The Challenges of Being a Foster Parent

Foster Parenting and the Foster Care System

Multi-racial adoptive family
Foster parent. Jonathan Kirn Getty Images
  1. Working with Behaviors - A foster parent often works with children who exhibit a variety of behavior challenges. Children come into foster care for any number of reasons. A few examples include physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, or a birth parent's incarceration. Many times children will express their feelings through behaviors. Some behaviors can be mild such as tantrums, bed-wetting, cussing, or lying. There are some behaviors that can be extreme such as masturbating, stealing, or running away. Many times a foster parent can help a child work through behaviors; it just takes being in a stable, consistent home. However, there are times when behaviors hang on, sometimes for life, every child and case is different. These behaviors can be challenging to a foster parent.​

    What a foster parent can do: There are free trainings as well as other resources available to foster or adoptive parents to help in parenting such behaviors.

  1. Subjective Field with High Turn Over - There doesn't seem to be a clear-cut guideline in the field of social services. Each social worker may see the same issue in several different ways. Meaning one social worker may see hope in a new drug treatment program for a birth mom and birth dad while another social worker may not agree with the plan.
  2. A field that is so challenging and stressful often leads to high turnover, bringing new workers onto the case as old ones burn out from stress. In a two-year period, our first foster daughter had ten different social workers. Each one seemed to have a different idea on the family's situation and a new approach. This is probably why it took two years to bring about a final decision. This can be very challenging to a foster parent.​

    What a foster parent can do: Remain as patient as possible.

  3. Interacting with Birth Family - In many states, a foster parent is asked to work with their foster child's birth family. This is challenging to some foster parents for many different reasons. It can be difficult to watch a family fall apart and know that there is nothing that can be done to help. Other times the difficulty lies in working with angry, resentful people who are upset that their child is in a foster home. Helping those who don't feel they need help or who pretend that they are doing well, can add to the challenge. Usually, a foster parent is not left alone to make decisions for or against contact between a foster family and the birth family. This is usually in the hands of the social workers assigned to the case.​

    What a foster parent can do: Never make contact without checking it out with the social workers first and never do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Keep appointments with birth family and remain positive in front of your foster children, while also remaining honest about the situation.

  1. Slow Court System - An overworked court system with many delays can really add to the challenge of foster parenting. The judge on the case has the final word on which direction a case goes, whether that be termination or reunification with family. It can be a challenge to work with a birth family and a foster child while feeling constantly in a legal limbo by a continued case.​

    What a foster parent can do: Be sure to have your court reports in on time and thoroughly document how the child is doing in your home. It's important that the foster parent is careful in stating your opinion, but include facts on behaviors, grades, and how visitation and other interactions the child has are progressing or regressing.

  1. Being Part of a Team - As a foster parent, you are automatically a part of a team. Usually, the team is made up of social workers, therapists, court officials, birth family, and others. It can be difficult working together, but when the team is not in agreement, it can be especially challenging. This is not a unique problem to foster parenting or to social services, it just seems to be an inherent problem with working with others.​

    What a foster parent can do: Be prepared to be an awesome team member by being prepared for meetings, and showing up with an open mind.