so this is my second attempt at doing that.
Here are some thoughts from Dr. John deGarmo, foster care consultant, author, speaker, radio show host, and foster and adoptive father:
As I travel across the nation speaking to my fellow foster parents, I often hear how many foster parents are exhausted, tired, and even burned out. Along with this, it is often a topic that is brought up on my weekly radio program, Foster Talk with Dr. John. Indeed, with nine children in my own home currently, I too feel burned out at times. Fostering is a difficult job, one that leaves little time for rest, time with spouses, and time to recharge those inner batteries. For myself, there have been times in my life when it seems I had very little time alone with my wife, even spending five minutes alone talking about the events of the day, plans for the future, or challenges that some of the children in our home were facing. This alone can be exhausting, and can lead to burnout.
Let there be no mistake; foster parenting is hard work! It may just be the hardest work you ever do. You will often find yourself exhausted, both mentally and physically, and feel drained. There is very little money available to help you, and you will not be reimbursed for all the money you spend on your foster child. The job will require you to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no time off. You will probably feel overworked and underappreciated. You will work with children who are most likely coming from difficult and harmful environments. Some of these children will have health issues, some will come with behavioral issues, and some will struggle with learning disabilities. Many times, the children you work with will try your patience, and leave you with headaches, frustrations, disappointments, and even heartbreaks. There is a reason why many people are not foster parents, as it is often too difficult. The turnover rate for foster parents in the United States is between 30% and 50% each year.
30 - 50%. That is 30 - 50% too many. Not only does it leave behind a family in crisis but often times means a child is removed from yet another home to be taken to another adding a new rejection to a growing list of rejections.
There is a reason that the Good Doctor and I have included a training on compassion fatigue this year. (See https://victorioushopeac.com/trainingsupport/). While compassion fatigue and burnout are not unique to foster parents, I do believe it is less known and recognized than other forms of compassion fatigue (such as a person caring for an ill family member). Dr. deGarmo states in his blog that awareness and relaxation are two components to combating burnout but I would like to add a third component: community.
I've said it before and I'll probably be saying it until I die, "If you are a Christian, you are called to care for the vulnerable in some way or other. And if you have not been called to directly bring someone into your home, then you have been called to support those who are on the front lines of caring for others." So, what does this look like?
First of all, it means that you keep your ears open to the still, small voice of Holy Spirit showing you where He wants you to be. Secondly, you open your eyes to the needs around you. Third, you look at what is in your hands; what resources and gifts do you have to give? And finally, you act.
But what does this look like? Here's an example:
A few weeks ago, someone at our church got one of those little nudges from Holy Spirit. She felt like she was supposed to purchase a bracelet from an organization that employs women in impoverished countries. The next word that came was to tell her to give that bracelet to a specific person, a teen in foster care. This didn't make any sense to the woman but she obediently purchased that bracelet. A little time later, it all became clear as she realized that teen was going through some tough times and needed a bit of encouragement. The gift was given, along with a meaningful note, and it was received with joy and gratitude. And at the same time, 2 other women had also written notes of encouragement to the same teen. This was not a coincidence; this was well-orchestrated by the One who sees all of our needs and speaks to each one that He needs to carry out His plan. Each of these women had a choice to obey or not. Because they did, they made that foster parent's load easier.
How, you might ask? Because almost all children in foster care struggle with mom issues. No matter what brought a child into care, it is most often taken out on the new mom even though this person has stepped into this role, often giving more of herself than she thought she had. And when the honeymoon is over, it is the foster mom who gets the brunt of all that child's anger and sadness and grief. The mom has a lot of love to give but it is often not received because the child is just waiting for that mom to reject, neglect, or abuse just like the one(s) before. But when a Christian community steps in, they can speak the same words but this time, the words are heard a little bit more and hopefully eventually, they will be internalized.
Caring for the vulnerable can be as simple as an encouraging note or small gift. Choosing to be Jesus to a person in need is invaluable. Many recent studies on trauma, though not from a Christian basis, have found this to be true as well: The one factor that is more likely to bring change in the life of a child from a place of trauma, is one loving, caring adult. If one adult can do that, how about a whole Christian community?*
So if you are a follower of Christ, look around at your community. How can you be part of your community of hope? And if you are a part of McBIC and God has placed foster and adoptive families on your heart, your job just got easier. Community of Hope, an arm of Our Father's Hope, can help to partner your gifts and talents and nudges from God, with the child or family that needs you.
*For more information on trauma and teens and the power of a caring adult, I highly recommend the following documentaries: Paper Tigers and The Bad Kids