Guilt: How Do Foster Parents Cope
I am writing this blog in an attempt to open up dialogue on guilt: something every foster parent faces at some point throughout their journey. This may be the guilt we feel when we get the call from the caseworker about a child who desperately needs a placement and has been sitting in the office all day. We experience guilt if the timing is just not right, or, for whatever reason, we must decline. We feel guilt if we say “yes”, but another child in the home ends up suffering because of that decision. We feel guilt if this child begins to call us mom and dad, as we fear this will hurt their bio parents feelings. We feel guilt if, even it is for best interest of everyone involved, we choose to have our emergency placement child moved to a home best suited for them, especially if the child has started calling you mom and dad. This guilt is compounded by the caseworker who may be kind when you take the placement, but doesn’t seem to acknowledge your existence if you do have the make the most difficult decision to have a child moved: a decision not made lightly and often after much stress, tears, and grief. This guilt is even more compounded by other bystanders who are not witness to the very difficult 24/7 exchanges and complicated dynamics playing out in front of you in your home, particularly when dealing with the trauma struggles children have endured.
When we do keep a placement, we feel guilt when the case goal changes to adoption, in that, though we are relieved to know this child will finally know permanency, this comes at the very steep price of a family being broken apart forever. We feel guilt when “our” child hurts from these broken relationships, but there is nothing we can do to take that pain away, aside from trying to keep whatever positive connections open we can.
Then, if a child is fortunate enough to return home, we feel guilt at the grief we feel for our loss, though we know we should be happy they returned home.
In truth, regardless of whether we take in a placement, say “no” to a new placement, or keep a placement through permanency and adoption, though, yes, we most certainly want to treat all children as the very precious creations they are, while also guarding their hearts with love and respect, we are not the reason these children came into care. Tragically, children will continue to come into care, and, despite our very best efforts, we, as an individual or couple, do not have the ability to help them all. It very much takes a village to raise a child. Our feelings of guilt, though hard to avoid, particularly for someone who truly does care about children, will not help or change this.
In writing this, I am writing this through struggles of my own guilt I have felt along the way of fostering. Therefore, I am writing this to open up a very honest, truthful, judgement free dialogue among fellow foster parents about the guilt they feel, how they cope with it, and how we can work together to make the world of fostering a better place.