need to know
Whether you're seriously considering making the leap into foster parenting or just gathering preliminary information, we've interviewed a committed and awesome foster parent to get her take on what parents need to know
before they begin fostering.
Elizabeth Hammon and her husband, Chase, are remarkable parents. Since they started foster parenting at age 25, the couple has welcomed 13 children into their home. Some of the children stayed for a period of time prior to returning to their parents, and others were adopted by the Hammons. At age 30, Chase and Elizabeth are now the parents of five children, three of whom came to them through the foster care system. We spoke with Elizabeth about the foster care adventure, how she has kept her marriage strong, and what she would tell other couples who are considering foster care.
Looking for a "green light"
Although Elizabeth acknowledges that many foster children are waiting for homes, she stated that it's exceedingly important to make sure that spouses are on the same page prior to foster parenting. "If you are married, make sure both partners are in agreement about foster parenting prior to picking an agency and moving forward," Elizabeth cautioned. "If one partner is a 'green light' and the other is a 'red light,' just wait. We have seen strong marriages torn apart from partners not agreeing about foster parenting."
In addition to joint agreement and commitment from mom and dad, Elizabeth gave the following advice for parents preparing to begin the foster care adventure.
- Pick an agency: Not all agencies are created alike. Ask about the types of support, training and ethics courses offered by the agency.
- Research foster parenting: Read about how foster parenting is wildly different than parenting birth children. Elizabeth recommended Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis.
- Seek out sage advice: Elizabeth indicated that many people have opinions about foster parenting without having any experience with the system. She recommends that potential foster parents surround themselves with other couples who have successfully fostered children.
Addressing grief and loss
Elizabeth indicated that grief and loss are themes of foster care. "Our adopted kids, who came to us through the foster care system, have experienced a tremendous loss and wrestle with questions like, 'Why didn't my mom and dad love me enough to make better choices?'" She also stated that grief and loss are consistent themes within her marriage to Chase.
Elizabeth said that it's extremely important to be prepared for the inevitability of the following emotional challenges.
- The loss of a "typical" family: Chase and Elizabeth initially started foster parenting because they were unable to carry a pregnancy to term. She said that foster parenting sometimes requires an acknowledgement of the loss of a dream, the loss of biological children and pregnancy, and even the loss of the first days and months of a child's life.
- Loving and losing children: Even if the plan is to eventually adopt a foster child, there is always a possibility that foster parents will love a child deeply but the courts may decide to return the child to his or her birth parents.
- Experiencing triggers: Foster children are in the system because they have experienced abuse or neglect. Sometimes, foster parents experience grief and loss over their own painful childhood experiences. Elizabeth stated that it's important for foster parents to seek out their own healing from these childhood traumas.
- Manifestation of grief and loss in children: Children do not express grief and loss like adults. Foster parents need to be prepared for the ways children act out grief and loss, which can be troubling and difficult to manage.
Wisdom to live by
Finally, Elizabeth provided wisdom for foster parents at the beginning of their journey. She stated that social support — provided by a spouse or other caring family members or friends — is what keeps a foster family together in the midst of drastic changes. She recommended the following supports.
- Prioritize date nights: To keep the marriage strong, Elizabeth said that she and Chase prioritized a once-weekly date night, where they could step away from the children and take care of themselves.
- Trade off for self-care: Partner together to find ways to sleep in, finish a hot meal, see friends or take a long walk.
- Find support outside of the nuclear family: Elizabeth reported that her church and her faith are fundamental to her foster parenting experience. Even if you aren't part of a church, it's important to find supportive care in the community so you can take a break or vent.
- Be honest about emotions: Don't just grin and bear it. Talk to your spouse — and even your children — when you're feeling anxious or sad.
More about foster care
The realities of adopting from foster care
Teens in foster care: How can you help?
Why I chose to become a foster parent