By Erin Bouchard, MA
Foster Care: A Calling
My husband and I felt called to our journey of foster care. It’s something that from our early days of marriage we felt strongly was our mission field. We jumped in with both feet and we had two placements before our forever kids came to our home.
Then we got a call to consider taking a kinship placement that was heading towards adoption. We prayed about it and committed to our beautiful kids forever.
Since then we’ve continued to have a variety of placements in our home. Some stayed for a short few months and others stayed longer.
The Toll of Fostering on Children Permanently in Our Home
This summer we realized that our foster journey was taking a toll on our oldest two children who are adopted. And we came to a realization that I hadn’t thought about before. I felt strongly in my conviction that fostering was my mission field. But I hadn’t explained to our kids why it was and made sure they were onboard for it to be their mission field too.
After all, this is their home and the decisions we were making about fostering deeply impacted them too.
Let’s discuss some of the ways I knew that it was time for our family to take a break from fostering.
We thought about whether we were reopening a wound.
Our adoptees often are at various points in their healing journey. There’s a lot of trauma that happens when kids are removed from their family of origin. Adoptees can feel more sensitivity in certain areas, compared with kids who haven’t experienced trauma and with secure attachment. Kids coming and going from home, kids having more access with family of origin, kids reunifying, and even social workers in and out of your home can all be triggers for our adoptees.
As adoptive parents we have to evaluate whether these triggers are reopening a wound or not. Because when we say yes to forever with our kids, we commit to helping them heal. We commit to putting them first. Our children who joined our family by birth can be triggered by these things, too. It is important to consider their safety and security, as well. All kids deserve to be safe within their home. But it does hit differently when a child who has spent years not feeling safe, did feel safe and secure in our home and then that safety and security seems jeopardized. We cannot simply ignore such a threat to security for any family member.
Placement Disruption for Safety of Other Children in the Home?
Strong opinions exist on both sides of this discussion. There are those who will say that if you commit to a placement, never end it. And in an ideal world, I understand that stance. But there are placements where information isn’t given to us when we agree to the placement. And there are times when things change or when our kids permanently in our family need change.
Some times call for disrupting a placement or taking a break. When children adopted into our family lose their sense of safety in our home, then we must take that into account in our decision.
Whether we are considering taking a break or considering disrupting a placement, we must spend time in prayer. While there are often not clear, black and white answers, spending some time in prayer for our family is critical for moving forward in our decisions.
Evaluate the motive behind taking a break.
I’ve been thinking a lot about being tired, about being tired in a way that sleep doesn’t fix. And I think that as foster parents, we can often experience compassion fatigue that can cause deep exhaustion. Our bodies aren’t meant to live in this high stress, cortisol-inducing way that foster parenting often demands of us.
“Compassion fatigue” is a broad term that describes how many people feel when they experience burnout, vicarious trauma, and secondary traumatic stress. It is characterized by the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that follows exposure to traumatic events or materials. Some of the symptoms of compassion fatigue may look and feel like symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
We must evaluate and consider whether we are tired or done.
If you’re tired, consider ways you can move out of this deep exhaustion before you burn out. Take a short break. Ask for help. Advocate for more support. Ask a fellow foster parent to watch your kids for a morning and return the favor to them.
Maybe you do need a short break. Maybe you need a pause for foster parenting to make sure that your family is all on board. Reevaluate if it’s your family’s mission field and not just yours. Maybe this journey of being a foster parent is coming to completion and there’s a new journey for your family.
Discuss as a family.
We often shield our kids from these hard conversations or think of them as adult conversations. Consider sitting down as a family and discussing your fostering journey. Share the hard and the good. Involve them in the decision making, while recognizing that the final decision will be the parents.
Maybe they’ll have ideas or thoughts you hadn’t even thought of. Keep bringing it up. Let them know that their feelings and thoughts are valid and important.
Erin Bouchard. Author. Speaker. Advocate. Educator. Erin founded Trauma-Informed Parenting because she’s passionate about helping foster and adoptive parents understand early trauma and attachment. Erin Bouchard and her husband, Joel, have been foster parents since 2011. They adopted out of the foster care system in 2014. They are kinship, foster, adoptive, and bio parents. Over the years Erin has learned a lot through their experiences with early trauma. She teaches and educates about connection, attachment, trauma, grief, and loss. Her first book, Trauma-Informed Parenting is on the way! Help One Child appreciates her collaboration and contributions with blog articles, video usage permission for support group curriculum, and podcast guest appearances.