Becoming a foster parent requires serious consideration of the ages of foster children you wish to help. There is a large misconception that teens are horrible and little ones are adorable. That couldn't be farther from the truth in most cases. In the 31 years we have supported foster families; we see a repeated trend. New foster parents think they want to foster little kids but can quickly have a change of heart after actually doing it. Without agency support and a basic understanding of childhood trauma, foster parents can struggle to foster younger children. Let's explore:
Two young brothers were recently referred to us by a county agency hoping to find a suitable foster home. Adam is five years old; he and his 6-year-old brother Aiden desperately need a foster family to meet their higher needs. The boys have been living with their maternal grandmother for five months, but she has expressed that she can no longer care for the boys long-term. She has reported being emotionally and physically exhausted. She hopes the county can find her grandsons a suitable home to handle and address their behaviors, delays, and emotions.
There is no family interaction plan at this time. Mom is not responding to the county worker, and other family members are unable and unwilling to care for the boys.
Aiden is in kindergarten. Adam is enrolled in a pre-K program. Both boys struggle socially with their peers, and neither is at age level developmentally. Aiden is more independent than Adam and can play alone for short periods. Adam struggles with independent play and craves individual attention. Adam has difficulty expressing himself due to a speech pediment and often expresses his frustration with anger and meltdowns. He is working with a speech therapist as it is difficult to understand some of his words and speech patterns.
Both boys enjoy being with other children but have difficulty reading social cues and respecting personal space. Adam is quick to interact with other children but often isn't included in play due to his assertiveness. His inability to play with boundaries has been a concern of the preschool staff. He is often redirected or given a task to divert him from a situation. He is a very energetic child and enjoys playing outside with Aiden and building with Legos.
Aiden is a good listener and generally follows directions and expectations. He can play too rough with his brother at times but is sensitive to his brother's needs. He is behind in school but enjoys going. Both boys were drug-affected infants and suffered severe neglect before removal from the home. It is reported that Aiden has some memories of witnessing family violence and drug use.
It is important that the boys be placed together with older children or no other children in the home. Their need for individual attention would be difficult for a single working parent or parents with younger children in the house. A two-parent home is desired, ideally with one parent at home, to meet individual needs and Adams's constant desire for one-on-one interaction. The connection to their maternal grandmother will be essential to maintain. She has requested the boys be allowed to visit with her when possible.
The boys are similar to many other young siblings in foster care. Neglect and domestic violence have traumatic effects on developing minds, leading to behaviors and emotions that don't always make sense to the outside world. That is where trauma-informed parenting tools are essential. A recent post made by a foster mom on a social media feed resembles the needs and history of Aiden and Adam.
We've had our sibling set for three months now: a four-year-old girl (turning 5 in a month) and a six-year-old boy. Our foster son is in first grade, and we have struggled to find a suitable daycare or pre-k program for our foster daughter. She is needy, wanders, and struggles with attention. She has severe attachment issues. She is NOT like a typical four-year-old. She does NOT play with toys, EVER! She instead follows me around all day, sits on me, touches me, and asks questions I know she knows the answers to. She does things she knows she shouldn't be doing as soon as I turn away for a split second. I am not even a little bit overdramatic here either. My patience is wearing so thin.
I sit with her during breakfast, play with her after breakfast, color together, or work on some Pre-K stuff I've printed from home; I let her sit and snuggle with me for a little bit. I don't know what else to do! I encourage her to be independent, but she doesn't get it. She comes right back to me. I struggle to do dishes, laundry, or other chores. I understand she is little and has been traumatized, but this is hard! Even when big brother is home from school, he goes and plays...she still follows my every move. Please be kind with any advice, I am trying my best, and I do not want to disrupt this placement.
WOW! This struggling foster mom needs the support of a great agency and continued trauma-informed care training. In addition, her foster daughter would greatly benefit from a CANS evaluation. A tool designed to measure the strengths and needs of a child to get necessary support and therapy services. THIS is why many foster parents ask for kids to be removed from their homes. It is also why many foster parents transition to care for older kids. It is a lot. It is exhausting. It is VERY different than parenting well-adjusted children from stable, structured environments.
The fact is, she is not alone. So many foster parents caring for younger children are overwhelmed. Their agency often does not fully support them, and they are not trained in trauma-informed care principles. Fostering kids with trauma is NOT like caring for well-adjusted kids. These kids have a lot going on, and foster parents need to have the skills and tools to help their kids successfully.
There are hundreds of sibling groups like Aiden and Adam in Wisconsin foster care. Like the foster mom above, many foster parents share stories online and ask for much-needed advice and support. At CCR, we receive 40-50 referrals each month from counties across Wisconsin looking for a suitable home for kids like these brothers. If you are interested in fostering, we would love to speak with you. We will educate you, train you, and support you to care for kids with higher levels of trauma. OR, you can jump in and foster older kids if caring for littles isn't the best fit for you.