What foster care means to one family

When Richie and Gina Caldon decided to become foster parents, they knew one thing for certain: it would be a challenge. They were aware of how hard it would be to love kids and then let them go. They wondered how their biological children would react to sharing their parents and their home with other kids. They figured that there would be a lot of people who wouldn’t understand their decision to become foster parents but believed it would be rewarding and worthwhile. Over the past six years that they have been fostering, they have never once regretted their decision. In fact, it has shaped their family in ways they never could have imagined.

The Caldons were asked what they wish they had known before they started fostering that might have made things a little easier. Here’s what they said.

Find a support network

Foster parenting can be an isolating experience. Not many people understand what it’s like to welcome new children into your home, to parent alongside a biological parent who is a virtual stranger and to work so closely with your fostering agency. Most of your friends won’t have experience with parenting through trauma or loving a child who leaves. Most of them won’t understand the very specific stressful situations that can arise as part of being a foster parent (a child leaving your home suddenly, an unexpected court ruling, trying to find ways to nurture and emotionally support a child who has been through things we may never understand, or they may never want to share with us). And, because of privacy and confidentiality, you can’t share this with them because these children’s stories are not yours to tell.

The only people who truly understand what you’re going through are other foster parents. Finding a support network is invaluable—it will save your life. I know because it saved mine. When you connect with other foster parents, you’ll get to know people who can answer questions and offer insight into child behaviors or unexpected challenges you might be having. This is where Hope & Home has saved my life. The friendships I’ve made with other foster parents and the staff at Hope & Home will always be part of my life. We’ve cried together and we’ve rejoiced together. You become so close to the other foster families that their challenges feel like your challenges and their triumphs feel like your triumphs. You also get to know the foster kids in the other families through doing respite (foster care lingo for short-term care) for them and vice versa. Hope & Home provides their families with such great resources and support that we feel like one big foster care family within our group.

Don’t underestimate the importance of biological parents

You’ll spend most of your time before, and even after, becoming a foster parent thinking about how you’ll best love the children in your care. And that’s exactly the way it should be—these kids need support, stability, and lots of love—but don’t forget about their parents.

Your foster children’s birth parents and family aren’t bad people. In most cases, they have made some bad choices or are struggling with something outside of their control and need help and time. They want to parent their children well. They want their families intact. They love their kids, and their kids love them. This is a relationship you want to support. After all, the primary goal of foster parenting is reunification: to send children home to their families.

Relationships with biological parents are a reward I wasn’t expecting when I started this journey, but it has become one of my favorites.

It doesn’t always work out this way, though. Some relationships will be challenging, and that won’t change.  No matter what, my advice is to remain kind and supportive, to respect the biological parent’s place in your foster child’s life and to remember that this isn’t about you. This is a hard time in their lives, and they’re probably doing the best they can.

Real life is different from training

Foster parents get a lot of training. There’s training before you’re approved, interviews and home studies. Your agency will provide you with plenty of training opportunities once you’ve started as a foster parent. These workshops and lectures are incredibly helpful, but I’ve learned that, no matter how great the material, the theoretical nature of a training session can’t compare to the practical, real-life experience of parenting a foster child.

There’s no real way to prepare yourself for toddlers, preschoolers, kids, or teens who are dealing with significant trauma. They’re carrying a heavy load, and the emotional fallout from that can be overwhelming for them and for you. There will be screaming, tantrums, and unexpected emotional outbursts. I’ve sat up late into the night with a three-year-old who didn’t understand where her mom was and why she couldn’t see her. I’ve felt devastation with a child when a visit with family was cancelled.

It’s eye-opening to see how much pain little people can hold, and it takes patience and commitment to help them walk through it. It’s the most difficult part of this work but also the greatest privilege. There has been no greater reward than seeing the progress that can happen in a child’s life when she is loved, safe and secure. And that leads to the final point...

Foster parenting is both easier and harder than you think

I often describe my experience with foster parenting as “hard but worth it.” It’s the kind of thing that stretches you and changes you. It’s painful, but in that “hurts-so-good” way.

It really only takes a moment to fall in love with a child who needs you, who comes into your home desperate for love and acceptance, scared and unsure of what’s happening in his life. There are good and bad days, but it’s easier than I ever could have imagined to love another person’s child.

And, yes, it’s so hard to say goodbye. It’s the question I get asked more than anything else: “Don’t you get attached? Isn’t it hard when they leave?” Yes, and of course. But that’s one of those hard-but-good things. Opening your heart and loving a child you know is leaving is hard, but loving a child who desperately needs it is something I will never regret.

There is a need for caring foster parents in the San Luis Valley. Becoming a licensed foster parent helps make sure kids in foster care don’t have to leave our community. If you are interested in doing this important work, contact Hope & Home to learn more about becoming a foster parent.

Hope & Home is hosting a foster parent info night on Saturday, October 23, 2021, for anyone interested in fostering or supporting people who are. This event is free and open to the community. The event will be held at Hope & Home, 605 3rd Street, Alamosa, CO 81101 from 6:30pm-8:30pm and light refreshments will be served. If you’ve considered fostering, please join us – there are children who need you!

You can call Hope & Home at 719-575-9887 or email [email protected]

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