Dear foster parents: Thank you for your sacred work

Written by Sally Fussell

May is Foster Care Month and I’d like to give a big thank you to all the foster parents out there.

Foster parents provide mindful and skillful care for children who need a temporary safe home while their families improve their lives and learn how to parent more effectively.

While the number one goal is family reunification, foster parents are tasked with showing the same amount of connection and attention, nurturing and structure, safety and stability as they would for their biological children.

They must encourage the connection and bonding the child has with their own family while at the same time bonding deeply with the child to heal from their trauma and loss.

Holding children who experience grief and loss while acting out those big feelings is no small thing. The foster families I work with approach children in their care with curiosity about what unmet need lies beneath the child’s actions or behavior.

They provide consistent structure equal to creative nurturing, no matter what time of day it is or how long it takes to see progress from the child in their care. They are playful, as it is the language of children. Play helps children feel more comfortable.

Prospective foster parents are trained to recognize how children express the past trauma they have experienced. SAFE’s Foster and Adopt in Austin program sets the bar high for quality parenting. Our families go beyond Minimum Standards and program policies to provide for the children in their care.

And foster parents are human beings with their own past traumas and triggers, too. They must be aware enough to manage their triggers just like they expect and hope the child in their care will learn to do. When they make mistakes, they use the opportunity to give the child an understanding that nobody is perfect and interpersonal issues can be resolved cleanly with loving attention.

When their own past traumas take them offline, they must bring themselves present in order to function as a healing parent, no matter what. That is a lot to ask of human beings, but ask we do–and our parents tend to provide.

Foster parenting is so much more than typical parenting, which is challenging enough. We ask our parents to be mindful way more than research shows most people are in an average day. In difficult moments or crossroads with children in their care, we ask them to process deep disappointment, despair for what our children have endured and are acting out in their lives, and what part of the issue is theirs versus the child’s. Sacred work indeed.

To the foster parents reading, thank you for filling the gaps our children have in their development so tenderly. Thank you for being playful and engaged, even when you are tired and weary. Thank you for walking with this agency through so many hills and valleys as you grow and heal the children in your care. Thank you for listening, thinking about, and participating so richly in trainings and support groups.

And most of all, thank you for healing children with love, and equal parts nurture and structure.

We appreciate you all.

Sally Fussell is the program director of Foster and Adopt in Austin. FAIA provides foster care, adoption services, and kinship care to families in Central Texas. With extensive training and an experienced staff, SAFE has developed a program that offers superior supports for foster, kinship, and adoptive families.