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How Foster Parents Impact the Life of a Foster Child

The Positive and Negative Effects of a Foster Parent's Actions


While watching a movie recently I was moved by the words of one of the characters who grew up in foster care. It seems that this young man continued to suffer with post traumatic stress disorder that was triggered by his foster parent's continuous fighting and loud arguing. This revelation got me thinking about the huge responsibility we accept as foster parents. We take in foster children who have been wounded - physically and mentally - and try to do better by them. We are supposed to provide foster children with more. This includes opportunities to heal, to grow, and to have childhoods. We have our work cut out for us, but have we ever stopped to think about how we impact the children we welcome into our foster homes beyond the expected daily care?

Positive Impact Foster Parents May Have on Some Foster Children

Listing out the positive ways foster parents help foster children is a pretty simple task, and one that I'm sure we all can easily name. But I thought it important to try to list out how foster parents positively impact foster children.

  • Day-to-day consistency and predictability through daily care, bedtimes routines, rules, and realistic expectations.

  • The daily normal care and concern that parents have for their children with meals, time spent together, and just being there.

  • Parental concern for school achievement, volunteering at school, and involvement in the child's school work.

  • Including foster children in family activities as if they were a birth or adopted child.

  • Spending time with the child.

  • Talking with the child about their day.

  • Praising the child.

  • Taking the time to build a connection with the foster child.

  • Taking the time to correct the child when they make mistakes, including implementing appropriate, loving discipline.

  • Providing age appropriate boundaries and limits.

Negative Impact Foster Parents May Have on Some Foster Children

When assessing the good, we must also asses the bad. We sometimes forget that we are working with children who have been abused and neglected within the birth home. Then these same children were inflicted with what is called the double trauma of being placed in foster care. Things we may not think of as damaging may have a huge negative impact on a traumatized child.

  • Excessive, loud, arguing within the foster home.

  • Name calling between members of the foster family as well as the foster child.

  • Fighting between foster parents. This includes loud verbal disagreements and physical aggression. Physical aggression between the care givers or others within the home may be, of course, more damaging and scary to a foster child.

  • Foster parents breaking promises made to a foster child. This includes innocent broken promises. For example, the promise of going to the zoo next day, but then having to cancel the trip due to rain. To a some foster children this may not be logical response to bad weather, but may be seen as only another broken promise made by an adult caregiver.

  • Threats made within the foster home, either between the foster parents and other children in the home or threatening the child directly.

  • The foster home making frequent moves, making the foster child switch schools numerous times.

  • Foster homes disrupting on foster children, forcing the child to make multiple moves within the foster care system.

  • Foster parents playing favorites between children in the home.

  • Foster parents providing inconsistent care, either from day to day or between other children in the home.

  • Foster parents utilizing respite too often, and using different respite providers so that the child is regularly sent to stay with strangers.

  • Excluding the foster child from family events or activities, like family vacations.

I hope we all can asses the kind of impact we are making on the children we serve. As writer Maya Angelou has said, "When you know better, you do better." It's not about seeking perfection, but it is about realizing the true power we have to make a difference in a child's life - for the better or the worse.

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