To help him, as well as yourself, in this time of transition, it is important to reach out and contact him. Call him on the phone and allow him to tell you all about his new home and family. Write letters to him and send pictures of your family and family events to him from time to time. Remember birthdays and other important events in his life, including holidays and school events and send cards. If you live nearby, arrange to attend school functions and extra-curricular activities or programs of his. If possible, arrange visits for him to come to your house. After all, it may give his family a much needed break.
Thank you so much Dr. DeGarmo for spending the time to talk with us!