According to Hunter, foster parents are usually able to make a difference in a child's life if they are able to do three things. First, foster parents must have the ability to love a child unconditionally. Second, they must be willing to look beyond the issues and turmoil that a child might bring into the home to find strengths and talents that are waiting to be nurtured and developed. Finally, foster parents must be able to offer the child hope for the future.
Healing the Hurt
The next step is to understand that the child coming to you does so after having undergone physical and/or emotional abuse that is often beyond comprehension. Hunter warns that most foster children will arrive at your home "broken in spirit with mental, emotional, and physical hurt. You as a foster parent need to imagine that besides this child, standing there on your doorstep is baggage that became part of this child the first time he or she was abused, tortured, traumatized, neglected, or abandoned. This baggage enters your door when that child enters the door."
Dr. Jay DiLeo, father of four and foster parent to four additional children, further makes this point by noting: "A child that has been taken from his or her parents has already been through a lot. As a result, they often don't go through normal lines of reasoning" when confronted with new or difficult situations. It is the job of the foster parent to help that child learn how to trust again, provide guidance when confronted with a complex situation and offer positive reinforcement every step along the way.
A Family Decision
Another factor potential foster parents must consider is the effect on their own family. Dr. DiLeo stresses the importance of including the entire family in the decision-making process. "Talk it over with your children first," he advises. "Let them know what they are in for." This advice is echoed by Emil Baldwin, Jr., a former foster care/adoption home-finder for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources who has also written a number of articles and essays on foster care. "We always talked with the kids in the applicant's family and encouraged the parents to listen very closely to what their children said," Baldwin noted. "They (the parents) also need to explain in very concrete terms what having a new addition will mean" in terms of children having to share bedrooms, closet space, toys, and Mom and Dad's time.
Baldwin also warns that the effects of bringing foster children into the home can extend beyond the immediate family. Extended family members can be "very supportive and loving," he says, while others "disown the applicants or at least question their sanity."