Before going any further, remember this when it comes to parenting your biological children and children experiencing the foster care system– none of it can be entirely fair. Take that pressure off your shoulders right now.
I wish I would have told myself this when we started our foster journey. I wish I would have had a better understanding of how foster care impacts my own children. After all, it was my husband and I that decided to take on foster care, not my children.
Sometimes it’s unfair for your biological children. Sharing a room with a little one who struggles to sleep at night isn’t exactly fair. And other times it’s unfair to the child in care. It’s hard to explain why my three-year-old gets to sleep in my bed when he has a bad dream, but they can’t.
As a parent of biological children and children experiencing the foster care system, it’s okay that you can’t make it fair 100% of the time.
If you’re just starting out on this foster care journey and want more support, contact City Ministries Child Placement Agency. They are a private child placment agency serving families in the greater Seattle area. Their dedicated team is here to help you as you care for children experiencing the foster care system.
As a new foster parent or a prospective one, this article will cover some of the positive and negative effects foster care has on your own biological children.
Let’s start by understanding some of the challenges you may face when caring for both children experiencing the foster care system and your own.
Common Struggles When Caring for Biological Children and Children Experiencing the Foster Care System
It’s challenging to juggle the needs of a child in care and your biological child. A few struggles you may experience include:
- Emotional complexities
Bringing a child experiencing the foster care system into an already established family dynamic is hard for everyone – you, your kids, and the child in placement. As parents, you need to be ready to navigate feelings of jealousy, insecurity, or confusion from your own children.
It’s okay that your child may fear the child in care will get more attention or resources. It’s your job to remind them they matter and their needs are just as important.
- Balancing time and attention
It’s not uncommon for a child in care to require a little extra attention due to the trauma and instability they’ve experienced. Dividing your time and resources between all your kids isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Knowing your limitations and learning to ask for help is important when it comes to avoiding feelings of guilt or inadequacy.
- Behavior issues
Children experiencing the foster care system come from challenging backgrounds, which are impacted by past trauma, neglect, or abuse. Caring for these challenges while continuing to attend to the needs of your own biological kids is a lot.
Be sure you know what behaviors you’re able to care for before you accept a placement.
- Integrating child into family life
The hope is for a new placement to transition into your family with ease. But that’s not always the case. Blending a child in care into an already existing family dynamic is difficult. Be ready for disruptions and tension between your biological children and the new placement.
Give all the children in your care time and room to adjust to their new normal.
- Limited information
One of the greatest challenges you’ll have as a foster parent is the lack of information about the child. This includes their medical, emotional, and behavioral history. Feeling like you’re parenting without all the puzzle pieces is stressful and overwhelming.
It’s hard to give everyone the best care when you aren’t given all the information.
- Uncertain future
Foster care is in and of itself an uncertain journey. Both for you and your placement. Usually, you don’t know how long the child will be with you, or even how their story will unfold.
This uncertainty impacts your placement, but can also cause some anxiety with your own children.
- Legal challenges
Foster care involves dealing with all kinds of legal and bureaucratic systems. This can include court hearings, social worker visits, and lots of paperwork. Navigating and keeping up with all this can be time-consuming and stressful.
Using a private agency, such as City Ministries Child Placement Agency, is a great way to have extra support when dealing with legal challenges.
If you’re not already caring for yourself, adding an extra child is only going to lead to burn-out quicker.
The combination of caring for a child with complex needs, managing family dynamics, and dealing with all the other responsibilities of parenting can lead to exhaustion if you’re not mindful. The emotional toll it takes is a challenge for any parent. If you aren’t caring for yourself, you can’t be an effective advocate for any of your children.
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face when parenting biological children and children experiencing the foster care system is the balancing act of being able to champion everyone equally. Surround yourself with a supportive community of friends, family or support groups that helps and encourages you to prioritize self-care.
Challenges You May Face When Advocating for Both Sets of Children.
Advocating for both sets of kids in your care can be demanding and complex. Some specific struggles you may encounter when doing this include:
- Differing needs
As mentioned, children experiencing the foster care system come with challenging backgrounds. They may have unique emotional, educational, and medical needs that require additional attention and resources. At the same time, you can’t ignore the unique needs of your own biological children.
Caring for these needs and making sure each child gets appropriate attention is challenging.
- Confidentiality concerns
It’s important the child in care feels their personal information is kept confidential.
At times this might mean removing your own children from the home during social worker visits. You want to make sure you’re giving the child in care the privacy they need, without making your biological child feel neglected.
Explaining to your own children the need for confidentiality helps them understand why it’s not always appropriate for them to be around for some meetings.
- Time constraints
Advocating for any child is time-consuming. When it comes to the child in care, being their advocate involves meetings with caseworkers, school officials, therapists, and other professionals involved in their well-being.
It’s important to remember you have to equally advocate for your bio children in these same areas.
- Conflicting interests
Don’t be surprised if the needs of your biological children conflict with the child in care.
If your biological child has horse lessons every Monday night and that is the only time your social worker can do a home visit, you can feel torn between the two. Both have value and matter to the child.
It’s important to remember you only have a limited amount of time, energy, and resources. Without support, this conflict of interest can lead to emotional stress and exhaustion.
- Stress on family dynamics
The process of foster care adds stress to any family.
This is especially true if there are disagreements or differences of opinion between family members. Being able to advocate for the best course of action for the child in care can be exhausting when lots of people are involved.
- Burnout and emotional toll
The ongoing need to advocate for all the children in your care is exhausting. The emotional toll it takes is a challenge for any parent. If you aren’t caring for yourself, you can’t be an effective advocate for any of your children.
Surrounding yourself with a supportive community of friends, family or support groups is the best way to avoid burnout.
Struggles Your Biological Children May Have With Their Foster Siblings.
Often I remind myself that it was my choice to be a foster parent, not my child’s.
They have every right to experience a range of emotions regarding a new placement. My job as their parent is to support and help them move through these emotions effectively.
A few struggles your child may have with your new foster placement include:
- Adjustment period
Adjusting to anything new takes time.
Give your biological child a grace period as they learn how to adjust to the presence of a new foster sibling in their home. This sudden change may cause them to feel uncertain about their role in the family.
Continuing to validate and reassure your child goes a long way in helping them feel secure with the new change of dynamics.
- Jealousy and attention-seeking behaviors
Your child might feel jealous over the amount of attention and care their foster sibling receives. This can be particularly true if the child in care requires extra attention due to trauma or other challenges. It’s not uncommon for your child to act out as a way to seek your attention.
Avoid punishing this behavior. Instead, work towards affirming and reminding them you’re still their parent as well.
- Feeling left out
The first few days and weeks with a new placement can take your full attention. Doctor appointments, court hearings, and social worker visits fill up your calendar quickly. Leaving your biological child wondering if you have any time for their needs.
They may feel overshadowed by the demands of their new foster sibling.
- Lack of personal space
Sharing is never easy. Especially when it comes to sharing a bedroom, toys, and other personal belongings. This is true for most kids. Allow everyone to have room to express their discomfort with this new change.
Set up new rules and boundaries to help with these changes.
- Behavior issues
Some youth experiencing the foster care system may have very intense behaviors as a result of their past trauma, neglect, and abuse.
These behaviors can be confusing, scary, or overwhelming for your biological child. They may not understand the reasons behind these behaviors. Or feel confused about your response to them.
Give your child an age-appropriate explanation of these behaviors. This helps your child develop empathy and understanding towards their new sibling.
- Conflicting feelings
Your biological child may not feel the same way you do toward your new child in care. And that’s okay. At times your child may show empathy and concern for the child in care. Other times it’s frustration and resentment.
All feelings are okay and need to be validated by you.
- Loss and grief
When a foster sibling leaves the family, it’s normal for your child to feel a sense of loss. They may have formed a strong bond with their foster sibling, and a sudden departure can leave your child feeling abandoned.
Talk to your child and acknowledge their grief. Give them time and space to move through this transition.
- Divided attention from parents
Your biological children might feel like your attention is divided with the arrival of a new child placement. And in many ways, they’re correct. Just as it would be if you had a new baby enter the family, a new placement does take extra attention.
Avoid your child feeling ignored, replaced, or neglected by finding times to connect one on one.
How Foster Care Can Positively Impact Your Biological Children.
Of course, foster care has plenty of obstacles.
You didn’t sign up to be a foster parent because you thought it was going to be a walk in the park. But, from one foster parent to another, all those challenges are worth it when you see how they can positively impact your own children.
Foster care has impacted my own children positively in a number of ways including:
- Increased empathy and compassion
When your children have a foster sibling, they’re able to witness and understand the struggles other children face.
Not all kids have loving and safe homes. It’s okay for your kids to see the result of that. Having first-hand experience teaches your child to have empathy and compassion for other people.
This teaches your child how to be more understanding and supportive of other people.
- Enhanced social skills
Living with a child in care whose background and culture are different from your own exposes your biological children to different perspectives. With this, your child develops stronger social skills and is more open-minded.
Your child learns that not everyone’s the same, and it’s important to embrace those differences.
- Improved resilience
Foster care teaches your children how to adapt to change.
From the moment your placement comes until they move out, there’s plenty of change that happens. Your biological child learns how to cope with uncertainty and adapt to new circumstances.
Just as the child in care develops resilience while navigating the challenges of foster care, so does your biological child.
- Expanded worldview
Nothing puts life into perspective when you hear what sort of trauma a child has experienced. And this is true for your own child.
It’s important for them to understand the adversity their foster sibling endured. This perspective helps give them a deeper appreciation for their own privileges. It also teaches them how to become more aware of social issues affecting vulnerable people.
- Sense of purpose and contribution
Being a part of the foster care system gives your own child an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the lives of others. It’s so rewarding to watch your biological child embrace, love, and care for a foster sibling.
Foster care gives your biological child a sense of purpose in supporting their foster sibling and making a genuine difference in their lives.
- Enhanced self-esteem and self-worth
Biological children experience a sense of pride and self-worth because they’re part of a family caring for children in need. Giving your children age-appropriate responsibilities with their foster siblings is a great way to help build their confidence.
Tell your child how proud you are of them when it comes to caring for their foster sibling.
- Better communication and conflict resolution skills
Your biological children are sure to feel lots of mixed emotions when it comes to a new placement. This is a great time to teach them how to express themselves.
Ask them open-ended questions about their feelings. A good way to start the conversation is to ask, “What has been a challenge for you with our new child placement?” And then listen to what they have to say.
Foster care provides your children the opportunity to work through their challenges in a healthy way.
- Opportunities for personal growth
Everyone has the chance to grow and change when it comes to foster care.
Your own children have the chance to mature and take on new responsibilities. They can develop leadership skills as an older sibling to your foster child. Or they can become a little more self-sufficient and start doing tasks that you might normally take on.
- Lasting friendships and connections
In a perfect world, these connections your biological child makes with their foster sibling can last a lifetime.
While that may not be possible in every situation, the connections made can have a lasting impact. My children still talk about some of the special moments we had with our first placement. And while we don’t have contact with him, those memories have impacted my children.
Give Your Biological Children the Gift of Compassion by Becoming a Foster Parent.
No placement is perfect. There will always be sacrifices and compromises. And no matter how hard you try, it won’t ever be completely fair.
And that’s okay.
The positive impact foster care can have on your biological children is priceless. Teaching your children how to offer kindness and compassion to others is a lasting gift.
Having a strong support system around you is the best way to give your biological and children experiencing the foster care system the care they all need. Not to mention the care you need as a parent.
Email City Ministries Foster Placement Agency today. Learn more about their services and resources. Caring for a child in the foster care system is a gift for both the child in placement as well as your own children.
Foster care is a blessing and challenge to all. But the best part is you don’t have to do any of it alone.