According to reliable data, over forty percent of foster parents throw in the towel and quit fostering within their first year. That’s a sobering statistic. Fostering is difficult, often “in the trenches work” with children who have been incredibly damaged by prior abuse, neglect, and trauma. In my previous blog, I wrote about the signs foster parents should be alerted to when they’re at the burnout stage. Parents who are able to foster for the long haul have had to learn to take care of themselves as much as they take care of their children. In this current installment, I’ll share some hopeful, helpful hints and strategies for all you parents who are wearily carrying that heavy burden of compassion fatigue!
First and foremost, you don’t need to feel embarrassed if you are overwhelmed—face the fact that you are not Superwoman or Superman! Acknowledging that you are feeling overwhelmed is the first step to turning things around.
Connect with veteran foster parents—not the ones who whine and complain (and there are some of those)—but veterans who have a healthy, balanced view of fostering amidst an often very flawed governmental system under which the foster system exists. Talk to them and ask them questions on how they maintain a healthy balance.
Take advantage of respite services, if available. Many foster parents I’ve talked to hesitate to use respite because they feel like their foster child will feel rejected if they have to go stay with someone else. This is not necessarily true. Properly preparing a child to go to a respite family can help alleviate your guilt and any negative feelings the child might have.
What do you do for yourself—even if it’s just 30 minutes a day? Maybe it’s reading, putting a puzzle together, watching your favorite show on television or just talking with a friend over the phone. If you begin to neglect yourself, you will also become neglectful of your child’s emotional needs. It’s like the illustration of the oxygen mask on an airplane-- if there is a problem, the parent needs to put her/his oxygen mask on first, and then help the child get his mask on. If it’s done the opposite way, you have one unconscious parent and one out-of-control child.
Don’t be afraid to say “No”. There will always be more children in need of a home than there are foster homes available. That’s just a hard, sobering fact. In light of this, after a child leaves your home, it is appropriate—and often very healthy to take a break between placements. Maybe it needs to be a month—maybe even longer. Just because you take a break, doesn’t mean you’ve given up on fostering. It just means that you are taking time to re-charge your batteries before the next child(ren) is/are placed with you.
I hope this has been helpful for all of you hard-working, dedicated foster parents. You are each a true hero!