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What it Takes to be a Foster Parent?

We talk to approximately 30-40 women each month about what it is like to provide treatment foster care. Conversations are honest and often lengthy. Many don't know what questions to ask about how to become a foster parent, while others have a prepared list of their most important questions about foster care in Wisconsin. Some women were in the system as a child, a few have parents that fostered, some hope to adopt a child, and others can't articulate or explain why they want to be a foster parent, they just feel it. No matter the reason, there is a common theme that women want to be helpful. Their hearts are big but they are also afraid of the unknown, which in the case of traumatized kids, can be a good thing. There is an underlying fear about being a foster parent that sometimes gets the best of those who inquire, while others will take the plunge to help. It is our job to educate with honesty about what fostering really looks like before you step into the uncharted water of foster care.

What is it like to be a foster parent?

It is hard to imagine what being a foster parent will really be like if you haven't had any exposure to it before. It’s difficult to imagine how you might respond to the challenging behaviors and emotions that accompany treatment foster kids. The truth is, every single foster child and their circumstances are different so there is no way of knowing what it will really be like when you welcome kids into your home. Especially children with significant trauma and heightened behaviors. You may not know if you have what it takes to be a foster parent until you’re in it. That's okay, most foster parents will tell you that it is worth the effort and risk. With the right foster agency standing behind you and the necessary education and support, you might discover that you have exactly what it takes and will be a very successful foster parent.

Every child is different and foster care is different for every child.

Full transparency about treatment level care and what types of children are in foster care is critically important. The rose-colored glasses must come off so you can fully understand that all children in foster care have experienced trauma, and trauma shapes a young child’s developing brain. Kids in treatment foster care have significant trauma and their behaviors will demonstrate that the minute they are placed in your home. It doesn't make the kids bad, they're just unable to process what they have been through because their history has formed their brain function. Trust us, it won't always be pretty and it might get ugly at times. They live in fight or flight mode, expecting the world to be a dangerous place lacking trustworthy adults and predictable environments. Fear-based triggers lead to difficult, sometimes unexpected behaviors that first-time foster parents find very challenging. Foster parents learn quickly that every child is different and foster care is different for every child. At the risk of talking you out of being a foster parent, we must make certain you understand what treatment care looks like, how it may affect you and your family, while also painting a realistic picture of all the rewards and positive moments you will receive and be part of.

"After working with four different counties throughout WI either professionally or as a foster parent, the level of support and education is nothing compared to CCR. Absolutely fabulous to work with."  Rebecca, Janesville, WI - Rock County

Being prepared for the behaviors foster children will bring into the home.

Some children who experience traumatic events are resilient, many other children will develop symptoms that can have life-long negative effects on their daily living, safety, and health. Foster children with significant trauma are referred to a private foster agency like CCR by their county of origin when a suitable home is unavailable at the county level. Many first-time foster parents and sometimes even seasoned foster parents can go into fight or flight mode themselves when they accept a new placement. They realize that maybe they weren’t ready for a certain type of child or sibling group. Many times, a county foster agency does not know the child's full history prior to placement. Unfortunately, the discovery of significant behaviors can be overwhelming and often leads to foster parents giving written notice to have the child(ren) removed from their home. When notice is given, kids bounce from home to home and behaviors may get worse and emotions can reach dangerously high levels. Eventually, the child or sibling group will be placed in treatment level care with a Wisconsin foster agency like CCR. This is where advanced foster parent training in trauma-informed care happens and healing begins. Kids will have an individualized treatment plan and professional support services are available to kids and parents 24/7. The effects of bouncing add to a child's trauma and compound already difficult behaviors. If you prepare for the worst and expect nothing in return you will be successful. That isn't easy for everyone.

Get to the core of why you want to be a foster parent in the first place.

  • What ages of children are you interested in fostering?
  • How many will you welcome to your family at one time?
  • Do you have a flexible schedule that allows you to be available at all times?
  • Why are you interested in becoming a foster parent?
  • Most importantly, why are you considering treatment-level kids?

If your answers are like any of the answers listed below, we caution you and ask that you consider other options that may afford opportunities to spend time with children.

  • We have extra bedrooms what it takes to be a foster parent?
  • We want our child to have a playmate or sibling.
  • I love babies and little kids and hope to adopt. 
  • We can't have children of our own but want to be parents.

These statements lean towards the assumption that you might be a good foster parent because you love children or have a big heart. You might feel that by loving them and providing a welcoming environment, all will be well in their world. You hope that providing a loving home with a bedroom all their own will mean they will love being part of your family and will reciprocate your love and affection. Many prospective foster parents believe this will be true particularly from younger children. Believe us when we tell you, sometimes simply loving a child with trauma is not enough.

You are setting yourself up for potential heartbreak if you become a foster parent expecting to adopt.

If you imagine a home with loving children, full of gratitude at your generous heart, you will most likely be disappointed. The majority of all foster kids will return home to be reunited with their biological families. Reunification is the goal you should expect and support. If adoption is your expectation, you should adopt, not foster. With that said, if a child or sibling group is not reunified with their family, you will be considered as an adoptive family. Roughly 12% of children in our foster homes are adopted each year. We have seen many beautiful, forever families built through foster care. Keep in mind, when the goal is reunification you will be expected to drive your foster children to their family visits. If and when appropriate, you will be expected to form an amicable, supportive relationship with the biological parents to create a seamless transition for the child(ren). The most successful foster parents have no agenda, zero expectations and are supportive of the end goal. Please do not become a foster parent with an end goal of adopting a child.

We must all recognize that children are often very loyal to their biological families, even family members who may have hurt them. Being removed from their home, bouncing from house to house is scary and overwhelming. A child accustomed to chaos, turmoil, and an unpredictable environment may find the "normal calm" of your home unnerving. New routines and rules might be difficult at first or for a long while. Remember, you are a stranger in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable environment. They have lost their family, friends, school, and home in one single swoop! Can you be trusted? Will you be there tomorrow or next week? Will there be food available when they are hungry? Children may feel confused, abandoned, and overwhelmed. Most foster children, no matter their age, will search for opportunities to gain back some sense of control to help make sense of their experience. This will be expressed through behaviors and emotions that aren't always pretty. Expect that it will take time to develop routines and earn the child’s trust. It will not happen overnight!foster teens unexpected journey

Our foster parents will tell you that it can take months for a child to "let you in". If and when that finally happens, some will pull away to avoid being hurt and disappointed again. Older kids may hurt you first by running away, pulling back or refusing to let themselves be loved. Bonding and attachment may never happen and it won't be your fault. You can’t take any of it personally, even when it feels personal. Foster care requires a deep reserve of patience and compassion. It will often feel like a dance of one step forward, two steps back. Your emotions will run high, frustrations will become your norm and you will question why you are a foster parent. Ask seasoned foster parents and they will tell you, it is all worth it and like other things in life, you get more in return than what you give.

Here are some things you might realistically expect when fostering:

  • Your family will feel disruptions.
  • Routines will require adjustments.
  • Meals may be chaotic for a while.
  • Bathrooms will require attention more often.
  • Setbacks will happen when you least expect them.
  • Sleep may be a premium.
  • Groceries will disappear and be found in places food doesn't belong.
  • Your heart will get broken
  • Locks may be used on doors you never used to shut.
  • Lying is often commonplace.

Most importantly, these are great things you can expect when fostering: 

  • Beautiful moments of progress.
  • Happiness when they make a new friend.
  • Joy the first time they let their guard down.
  • Breaking down of communication barriers
  • Pride with improvements at school.
  • Heart stopping moments when you know they finally trust you.
  • Waking to realize they finally slept through the night.
  • A critical breakthrough at therapy.
  • Watching fears dissipate
  • Recognizing strength and confidence growth

Do you have what it takes to be a foster parent? Search your soul, talk with people who know you best. Speak with one of our professionals, many have been foster parents themselves. Talk with current foster parents of Community Care Resources and watch foster care videos on YouTube.

THE TRUTH: If there weren't joyful moments, nobody would provide foster care! If it was all horrible and painful, no one would apply for a foster license. Trust us and trust yourself. You will know in your core if you should become a treatment foster parent. We can't talk you into it and we promise to do our best to educate you. If you want to help children heal and give them hope then this might just be for you and your family.

Let's talk further about what it might look like for you and your family. 800-799-0450

Email us to begin the 5 steps to become a foster parent.


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6716 Stone Glen Dr.
Middleton, WI 53562
Foster families needed for sibling groups and older youth. You CAN help no matter where you live.
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