I wish everyone’s foster parents could be like her.
“I hate my foster mom, she can be such a b-tch.” “She doesn’t give me my money.” “I can’t take it anymore, I want to leave.”
This is what I hear from many kids in my agency. Many foster children, especially teens, have a bad perception of foster parents. They say foster parents don’t give the children money, they don’t want them in the house, and they complain. They try to control who you hang out with, what you eat, what you believe. My brother, like many foster kids, feels like he’s a paycheck because his foster mother always complains about money. I know it can be bad.
But I have the most amazing foster parents in the world. I’ve known my foster family for four years, since I was a pre-teen. My foster mom, Sonya, is an independent woman. She has her own business and her own car. Although she has a husband, she does everything independently.
She also treats her foster kids as if we were her own. If we do well in school she rewards us. If we do poorly, she punishes us. We go on vacations, do family activities together, and have fun. She doesn’t burden her foster kids with the reminder that the foster care agency only pays for limited things. Whatever we need, she buys it.
The most important thing she does is talk to us about anything. She is so supportive, but if she disagrees with you about something, she will tell you. She doesn’t do it for the money; she does it for the children. Her husband is the same way. He is so funny and chill, and talks honestly to us about everything. I love my foster family. I don’t even think of them as a foster family; they are My Family.
So there are good foster parents out there. I decided to interview my foster mom to give readers a sense of what an ideal foster parent is like – and what I think all foster parents should try to be.
Q: Why did you become a foster parent?
A: I wanted to give back to my community. When I started foster parenting 15 years ago, I heard that black children were being placed in homes with non-black foster parents and that there weren’t that many black foster parents. So I decided to become a foster parent. But now this is a diversified home with children of many different backgrounds.
Q: When you first started your training classes to become a foster parent, what were some of the basic things the instructors taught you?
A: They gave us a nine-week training that encompassed discipline, detachment, and the difference between the role of the foster parent and the role of the biological parents. By detachment, they mean what the child is going through being separated from their parents. How a child needs time to get used to the home, how the kid needs attention to their situation.
Q: Do you think that agencies rush their training more today then when you went for your foster parent training?
A: Our agency doesn’t rush the training at all. And if they don’t think that you are going to be a good foster parent they won’t hire you, so to speak. The agency also requires follow-up trainings every year on special topics that are relevant to foster parents working with teenagers—things like sexuality, HIV/AIDS, etc.
Q: What’s your reaction to unfortunate situations in which foster parents mistreat their children?
A: In some situations the foster parents should be thrown in jail. It also calls for change. We need to grab those kids fast and help them. If a child feels rejected by their parents and then goes into a foster home where they’re mistreated again, they think that is how society is. They know no better, so they might do the same when they grow up.
Q: Are there any rules that you impose on your children that you didn’t like when you were younger?
A: When I was younger of course I hated some rules. But when I was an adult, I realized that those rules were good for me. We all live and are governed by rules. If you teach children rules and consistency, tomorrow when they go to work or school they will have those tools. If they don’t have those tools, then it will be hard for them to get a job or even function in society.
It is hard to teach children rules when they haven’t had rules or consistency most of their life. Before they come into my home they’re used to a certain way of living, and it’s hard to break that cycle.
Q: What are the “right” reasons to get into foster parenting?
A: It’s about helping a needy family, bringing structure to their lives. We have to make sure the child knows their family loves them, and we take care of them for the purpose of allowing their family to get themselves together. They need love and a foundation, schooling, everything. And at the end, they need a hug.
Q: Do you make your foster kids feel at home?
A: You could answer that! (Laughs.) Yes, I try my best to make them feel a part of the family. If the child doesn’t want to be a part of the family, then I don’t want them. I have a very family-oriented house; I want kids that want to be a part of our family.
I think that everyone should be involved in daily activities in a household. In our house, we have chores, someone has to cook, and we talk about what activities we want to do for the week. We also have family meetings. I want the kids to feel comfortable and talk about personal problems. If they have a problem with someone in the house I want them to feel that I won’t take sides just because that is my [biological] daughter or family.
Q: If you were in charge of Children’s Services, what would you do to improve foster care in general?
A: I would change the way caseworkers and foster parents get paid. Foster parents should have a salary, not a stipend. Taking care of kids is a job. Caseworkers should be paid better, too. Caseworkers change so often, if they were paid a reasonable amount of money they would stay. It also shows the kid more detachment.
Clothing allowance for the foster kids should be increased dramatically. I end up paying for things above and beyond what the agency pays for. I even take the kids on vacation with me, and that all comes out of my pocket.
There should be more money in the budget for educational programs, such as tutoring, Saturday classes, etc. I also think that kids should interview foster parents and vice versa before they’re placed in a home. Maybe then there wouldn’t be so many complaints about foster homes. These are some things, but overall I think our agency is doing an OK job.
Q: How many foster kids have you had over the years? What’s the longest you’ve had one?
A: I’ve had about 30 kids. The longest I’ve had a child was four years.
Q: What have you learned about communicating with biological parents?
A: Patience. Don’t step on the biological parent’s toes. It does work out better when I have communication with them. But there’s a reason the kid is in the home with me and not them. I get so torn sometimes…. I can’t blame a biological parent for being angry that their child is taken out of their home. And I don’t care how bad the mother is, she’s the mother – bottom line. But I want a kid to go back home for the right reasons, not for the wrong reasons.
Q: What’s your relationship with your foster kids who’ve aged out?
A: It’s wonderful. One of mine left recently and she still comes to my home like it’s hers. She helps herself to food, goes upstairs, and just does what she wants. That’s like one of your kids coming home. They all have a home to come to.
Q: Thinking back on when you first became a foster parent, what are the important things you feel you’ve learned?
A: I came in thinking that I only wanted young children. Taking teens was taboo. During the training, foster parents always said, “The teenagers are the worst.” But I found out that I work better with teens. I can relate to teens more than to young children.
With teens you have to have patience, listen to them, and hear what they have to say without correcting them. I never forgot that I was a teen once. I felt more connected with teens and thought that I could relate to problems that they were going through.
By Ashley Rivera