Sitting at a dinner the other day I asked the waiter to please strain my orange juice. I don’t like pulp, and yes, I sometimes can be very high maintenance. As the waiter looked at me like I sat at the wrong table, I couldn’t help thinking about the parallels between my desire for strained Orange Juice and my wish for the system to better “strain” Foster Parents (and yes, I can be this blunt as well).
I have had the honor to work with some of the most loving Foster Parents. Wonderful people who understand the difficulties the youth they take care of have been through, and the effects of trauma on a child’s development. They smile at you when you give them advice and work with you as much as it takes even though they are even busier than I am. They offer to cook for you since they think you look too skinny (just like my grandma used to) and they are more than willing to invest their time and attention in order to provide the most loving and caring environment for these youth, They are not just offering their house but rather a warm and nurturing home.
I have unfortunately also worked with Foster Parents who are closed off, not willing to hear or discuss what they could be doing to help the youth they care for thrive. And no matter how many times you explain to them how a youth in foster care has experienced a lot of trauma and that this trauma affects their behavior they still have unrealistic expectations of their charges and wish they were different….more like “other” children. I have had countless conversations with Foster Parents about the language they use with and in front of the children and have on occasion gone as far as recommending the re placement of a youth because the foster home had become an unsafe environment. It is with a heavy heart that I make such a recommendation because bouncing kids around the system only causes them more instability and trauma and I worry about the next home, wondering if it will be safe.
So when I say “strain”, I mean, is it possible for the system to be more selective when choosing Foster Parents who will care for our children? I understand how difficult it is to be a foster parent and that we don’t have millions of applicants but I can’t help but question if we should be accepting applicants who don’t quite understand the needs of our kids. I also don’t understand why the requirements for becoming a foster parent are so minimal and why foster parent trainings are so limited.
It feels like a Catch 22. Could we become better at recruiting more foster parents if we offered consistent and genuine support?? Even though agencies, I believe, have the best intentions to provide constant support for the families it seems that because of the lack of resources (that is the case in the Bronx where I work) this sometimes ends up being an empty promise and foster parents feel abandoned and alone in their very difficult role.
After a long explanation to the waiter about what I meant by straining the orange juice, I got frustrated and decided to just get the orange juice with the pulp. Maybe this is what happens with Foster Parents in the system. In the ideal world we would like the most qualified, nurturing and perfect foster parents but sometimes we have to be content that individuals are stepping up to the plate to care for our kids and that even if they are not the perfect match it may be our only option.